QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2022
  • 279 episodes (19 series)

Panel game that contains lots of difficult questions and a large amount of quite interesting facts. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Episode menu

Series S - Season's Greetings

QI. Sandi Toksvig
Sandi Toksvig hosts a festive edition of the quite interesting quiz, with panellists Bonnie Langford, Joe Lycett, Sally Phillips and regular guest Alan Davies. The seasonal subjects starting with "S" include School Nativity Success Statistics and the secrets of Shiraz and Sprouts. Plus, a candlelit General Ignorance, unanswerable questions, questionable answers, and a scoring system even the Three Wise Men couldn't fathom.

Further details


- The panel are dressed as characters from the Nativity. Sandi is dressed as the Angel Gabriel, Alan as the Innkeeper, Joe the Virgin Mary, Sally a shepherd, and Bonnie a wise man.


- Based on what the panel are wearing, the person who is most likely to win the episode is Joe, because he is dressed as Mary and that character is the central figure in school nativity plays. A 2019 survey asked 2,000 people what nativity roles they played as children, then they looked back at their lives and see how they worked out. People who played oxen ended up earning the most; twice as much as those playing lambs or sheep. Those playing Mary were most likely to be content with their adult life, with Joseph coming second. Marys also had the most friends on social media, while the person with the fewest social media friends is the narrator. Narrators are also most likely to work in education and enjoy horse riding. Those playing the donkey are most likely to work in IT, do gardening and enjoy puzzles. Those playing Gabriel are most likely to work in marketing and communications.

- Tangent: In her school nativity, Sandi played the star, wearing a twinkly headband and popping her head over the stable.

- Tangent: In France, it is illegal to display the nativity in public places if it demonstrates a public recognition or preference for a specific religion. The only way to get around the law is by proving it has some kind of cultural, artistic or festive significance. It cannot have religious significance. Some French mayors have protested against this, with the mayor of Beaucaire, Provence, in January 2021 insisted on keeping their nativity scene up in the town hall until Candlemas (2nd February), arguing that there is cultural history to nativity scenes, which is arguably true as they feature "santons", little saints, traditional Provence figures since the French Revolution. The mayor was fined €5,000 a day every day the scene was displayed.

- Tangent: As mentioned before on QI, in Catalonia the nativity includes a figure called the "caganer", who is seen squatting and defecating in a corner of the scene. Many modern celebrity figures have been depicted as the caganer.

- Tangent: In the 1980s, an English priest gave his congregation knuckledusters to repel attacks on local nativity scenes. There were hard-line Anglicans called "anti-ritualists" who were against all religious decorations. One of the leaders was Lady Cornelia Wimborne, who was also Winston Churchill's aunt.

- Tangent: Animal rights group PETA have a campaign against using real-life animals in nativities. There was one nativity in the USA where a man was arrested for having sex with a sheep being used for a nativity.

- There is always too much to do on Christmas Day because we try to cram all of the season into a single day, when back in medieval and Tudor times Christmas covered a much larger period. It could start on 1st November (All Soul's Day) and end on 2nd February (Candlemas Eve), with many feasts such as St. Martin's Day and Christmas Day occurring during the period. St. Martin's Day (11th November) started a full 43 days of advent. St. Martin of Tours is patron saint of geese, horses, innkeepers and reformed alcoholics. During the period a "Lord of Misrule" was appointed among the peasants to lead the revelry. In Lincolnshire, 1637, the Lord of Misrule was taken through a mock ceremony in which he married a fellow citizen, and after this fake marriage, one Victorian historian writes: "The affair was carried to its utmost extent in front of the crowds." There were also complaints at the time about "chambering" - people having sex - during the season.

- Snow is mostly made out of air. Powdery, freshly fallen snow is made up of tiny crystals of frozen water, and each crystal is surrounded by air, making snow fluffy and porous. The total mass is between 90-95% air. This is why when snow melts so little is left. One inch of rain is equal to about ten inches of snow. The fact snow contains so much air means it is a good insulator, hence why igloos are good place to live in, because if it is -40ºC outside, your body heat is enough to make it +16ºC inside. Igloos are not made out of ice, although some use ice blocks as windows.

- Tangent: In Demark, it is advised that if you are out in the cold you should carry a tealight and a box of matches, because if your car runs out of petrol, a single lit tealight on the dashboard will be enough to keep you warm inside while you wait for help if you are stuck in snow.

- Tangent: Sally had a friend who went to the Ice Hotel. Sandi says she wants to go to it, but Sally's friend claims that it was horrible.

- The parasite that sticks around at Christmas and extracts food from the host is mistletoe. Part of the sandalwood family, it sinks its roots into tree branches and then suck the nutrients and water it needs out of it. They deposit their seeds using birds, their seeds having evolved to be sticky so when birds eat them the seeds stick to the bottoms of the birds, which can only be removed by rubbing them on a hard, angular surface. The word "mistletoe" comes from "mistel-tan", the "mist" being the Anglo-Saxon word for faeces, and "tan" the word for twig. The mistletoe genus is "viscum", from which we get the word "viscous".

- Tangent: Sally was once the voice of Canesten thrush cream. She did a voice different to her normal one to avoid embarrassment, but she still got recognised from the advert by a blind woman on the Tube.

- Tangent: No-one knows for sure why mistletoe is associated with romance. Theories include it being associated with fertility by the Druids, the white berries representing semen.

- In the original pantomimes, the lead character magically transformed the scene halfway through by waving around a magic slapstick. Pantos come from the early 1700s and were originally called harlequinades. Every show would begin as a rather serious melodrama, but then half-way through the play a magician called the Harlequin would hit bits of the scenery using a slapstick, with new scenery being revealed behind, and then the whole tone of the show changed, becoming farcical. In the 1800s, the modern slapstick was created, made out of two sticks joined by a hinge. It is considered one of the first special effects. (Forfeit: Wand)

- Tangent: The question is illustrated with a picture of Bonnie doing panto at Guildford, holding a magic wand. She says the key to using a wand is to always hold it upright, gripping it at the bottom and supporting the steam with the other hand like a sceptre.

- Tangent: An even earlier special effect used in the theatre was created by playwright John Dennis, whose 1709 Roman tragedy Appius and Virginia was poorly received, except for his thunder-making machine, which made really realistic sounds for stormy scenes. After a few nights the play closed and was replaced by a production of Macbeth, but this production still used Dennis's thunder machine, so they had, "stolen his thunder", which is where the phrase comes from.

- The best way to make Brussels sprouts bearable is to sip red wine between each mouthful. The wine's astringency, the dry mouth feel, possibly stops your saliva to pass the bitter taste of sprouts to your taste buds.

- Tangent: Sally's family make sprouts bearable by playing "fart tennis" at Christmas. The family eat as many sprouts as possible, then one half of the table play against the other half, trying to out-fart each other.

General Ignorance

- The panel light candles, and are then told to snuff them. While they are given candle snuffers to put the candles out, originally to snuff candles meant to make them brighter. The original way to snuff a candle is actually to trim the wick. (Forfeit: Not like that)

- Tangent: If you put out a candle, then hold a lit flame over the smoke, this is enough to make the candle light up again, as the smoke draws the flame down.

- Tangent: A candle salad consists of a banana mounted into a pineapple ring sitting on lettuce, with a cherry fixed to the top of the banana using mayonnaise. It was a popular American dish in the 1950s, used to introduce children to cooking, but it just looks phallic.

- The man who invented the four-slotted screwdriver was English John Frierson in the 1870s. What is now called the Phillips-Head Screwdriver was named after a businessman, Henry Phillips who spotted its potential, bought the patient, and introduced to General Motors. When World War II started all the military manufacturers used it. The technical term for the slot is the "cruciform orifice". (Forfeit: Phillips)

- Tangent: The panel all have cocktails. Sally has a screwdriver cocktail, which arrived after the end of World War II, either from the Armed Forces or oil workers, and most people claimed they used screwdrivers to mix their vodka and orange juice. Sandi has "SH-ampagne" because it is Series S.


- Sally Phillips: 13 points
- Alan Davies: 2 points
- Joe Lycett: -6 points
- Bonnie Langford: -8 points

...And Finally

- The episode ends with all the other panellists across Series S wishing the viewers "Merry Christmas".

Broadcast details

Monday 20th December 2021
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Joe Lycett Guest
Sally Phillips Guest
Bonnie Langford Guest
Writing team
James Harkin Script Editor
Sandi Toksvig Script Editor
Anna Ptaszynski Question Writer
Production team
Diccon Ramsay Director
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
Piers Fletcher Producer
Justin Pollard Associate Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Nick Collier Lighting Designer
Howard Goodall Composer
Mat Coward Researcher
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
Mandy Fenton Researcher
Mike Turner Researcher
Jack Chambers Researcher
Emily Jupitus Researcher
James Rawson Researcher
Ethan Ruparelia Researcher
Lydia Mizon Researcher
John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Creator
Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor

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