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.

Christmas special coming up.
Series K, Christmas Special is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.

Series G, Episode 13 - Gothic

Further details

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry, Jack Dee, Jimmy Carr. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


The panel are dressed in black and the set is decorated with grotesques, bats, black cloth and candles.


- The panel are shown a weird looking statue and are asked what they should call it. It is a "grotesque". The difference between a grotesque and a gargoyle is that gargoyles are used to drain water, whereas grotesques are purely artistic. The word "gargoyle" comes from the French "gargouille", meaning "throat", from which we also get the word "gargle". (Forfeit: Gargoyle)

- The thing that is Gothic about the Goths is that they helped to destroy the Roman Empire. They were a Scandinavian tribe who also defeated another tribe called the Vandals. Other Gothic things include architecture, which is any kind of architecture which is not done in the classical style. The word was used in Renaissance Italy as an insult to describe any architecture that was not done in the classic style, because the Goths were people who destroyed much of the Roman Empire and thus civilization. There is also Gothic literature, which involves the macabre. Then there is Carpenter Gothic which is a type of design for a house in the USA, most famously recognised in the painting "American Gothic" by Grant Wood. The building that was painted is in Eldon, Iowa. Then there are the young people who wear black known as "Goths".

- XL Tangent: Jimmy says a book about bad monks would be a great idea. Jack points out that there is a villainous monk in "The Da Vinci Code".

- Tangent: The man who was painted in "American Gothic" was Grant Wood's dentist.

- Tangent: The main difference between a Goth and an Emo is that Emos are emotional. There are also differences in music and clothing. Stephen says that a difference is that Emos want to kill themselves and Goths want to kill everyone else.

- Tangent: When Alan was a teenager he wanted to paint his bedroom black. Instead he wallpapered his room black in around 1982. He then watched Coronation Street in his bedroom and discovered to his horror that the character Mike Baldwin had the same wallpaper as he did.

- XL Tangent: Jimmy compares Goths to vampires, in that they cannot go in the day or in summer because they would just melt. The panel then go onto talk about people who could be considered Goths, but came about before the culture was created, such as Alice Cooper, Robert Smith from The Cure, and Siouxsie Sioux.

- The panel are show the painting of the Sunflowers and are asked who painted it. It was painted by Vincent van Gogh, but his surname is actually pronounced "van Hoch". The answer is given to them by Arthur Japin, novelist and the host of the Dutch version of QI, who is also in the audience. The resident panellist in the Dutch version is called Thomas van Luyn. (Forfeit: van Goff; van Goth; van Go)

- Tangent: Jimmy jokes that the ear Vincent van Gogh cut off was a very primitive bugging device. Alan then talks about a John Sayles film called Brother From Another Planet about an alien who comes to Earth who looks like a black guy from Harlem. He goes to live in Harlem, gets a job fixing fruit machines, and one of his alien abilities is that he can take his eye out and he can still see.

- XL Tangent: There is a theory that Van Gogh's ear was cut off by Paul Gauguin during a fight. Another story concerning Van Gogh's is that he fell in love with a woman in the Netherlands and the woman's parents denied him access to her. So Van Gogh put his hand in a flame on top of a candle and said that he would see the woman so long as his hand was in the fire. The father just blew the candle out and told him to go.

- Supposing if Alan was a zombie, who in turn bites Jimmy, who in turn bites Jack, who in turn bites Sue, who in turn bites someone else and so on, at this rate it would take 38 days for the entire world to turn into zombies. This is an example of a geometric progression.

- Tangent: Stephen accidentally called Sue "Mel", confusing her with Sue's comedy partner Mel Giedroyc, much to his shame.

- XL Tangent: Jimmy tells the story of the Chinese Emperor and the man who wanted paying by putting one grain of rice on a chessboard square, two grains on the next square, four of the next, then eight, sixteen and so on. However, there is not enough rice in the world to fill every square. In fact, it is way more than all the rice in the world. The amount of rice need to fill the chessboard is 18,446,774,073,709,551,615. You would take 80 years to produce this amount of rice, if you converted all the arable land to rice production.

- Tangent: One theory claims that the zombie legend originated from Haiti where people where given the venom from a puffer fish and it induced a trance-like state. It was observed by an ethno-botanist called Wade Davis in the 1980s. This theory however, is not universally held.

- XL Tangent: The word "zombie" comes from a West African word: "nzambi".

- The panel are shown a picture of some people holding a large, painted wooden fish and are asked where it is going. The answer is that it will either be a graveyard or a crematorium because it is a coffin. In Accra, the capital of Ghana, a trend began in the 1950s and has been continuing ever since for the dead to be buried in unusual coffins. They can cost up to $400 which is about a year's wages in Ghana.

- XL Tangent: Jimmy was with his little brother, walking through a graveyard, and he thought that the gravestones with curly bits on the top were where chefs were buried.

- XL: The panel are shown a gravestone which is a pillar cut in half and what it signifies. It means a life cut short. Other symbols given on graves include broke chains, which means a loss in the family, or an apple, meaning sin.

- XL Tangent: Scientists are interested in the lichen growing on gravestones because they are an indication of air pollution. The stones absorb pollutants in the air like cadmium; the stones display the date so you know exactly when the pollution occurs; and graveyards are not normally sprayed with chemicals like pesticides because it is considered disrespectful.

- One way to make sure that your family never forgets you after you have died is to have yourself stuffed. Probably the most extreme example is Hananuma Masakichi, a Japanese artist who in the mid 1880s was diagnosed with tuberculosis and knew he was going to die. He made a statue of himself so life-like that it was hard to tell if it was human or not. He made hand-crafted glass eyes and then he bored tiny individual holes into the statue for every pour of his body. Then he took the hairs from every pour in his body and put them in the statue's pours. He pulled out his own fingernails, toenails and teeth as well, putting them on the statue. The statue then became part of Robert Ripley's Odditorium in Los Angeles, then was damaged in an earthquake in 1996 and is currently waiting to restored.

- XL Tangent: When you die you can be turned into compost. The body is dipped in liquid nitrogen and vibrated which makes the body brittle. A magnet is used to get rid of metals such as mercury which can go to make something else or be recycled. Out of the 25-30kg left over, the rest is put into a coffin made out of maize or potato starch, buried and the body rots into the earth over a period of about 6-12 months.

- Tangent: Another thing you can do is put a webcam in your coffin so your family can watch your body disintegrate. A Seattle-based website called seemerot.com provides this service. The site's slogan is: "Being dead and buried doesn't mean you can't have friends over." Correction: The website seemerot.com is a hoax which QI fell for. It does not show rotting bodies at all.

- XL: The vampire squid from Hell, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, is a deep-sea squid which has the biggest eyes of any animal in the world in relation to its head. If a human had eyes the same size in proportion to it they would be a foot wide. Unlike most squid that use ink as a defence, they use bioluminescence which they fire, dazzle their foe, and then flee.

- XL: The toughest way to become a mummy is to do it to your self and start while you are alive. Sokushinbutsu was a practice performed by Japanese Buddhists which was a form of self-mummification. For 1,000 days the person ates nothing except nuts and seeds while also doing vigorous exercise. For another 1,000 days the person would eat just bark and roots. Then they would drink a poisonous tea made from the sap of the urushi tree which would caused them to vomit. Then they would lock the person up in a tiny stone tomb with an air tube and a bell. The person would sit in the lotus position and every day would ring the bell to show that they were still alive. Once the bell stopped ringing, people outside would know the person was dead. The tube was removed, the tomb sealed, and then another 1,000 days past before the tomb was opened to see if the body had preserved. If it did, then it showed the person was a truly enlightened Buddha. This practice was declared illegal in the 19th century.

- XL Tangent: Jimmy gives a joke answer of "Reverse cowgirl", which is a sexual position in which the man is lying down on your back, and the woman is sitting on top of you and looking away.

- XL Tangent: When making mummies in Ancient Egypt, the brain was removed using hooks that went through the nose, which agitated the brain and made it more liquid.

- In the 1960s, two-thirds of Americans who had accidentally lost a limb all lived in one town in Florida. The reason for this was that the locals were trying to claim money on insurance. All of the claimants were men. More than 50 occurrences in a town with a population of around 500 happened, most of which were limbs shot of with hunting rifles. Claims made including accidents while hunting. The insurance companies noticed people always shot of the limb they needed least like the hand they did not write with.

General Ignorance

- XL: The panel are shown a bleep from an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine and are asked what it means. The bleep means that your heart is beating.

- XL: The panel are then shown the same machine but with nothing coming out and a long tone, known as flat-lining. It means that there is a fault with the machine like a wire coming loose. The idea that when the line goes flat it means you are dead is nonsense, mainly made popular because it appears in so many films. Similarly, fibrillation machines do not restart a heart that has stopped. It is to help with arrhythmia. (Forfeit: You're dead)

- After the Vietnam War, someone we know the identity of was buried in the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A family learned that the Unknown Soldier died in a helicopter crash, like their relative had done, so in the 1990s DNA testing was done and it was indeed their relative. As a result, the Unknown Solider is known. The body was removed from the tomb which is currently empty. Unknown Soldier tombs are increasingly unlikely because all British and American soldiers are DNA-profiled. (Forfeit: Nobody knows)

- Tangent: The soldier buried in the original tomb of the Unknown Warrior is definitely unknown. It was done in 1920 in both Britain and France. In Britain, there were four unknown soldiers and a general pointed at one body which became the Unknown Warrior. He was given a state funeral in Westminster Abbey with full military honours, entombed with a medieval crusader's sword, in the presence of a guard made out of 100 VCs. The guests of honour where 100 women each of whom had lost their husband and all her sons during the Great War. The Cenotaph is a memorial to the Unknown Warrior, designed by Lutyens.

- The saying, "Saved by the bell" comes from boxing. It is a myth it comes from people being buried alive and ringing a bell from their coffin to let people know someone was buried underneath. (Forfeit: Buried alive)

- Tangent: Jack references a very old film about a man who was so afraid of being buried alive that he equipped his tomb with emergency devices. However, by the time he needed them all the string had rotted. There is an Edgar Allen Poe story called "The Premature Burial".

- Mozart was not given a pauper's burial. His funeral actually was rather expensive, costing 8 guilders and 56 kreuzer. During his lifetime, Mozart had a pet starling that died in 1784. The whistling inspired the last movement of Mozart's piano concerto K453.

- Tangent: There are lists of top-ten tunes at funerals. One of the most popular is the theme tune from Countdown.

- XL Tangent: Another popular song played at funerals is "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen. On Queen's "Best of" album, the song which follows "Bohemian Rhapsody" is "Another One Bites the Dust".


- Alan Davies and Jack Dee: -17 points (Alan's twelfth victory and his second joint victory)
- Sue Perkins: -26 points
- Jimmy Carr: -28 points


For correction information, see QI Qibble Blog.

Broadcast details

Friday 19th February 2010
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jimmy Carr Guest
Jack Dee Guest
Sue Perkins 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


Goths, Emos and Emus

Why did Alan once wallpaper his entire bedroom black?

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Carr, Jack Dee, Sue Perkins.


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 32 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?