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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 266 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Returns Wednesday 23rd December at 9pm. Episode Guide
Series J, Christmas Special is repeated on Dave tomorrow at 1am.

Series F, Episode 4 - Fight Or Flight

Further details



- Stephen wears an RAF captain's cap, whereas the panel wear WWII flying goggles and scarves. The buzzers are operated by joysticks.


- A question on free-fall parachuting: The panel are shown a clip of Alan in free-fall and are asked what happens after the parachute opens. The answer is that he falls slower. People do not go straight up into the air when the parachute opens - it is the cameraman who is falling at the original, quicker speed, so he is travelling away from the faster and getting away from the parachutist. The world's highest parachute jump was at 32,000 metres (18 miles), which is at the edge of space, travelling at 614mph.

- Tangent: Both Alan and Pam have been parachuting, but Pam's was static while Alan's was free-fall. Alan's jump was at 12,000 feet.

- Shorty Longbottom had a pink spitfire. Pink was used to camouflage planes. This is because the sky has a faint pinkish tone to it when it is cloudy. The first planes were blue, but the colour was changed because they stood out.

- Tangent: The Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAFF) was the branch of the RAF for women during the Second World War. Pam was a WAFF, and went to Singapore and Germany. Pam claims she has always been looking for the recruiting sergeant with the bread-knife, because she liked drawing and so they put her in the drawing department. However, the drawing department involved maths and technical drawings. One thing she did learn is that, if there is a cricket pitch in an aerial photo, because it is 22 yards long, you can use it to calculate the scale (provided you know the focal length of the camera). The one problem is that the Germans don't play cricket.

- Facts about flying fish:

- Alan was told by a German on a scuba diving holiday that flying fish only fly alone, while Pam claims she has seen them flying in shoals.

- The French for "flying fish" is "exocet". It is somewhat scary to the British because Exocet is the name of a type of missile used by the Argentineans during the Falklands War.

- 30 seconds is a long time for a flying fish to fly - except they do not fly, they glide.

- The people of Tao, an island of the coast of Taiwan, eat flying fish as their staple diet.

- The opposite of a flying fish is a penguin, because they are a bird which swims. However, to a scientist, flying and swimming are the same mechanically. The only difference is that one is in water and one is in air.

- Women make the best fishermen because they have caught the biggest fish. The British record for the largest fish ever caught is held by Georgina Ballantine, who caught a 64lb salmon. There was also a 66lb catfish caught in Oundle by Bev Street. There is no real scientific reason for why they have caught the best, so several erroneous (and presumably sexist) reasons have been given by male fishermen. The most famous claim was made by a man who wrote a letter to The Field claiming he had great success catching fish using his wife's pubic hairs because they released pheromones to attract fish. This has lead fishermen to use female pubic hairs as bait. However, there is no evidence to support the claim that humans give off pheromones.

- When lions fight bears, the bear always wins. During the Gold Rush, entertainment was put on for the benefit of prospectors, and this came in the form of bears fighting other animals. The bear always won against the local wildlife, so lions were shipped in from Africa to fight them. However, because the skull of a lion is weak, a bear can kill it in a single blow before the lion has a chance to attack. (Forfeit: Lions)

- XL Tangent: People often wonder who would win in a fight between Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee. Most say Lee, but it would probably be Ali, because he was taller, heavier, quicker and the fact that punches come in flurries, unlike kicks. Also, much of the footage in Lee's films was speeded up.

- Tangent: Pam's father was a boxer, to which Stephen responds by saying that his was an Irish setter. Pam claims that her father was very superstitious, and that he would always carry a horseshoe with him. This leads to accusations that he put it in his boxing glove as a form of cheating.

- When wearing boxing gloves, it is much easier to kill your opponent. In bear-knuckle boxing, people would always aim for the chest, stomach and arms, because the chin was too dangerous. The chances are that you would hurt yourself badly if you attacked there. Only two people have been recorded as dying in bear-knuckle boxing in over 150 years. When boxing gloves were brought in, this protected the hands so people could go for the jaw and thus kill people more easily. Four Americans die of boxing related injuries every year. British boxer and former world middleweight champion Alan Minter once said: "Sure, there have been injuries and deaths in boxing, but none of them serious."

- XL Tangent: The two boxers in the photos behind the panel are Arthur John "Jack" Johnson (the African-American on the right), nicknamed the Galveston Giant, and James Jackson Jeffries (the caucasian on the left). Jeffries was the world boxing champion (seven times undefeated) until he retired, and then Johnson took the title. The racists in America hated this and brought Jeffries back to try and prove that white people were better than blacks. Jack London, author of "White Fang" coined the phrase "the great white hope" in honour of Jeffries. In the fight between Johnson and Jeffries on 4 July 1910, Johnson won. Johnson went on to open a nightclub in Harlem which he sold to an Irishman. Johnson was also accused of rape because he married a white woman and then travelled to a state where such marriages were illegal.

- XL: Ducklings seem to have a fear of birds of prey (such as hawks) from birth. A duckling can tell the difference between a hawk and goose from its shape.

- XL Tangent: Pam's brother-in-law has a gander. It is quite dangerous, so he has to approach it with a dustbin lid for protection. Alan once saw a swan chasing a goose in Clissold Park, North London. More swans and geese turned up, and then it got violent. The geese were flying at human head height so families scattered, then the swans charged back.

- XL: You can use five dozen French balloons to deliver messages. When Paris was seiged in 1871 by the Prussians, balloons and carrier pigeons carrying microfilm delivered messages safely out of and into the city. Over a million letters were sent this way.

- XL Tangent: During the siege, chefs used all kinds of different animals as food, including animals from zoos and the sewers. Two elephants called Castor and Pollux were eaten. Meals included horse marrow, dog flanks, shoulder and fillets of braised dog, and salamis of rat.

- XL Tangent: Stephen comments that Johnny, who has been wearing his leather flying helmet throughout the show, looks like the pigeon from the cartoon series "Wacky Races". Johnny then claims he had a dream in which he teaches his family to fly by holding their arms out and running off cliffs. This leads to a strange conversation about Stephen thinking Johnny might be gay, and Johnny's "Pre-op" boyfriend.

- Viking sailors used ravens in order to find land. Ravens do not migrate and cannot swim or land on water, so if they spot land they will head straight towards it. If there is no dry land, they will go back in the boat. The Vikings discovered Iceland this way, in a voyage lead by Floki Vilgerdarson, Faxi, Herjolf and Thorolf. In the Bible, Noah used a raven to find land before using a dove.

- Rockets accelerate fastest horizontally, because they gain lift. They also accelerate quicker going towards the East because of the way the world spins. (Forfeit: Downwards)

- XL Tangent: Alan once brought a large rocket for bonfire night. The tube that the rocket goes in was set into the earth, and then the rocket was put in the tube... however, it was set into the earth as well by accident. The rocket was then lit, it shook, then it went 10 feet into the air and blew up. The people around could not see anything because of the smoke and Alan lost his hearing. When his hearing came back, he could just hear people laughing. The following year, it was lit properly, but Alan thought it was not as good.

- Tangent: Sean comments that when people protested against cruise missiles in Greenham Common the protestors claimed that the missiles were shaped like penises, as an expression of man's aggression. Sean says that this is rubbish and that missiles are shaped the way they are because it is more aerodynamic, they would not be as successful as if they were shaped like vaginas.

- XL Tangent: Johnny asks if a duckling would be scared of a missile. Seam claims it would because they are scared of noises such as clapping. Johnny thinks it would be better to show the ducklings a DVD of "When the Wind Blows". Alan goes onto say the ducklings float in the air because they are so light, which he knows after some ducklings that had hatched on his roof fell off. In "The Sopranos", Tony Soprano is triggered into a series of violent acts after seeing ducks in his swimming pool.

General Ignorance

- All the branches of the armed services refer to the left hand side of an aeroplane as port and the right as starboard, except The Navy and the Fleet Air Arm. This is because sometimes they have aeroplanes on ships at different angles, and they have to keep port and starboard as being the axis of the boat. If not, then the plane could be facing the wrong way and it could lead to all kinds of problems. Instead, they say "left wing" and "right wing". (Forfeit: The Navy)

- The panel are shown a photo of a Coldstream Guardsman and are asked what he is wearing on top of his head - the answer to which is a bearskin. It is a long hat covered in black fur, which is made out of real bearskin. Attempts have been made to make the hats out of other materials such as nylon and acrylics, but they end up bedraggled in the wet and the hairs stand up on end due to static electricity. Pam's father was in the Grenadier Guards. (Forfeit: Busby - a shorter helmet with a flap worn by the hussars and the Royal Horse Artillery)

- Tangent: You can tell which branch of the Brigade of Guards a soldier is in by the gaps between the buttons. If they are evenly spaced, they are in the Grenadiers Guards. Pairs mean they are Coldstream Guards, threes are Scottish Guards, fours are Irish Guards, and fives are Welsh Guards.

- Tangent: When Sir Winston Churchill was Prime Minister during the 1950s, there was a scandal involving one of his MPs have sex with a Guardsman in St. James' Park. Churchill was surprised because it was cold that night. The man breaking the news to him said it was one of the coldest February nights for 30 years, to which Churchill said: "Makes you proud to be British."

- XL: Knights in armour got on horses the normal way. Medieval knights carried much less weight than modern soldiers. A suit or armour weighted 55lb while a solider today carries 150lb (particularly if they are a commando). Even firemen today carry more weight than a medieval knight. The myth that they were winched onto their horses did not start until the 19th century, mainly by Mark Twain. In the Laurence Olivier film "Henry V", Olivier insisted showing people being winched on horses, despite his historical advisor telling him it was wrong. (Forfeit: Winch)


- Pam Ayres: 8 points (But not read out - see notes)
- Johnny Vegas: 1 point
- Alan Davies: -11 points
- Sean Lock: -12 points

Deleted Scenes

- The first manned aeroplane flight was by Yorkshireman George Cayley. However, he didn't fly himself, and forced someone believed to be his coachman John Appleby to fly his plane. Cayley was one of the first people to realise that flapping planes would not work. Before him, there was also John Stringfellow, who had one that was steam-powered by a paper-thin copper boiler. One of Stringfellow's plane weighed 12oz and in 1868 flew at 20mph inside the Crystal Palace.


Pam's score was not read out during transmission. However, according to producer Piers Fletcher, she scored 8 points. See QI Talk

Broadcast details

Friday 16th January 2009
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Sean Lock Guest
Johnny Vegas Guest
Pam Ayres Guest
Writing team
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Justin Pollard Question Writer
James Harkin Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
Piers Fletcher Producer
Lorraine Heggessey Executive Producer
Katie Taylor Executive Producer


Viking Birds

A preview clip of the fourth episode in Series F, looking at how the Vikings used birds.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Sean Lock, Johnny Vegas, Pam Ayres.

Tea Cup Changed China's History

Stephen explains the problem with the Chinese inventing tea cups.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Jo Brand, Rob Brydon, Jimmy Carr.


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