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


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 269 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Series S recorded.
Series P, Episode 10 is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.

Series G, Episode 11 - Gifts

Further details

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Clive Anderson, Stephen Fry, Jan Ravens, Jimmy Carr. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


- This is one of the "General" shows in Series G, covering a wide range of different topics beginning with "G".


- The panel are each given a Hessian bag full of items and are asked which item is the most confiscated by United States customs. The bags contain Cuban cigars, tins of spam, chocolate eggs, used handkerchiefs, shoes with soil on them, counterfeit money, lottery tickets and seeds. The answer is the chocolate eggs, in particular those with toys inside them such as Kinder Eggs, because the small parts in the toys are a chocking risk. All of the items in the bag are confiscated too - including the bag which is made of hemp. Cuban cigars are the second most confiscated item. All imports from Cuba are banned by the USA, despite the fact that all UN nations except Israel and Palau have declared the American boycott of Cuban products illegal for 17 years in a row. You can go to prison for two years for smuggling lottery tickets into the USA.

- XL Tangent: When Americans go to and from Cuba, they often wear more clothes than they need so they can send people gifts, without them being seized by customs.

- XL Tangent: The goodie bag at the Academy Awards now has to be declared against tax because it is so expensive. The 2008 goodie bag was worth £57,000, and contained a £15,000 holiday, an espresso machine, a cashmere blanket worth £855 and a white gold pearl and diamond pendant worth £740. Clive says that is disgusting - the goodie bag should be given at the BAFTAs. At the British Comedy Awards, there used to be bowls of minstrels.

- Tangent: You can bring a flick knife (or a switchblade if you are American) into the USA if you only have one arm. Fishermen are used to using flick knifes because they can use it to cut fishing lines.

- XL: The thing that happened to the box of chocolates Gordon Brown gave to George W. Bush was that it was destroyed by burning. Under Secret Service rules, any gifts of food or drink are destroyed upon receipt no matter who gives them. Amongst the things given to President Bush include a £150 box of Charbonnel et Walker chocolates from Gordon Brown, a £650 box of chocolates from the Prime Minister of Qatar, an assortment of nut pasties from the President of Iraq, and 3lbs of live shamrocks from former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. When QI phoned Downing Street to ask why it was destroyed, they refused to answer. The reason why they give gifts is protocol.

- XL Tangent: Gordon Brown once gave Barack Obama an ornamental pen holder made from the timbers of an anti-slaver ship called HMS Gannet. In return, Brown got 25 classic American DVDs. Some speculated that the DVDs may have been Region 1, in which case Brown would have to hack his DVD player to watch them. Jimmy jokes that one of the DVDs may have been "Who's Nailin' Paylin?", a pornographic movie featuring a Sarah Palin look-alike.

- XL: The world's cheapest cheapskate is probably rhamphomyia sulcata, a species of dance fly. In order to mate, the male catches an insect, sucks out the innards, wraps the outer body with silk and gives it to the female. By the time the female discovers it is empty, the male has spawned with her and fled. Other insects also give gifts to their mates in order to avoid being killed when mating. Some for example have males which pretend to be female, and steal their mate's gift.

- XL Tangent: A famous ancient Greek cheapskate was Diogenes the Cynic, who lived in a barrel and avoided all material possessions except for a loin cloth and a small bowl for water. He then saw a little boy drinking water with his hands. After seeing this, Diogenes threw away his bowl.

- XL Tangent: Jimmy says he heard a story of a man on a date, who ate a huge chunk of his date's food. He did this three times. The woman he was dating asked why he was doing this, to which he said, "I'm paying for it, aren't I?"

- Someone who never laughs is known as an "agelastic". Famous agelastics include Sir Isaac Newton, who is said to have laughed only once during his entire life when someone asked what was the point of studying Euclid; Joseph Stalin, according to Marshal Zhukov; Jonathan Swift and William Gladstone. While it might seem odd that Swift was agelastic being a humorous writer, there are many comedians who do not laugh and are miserable in private. On the other hand, Anthony Trollop laughed a lot. In fact he died laughing.

- Tangent: If you copy someone's movements such as limp, it is known as "echopraxia". If you copy someone's voice like an impressionist, it is known as "echolalia".

- Tangent: People tend to not laugh as much when they are on their own. This is why when people are watching a TV show at home on their own they sometimes think the sound of the studio audience laughing is canned laughter.

- Tangent: Jonathan Trollop invented the post box, which was something he later regretted. Trollop had a very old-fashioned view of women, and he learned that his invention was being used by women to send letters on their own and communicate with everyone freely. Before then, women would have to go to their father or a servant to put a stamp on the letter. Afterwards, they could send letters without their parents' consent.

- Tangent: Theories relating to comedy include the superiority theory, in which people laugh at those who are suffering; incongruity theory, when the decorous and logical abruptly divert into the low and absurd; and Freud's relief theory, in which the naughtiness of jokes helps liberate the laughter and inhibitions.

- Tangent: Jimmy wrote a book about jokes called The Naked Jape with Lucy Greeves. Jimmy claims that the structure of two jokes is basically the same - two stories, the first of which makes an assumption and the second makes you realise it was wrong. Stephen then tells a joke about an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman and the landlord says, "What is this, some kind of joke?" Jimmy then tells a joke by Bob Monkhouse which goes, "When I told them I wanted to be a comedian, they laughed. Well, they"re not laughing now." In order to try and make his book funny, Jimmy put a joke on every page. There is one quote that says that analysing jokes is like dissecting a frog - no-one laughs and the frog dies.

- The people responsible for the oldest joke in the world are the Sumerians in 1900 BC. It reads: "Something that has never occurred since time immemorial - a young woman did not fart on her husband's lap." Another old joke is a Greek joke about an absent-minded professor on a sea voyage when a storm occurs and his slaves start to panic. The professor says, "Don't cry, I have freed you all in my will." One group of people mocked by the Greeks were the Abderites, who they said were stupid. Joke 114 in the Philogelos says that an Abderite asks a eunuch how many children he has, to which the eunuch says he has none because he is a eunuch. The Abderite says something in return, but no-one knows what it is. Clive suggests: "How many grandchildren then?" An old English joke says the cleanest leaf is the holly leaf because no-one will wipe their arse with them.

- Tangent: The subject of the first impression was Socrates, who was impersonated in a play by Aristophanes called The Clouds. Interestingly, the impression resulted in Socrates being put on trial 20 years later and then being put to death for corrupting youths. The impression was used as evidence. David Steel blames his Spitting Image puppet for ruining his career in politics. The puppet portrayed him as being small and an unequal member of the SDP, compared to David Owen.

- XL Tangent: Jan once did a show about impressions many years ago in which she tired to discover if there were impressions before recorded media. She discovered that in ancient Athens everyone knew everyone else because they were all involved in the political system, so people would have known what Socrates would have sounded like and thus the impression would have worked.

- XL Tangent: The first Prime Minister to be impersonated was Harold Macmillan, by Peter Cook. Macmillan even went to see the performance at the Fortune Theatre. The sketch was called "Supermac" and featured lines such as: "He went to see the German Chancellor, Herr...here and there, and...and how Britain could act as an honest broker in the world. Certainly no nation is more honest and it's certain also no nation is broker." Until 1968, you could not do an impression legally because of the Lord Chamberlain's Act which censored plays. The Act, created in 1737, was actually the fault of impressionists, because Robert Walpole brought it in to stop satirical plays and to prevent people from mocking him. However, places like Peter Cook's Establishment Club were exempt because it was a private member's club. It was later relaxed for politicians and then the act just said it could not be a living monarch, although this too has been got rid of. Jan then impersonates the Queen.

- Tangent: While working on The Naked Jape, Jimmy says that oldest joke that still works for us in the present day and is still performed is an old Greek joke in which a man goes for a hair cut and the barber asks how he would like his hair cut. The man says: "In silence".

- The panel are shown a metal device used to gag someone. It is known as a "scold's bridal". While it is commonly believed by people to punish gossipy women, there are no real records of these being used. A more common punishment was to be ducked in water using a cucking stool (not ducking stool). The male version of the scold's bridal was a barrator. There are 50 scold's bridals in Britain, and one in the studio is a replica from Walton-on-Thames.

- If you cross a caterpillar with a butterfly you may end up with an entirely different animal according to one theory. According to Donald Williamson, formerly of the University of Liverpool, caterpillars and butterflies are different species, in his theory of hybridogenesis. Williamson examined a species of starfish called Luidia sarsi which starts life as a small larva with a tiny starfish inside it. As the larva grows, the starfish migrates to the outside, they separate and the larva settles on the seabed which is normal. However, the larva did not degenerate. The larva swims off and lives for several months as an independent animal. He claims that for millions of years, especially in the sea, hundred of thousands of different species of sperm and seed have mixed, and just once every million years of so they create a double species. (Forfeit: Butterpillar; Caterfly)

- XL: Luigi from Bologna galvanised his frog to show that the nervous system worked using electricity. Luigi Galvani, from whom we get the word "galvanisation", found this and his nephew showed this in England and over the rest of Europe. He impressed the Royal College of Surgeons in 1803 where he convulsed the body of murderer George Foster. He placed rods on Foster's ears and his jaw moved and an eye opened. When the rod was moved to Foster's rectum, the whole body convulsed as if the body was coming back to live. This experiment was read by Mary Shelley who used it as inspiration for her novel Frankenstein, although no mention of electricity is given in the novel. Galvanised iron and buckets are made by coating them in zinc and thus resisting corrosion - it is an entirely different thing.

- One percent of American adults are in jail (spelt gaol in British English). 2,300,000 Americans are behind bars. Their proportion is twice as much as South Africa, more than three times as much as Iran, and more than six times as much as China. No society on Earth has imprisoned more of its people than the Americans. Part of the problem is their "Three strikes" rule, in which if you commit two serious crimes you are given life imprisonment if you commit a third crime no matter how trivial it is, which lasts at least 25 years. For example, Leandro Andrade is serving two life sentences for shoplifting nine videotapes. Another, Kevin Weber, is serving 26 years for stealing four chocolate chip cookies. One in thirty men between the ages of 20-34 is in jail, but for black males it is one in nine. There are more 17-year-old black people in jail than in college. 5% of the world's population are American. 25% of the world's prison population are American.

- Tangent: Britain imprisons more people than China, Turkey and India.

- Tangent: Another controversial issue with American jails is that it is a business. While you are not allowed to bring anything made in a prison or forced labour into the USA, you could argue if you are so minded that the country re-invented the slave trade, because American prisoners produce 100% of American military helmets, ammunition belts, bullet proof vests, ID tags and other items of uniform for very little pay. They also produce 93% of domestically produced paints, 36% of household appliances and 21% of office furniture. This allows the USA to compete with cheap imports from Mexico because the prisoners cannot refuse to work. The incentive to work in prison is that if you do not you are given solitary confinement.

- XL: The Emperor of China did not like pigeons because they stole his rice. People flew pigeons into granaries which then ate as much rice as they could. They then flew back home, were fed water and alum, and then they regurgitated the rice which was washed. 100 pigeons would steal 50lbs of rice a day.

General Ignorance

- There is no evidence that Cornish people lured ships onto rocks to steal their cargo. No contemporary sources mention the practice. There was one accusation in Anglesey, but that turned out to be false. The only records of it happening are in novels like Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier (who was the subject of Jan specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind). The myth may have been invented by Methodist preachers who wanted to portray the Cornish as barbarous people in need of chapel. It was also repeated by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, who wrote the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers". (Forfeit: Lured ships onto the rocks)

- Tangent: Sabine Baring-Gould was once at a children's party and he saw a young girl and he said, "And whose little girl are you?" and the girl cried and said, "Yours, daddy." Baring-Gould had 15 children. Alan then tells a story about a comedian who did an act and then an agent said, "I think you're very good. Do you have representation? Who's your agent?" The comedian said, "You are!" Edward James, the art collector, wrote in his autobiography that his mother once shouted, "Nanny! I'm going to church. I want one of my daughters to go with me." The nanny said, "Very good, Mrs. James. Which one?" and James's mother said: "The one with the red hair - she'll go with this coat."

- Archimedes could have lifted the Earth more by jumping up and down than using a lever. Archimedes once said: "Give me a place to stand and I will move the Earth." While he discovered the power of levers, the QI elves have calculated that if he weighted 100kg, and he placed his fulcrum a kilometre away from the bottom of the Earth, in order to balance the planet he would need a lever 6.5 billion light years long. Assuming he could find a lever that long, if he moved his lever by one metre, the Earth would move less than the distance of the diameter of a proton. (Forfeit: With a lever)

- Tangent: If you jump up, according to Newtonian insight, you could move the Earth by a tiny amount, but it would cancel itself out according to Newton's Third Law. As a result, there is no true in the myth that if everyone in China jumped up and down it would cause a huge tidal wave.


- Jan Ravens: 6 points
- Jimmy Carr: -7 points
- Clive Anderson: -14 points
- Alan Davies: -18 points

Broadcast details

Friday 5th February 2010
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Clive Anderson Guest
Jimmy Carr Guest
Jan Ravens 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
Katie Taylor Executive Producer
David Morley (as Dave Morley) Executive Producer


Stephen Impressed by Jan

Jan Ravens impresses Stephen with her knowledge of the technical words concerning impressionism.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Carr, Jan Ravens.


Supporters and subscribers get more

Additional content and tools are available across the site for Supporters and BCG Pro subscribers. On this page you can:

  • Broadcast details of 27 further repeats of this episode
  • BCG Pro business users can see additional crew credits  
    If you join BCG Pro business, you can see composer, editor, production designer & researcher credits for this episode.

Donate (for fans) BCG Pro

Already a donor or Pro user?