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


  • TV panel show
  • BBC Two / BBC One / BBC Four
  • 2003 - 2024
  • 312 episodes (21 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 I, Episode 1 - I-Spy

Preview clips


- The difference between an ai and an aye-aye is that they are two different types of animal. The ai is a type of sloth from South America which looks uncannily like a person dressed as a sloth. They spend most of their lives in trees and only come down to defecate. They need to bask in the sun to warm up their metabolism. The aye-aye is a endangered nocturnal lemur from Madagascar which looks incredibly ugly and has a very long middle finger which it uses to find food with by tapping on trees, similar to woodpeckers, filling the local niche. It is endangered partly because locals believe it is unlucky to see one pointing at you with their extended finger (a custom known as "Fady") so they attempt to kill them on sight.

- Tangent: Lee says the reason why the aye-aye is so endangered is that they do not want to shag each other because they are so ugly, but Stephen points out that they live at night. Lee claims that this is how Jimmy mates, but then Jimmy jokingly claims that he cannot believe Lee's wife told him that. Stephen claims that a similar retort in New York is to say, "your mama", although Lee thinks Stephen should be saying, "one's mama".

- The difference between an aye and an aye-aye in the Navy is that an "aye" simply means "yes" in terms of agreement or assent when responding to a normal everyday question, whereas "aye-aye" is a response given by a lower ranking sailor to a command given by their superior.

- Tangent: The command "Order hands to bathe" means that the sailors (the "hands") can go into the water and swim.

- The reason why the Mona Lisa will not stop staring at you is because her eyes are painted looking straight out. If the eyes are painted this way then it will always appear as if they are looking at you. This is not unique to the Mona Lisa and occurs with other paintings such as The Laughing Cavalier (the most famous painting in the Wallace Collection in London). If the eyes are not painted looking straight out, they will not look at you, even if you are in the position where the eyes are looking.

- Tangent: Stephen shows the panel an example of an optical elusion. He shows them a plastic mask/mould of Albert Einstein's face, bulging out on one side and caving in on the other. When the mask turns around you begin to look at it from the inside, then when it gets to a certain point your brain makes you think that are looking at from the outside and it seems to bulge out. Another optical illusion is to fold a bank note in such a way that when you tilt it you can make the Queen look happy or sad.

- Tangent: The science of gaze detection is the study of how we look at things. In this science it was discovered that women will look at people's faces, whereas men will look at both people's faces and their genitals. What is more disturbing is that the American Kennel Association discovered that the same is true when men and women stare at animals. Gaze detection is important to shops because they can put the right goods on the shelves that people are most likely to look at.

- Tangent: Sandi went to a wedding in the middle of the countryside and they discovered that in the wedding photos the bride and groom were standing next to a horse which had an enormous set of genitals which kept cropping up in all the pictures.

- A question about infancy: the best-selling children's author who had something to say on rabid dogs, suicide victims, slaughtering cattle and how to tie your shoe laces is Lord Robert Baden-Powell, author of Scouting for Boys. Here are some of the things mentioned in the original 1908 book:

- Suicide victims: "When a man attempts suicide a scout should know what to do with him. In the case that the would-be suicide has taken poison, give milk and make him vomit which is done by tickling the inside of the throat with a finger or a feather. In the case of hanging, cut down the body at once, taking care to support with one arm while cutting the cord. A tenderfoot (a novice scout) is sometimes inclined to be timid about handing an insensible or dead man, or even seeing blood. Well, he won't be much use till he gets over such nonsense."

- Slaughtering cattle: "If you're a beginner with slaughtering with a knife, it's sometimes useful to first drop the animal insensible by a heavy blow with a big hammer or the back of a felling axe on top of the head."

- Stopping a runaway horse: You should not wave your arms around. Instead, drive it towards the side of a wall or a house.

- Saving someone whose fallen in front of a train: "If the train is very close, lie flat between the rails. Make the man do the same till the train passes over, while everyone else will be running about screaming, getting excited and doing nothing."

- XL Tangent: Sandi once read a 17th century book which was a guide to women on how to look after their husband, which describes sex euphemistically. It says that: "Of course we can't speak of a husband's appetite, so we will describe it in terms of food." It said that you should feed your husband whenever he's hungry and feed him a variety of meals or he will soon be eating next door.

- XL: An initiative test - If you meet a friendly jackal you stay clear of it because it is suffering from rabies. Jackals are wild animals and would never approach humans normally. The normal rabies symptom of foaming at the mouth does not always occur.

- XL Tangent: Sandi did as trip for the BBC up the Zambezi, where she canoed down the river. She was told to avoid any dogs because of rabies, but she spotted that everyone by the river bank had a dog with them. They were used to protect people from crocodiles. The people would offer the crocodile a dog while they escaped. Sandi does not recommend canoeing the Zambezi because she ended up with a condition that she could only describe as "trench bottom".

- XL: A question of intelligence - The people responsible for finishing of Russia's greatest love machine may well have been MI6. Grigor Rasputin the mad monk is claimed to have been killed by Prince Felix Yusupov in his autobiography, but historical evidence seems to disprove this. The Prince claimed to have poisoned him with cakes containing cyanide, stabbed him, shot him, drowned him, and burned him, taking ages to die and legend claiming that Rasputin sat up in the fire. However, it is now believed that he was simply shot. The reason why people wanted him killed was because he had the ear of the Tsarina, and rumours also claimed they were having an affair. Rasputin did have lots of affairs, partly due to his belief that the more you sinned, the more holy you were. Rasputin also tried to persuade the Tsar and Tsarina not to go to war against Germany during World War One. Thus, Britain had an interest in killing him because if he went then the Germans would be fighting on two fronts. The last bullet that entered into Rasputin's brain was one that could have only have come from an MI6 operative, thus it may well have been a British plot.

- XL Tangent: The "Durable" Mike Malloy was another man who took ages to be killed. He was an Irishman living in prohibition New York. A gang of criminals running a speakeasy lead by Anthony Marino decided to get people drunk, fill out life insurance policies, then kill the people with the alcohol and get the insurance money. They got Malloy drunk and made him sign three policies amounting to nearly $2,000. After several weeks he was still alive, so they added antifreeze. He collapsed a bit but Malloy kept coming back for more. Then they gave Malloy drinks with turpentine, horse liniment, rat poison, rotten oysters in wood alcohol and sardines mixed with carpet tacks. This still did not work, so they got him drunk, stripped him naked, poured five gallons of cold water over him and dumped him on a snow bank in midwinter. However, the police found him, took him to a hostel and Malloy turned up again the next day with a new set of clothes. Getting desperate the gang paid a taxi driver $150 to run him over. After two attempts, they left him in the middle of the road. A few weeks later, Malloy returned again, fresh out of hospital and wanting more drink. Finally they challenged him to a rigged drinking contest, got him drunk, pushed a gas hose down his throat and gassed him to death. A few months later the gang squabbled amongst themselves, and they were later all arrested and executed.

- XL: The panel are asked how many things beginning with "I" are in a picture of sky with a black square in it. The answer is billions of things, because vast amounts of insects live high in the air. Entomological radars are used to detect the insects. The first tests involved putting sticky things on planes to catch the insects. The highest insect ever found was a termite at 19,000 feet. 30 million large insects (larger than a ladybird) were found using the radars. They are vastly outnumbered by even smaller insects.

- XL Tangent: American law dictates how many insects and other unpleasant items can be found in food. The average jar of peanut butter can contain no more than 30 insect fragments and one rodent hair per 100 grams. Tomato juice can contain no more than 10 fly eggs or two maggots from the drosophila fly per 500ml. Ginger is allowed 3mg of mammalian excreta per 100g. Fig paste is allowed 13 or more insects heads per 100g. Ground marjoram can contain 1,175 insect fragments per 10g.

General Ignorance

- Nobody Knows: Stephen asks what the panel can tell him about the life-span of a red/orange lobster. However, nobody knows how to tell the age of a lobster. It may be the case that lobsters can live forever, due to a special protease-type DNA called "telomerase" which replaces lost DNA during cell division so they stay young. They shed their entire skin/exoskeleton 25 times during the first 5 years of their life, growing 50% each time. But because the skeleton is attached to their stomachs by teeth inside them they also have to pull out the lining of the throat, stomach and anus. Because lobsters live so deep down on the ocean floor, there could be some gigantic lobsters down below. The largest lobster caught was in Nova Scotia in 1977 and was 3.5 feet long from claw to tail. While most lobsters tend to be black, you can have red or blue lobsters as well. Lobsters communicate by urinating. Alan gets the "Nobody Knows" bonus. (Forfeit: It's dead) Correction: In Series K it was revealed that we do now know how to age a lobster. Canadian scientists have discovered that you can tell the age by dissecting their eye stalks and counting the rings.

- Tangent: At the old Wembley stadium, urine would flow down the steps because people would urinate themselves rather than leave the match. In America there is a thing called a "Stadium Pal" which is a tube connected to the penis which you urinate into, down into a bottle attached to your leg. There is also a version for women which Sandi jokingly claims looks like a gravy boat. Also, there is also a special bag you can urinate into while driving.

- In the olden days, a shop called "Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe" would have been known as "The Old Pork Pie Shop". The word "Ye" means "The", but in olden days "Y" was not the same letter as it is today, but an Anglo-Saxon letter called the "thorn", similar to the Greek theta. When printing began people sometimes did not bother to make a separate form because the "Y" was so similar. Similarly "That" was abbreviated to "Yt". (Forfeit: Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe)

- XL: The war in which both sides thought under the Union Jack (or Union Flag) was the American War of Independence. The American stars and stripes flag when it was first designed had the Union Jack as the canton in the top left corner. The Union Jack was not in existence around the time of the English Civil War. (Forfeit: English Civil War)

- XL Tangent: The only American state flag to contain the Union Jack is the flag of Hawaii.

- The thing that went up by 57% during the Blitz was the crime rate. Mad Frankie Fraser once said: "It was a terrible tragedy when Hitler surrendered because wartime London was a criminal's paradise." For example, if you dressed up like an ARP Warden, people would help you thinking you were an actual warden. The criminals would order people to carry goods into their vans that they were going to steal. Other crimes included scams. One example was of a man called Handy who made a £500 claim that his house had been bombed on 19 occasions. The public also committed crimes by trying to break the laws on rationing. The main reason given for the high crime rate was that everyone was more concerned about the bombs and air raids.

- Tangent: Alan's grandfather was an ARP warden.


- Sandi Toksvig: 12 points
- Jimmy Carr: -4 points
- Lee Mack: -5 points
- Alan Davies: -11 points

Broadcast details

Friday 9th September 2011
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jimmy Carr Guest
Sandi Toksvig Guest
Lee Mack Guest
Writing team
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Mat Coward Researcher
Justin Pollard Question Writer
James Harkin Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Will Bowen Researcher
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
David Morley (as Dave Morley) Executive Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer
Nick King Editor
Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
Howard Goodall Composer


Optical Illusions with an Einstein Mask

Stephen shows a quite interesting optical illusion involving an indented mask.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Carr, Lee Mack & Sandi Toksvig.


This week QI returned to its original home on BBC Two. As part of a special night devoted to the world's most interesting (and personally I think the greatest) panel game a documentary covering the making of the show was broadcast.

Speaking as someone who knows QI back-to-front and inside-out, I already knew about much of the information mentioned in the documentary, although to most viewers it did include stuff which will of no doubt be of interest. The fact, for example, Michael Palin was to be the original host (Stephen Fry and Alan Davies were going to be team captains, with Fry the head of the clever team and Davies head of the stupid team) and that two questions were created by reading an entire Albanian dictionary cover-to-cover is interesting.

However, there were some things that even I was surprised about. While I know that the show has popular demand, I didn't know that it was the TV show with the second biggest demand for tickets in Britain (after Top Gear), thus making it the most demanded comedy show in Britain. No wonder I've only been able to see one recording at the time of writing.

The main area of interest to me is the work carried out by the show's researchers or "Elves". For me, being a QI elf would be my dream job. Just trying to find anything that would be of interest, coming across a glorious chunk of information that hardly anyone else knows about, would be a joy to behold. That's why I spend so much time on the QI forums, trying to contribute information in the hope of recognition. One day maybe I'll get that job... one day... a man can dream.

Ian Wolf, Giggle Beats, 12th September 2011

Last night QI returned to BBC2 for another series of the incredibly intelligent quiz show hosted by the extremely knowledgeable Stephen Fry. Last night Mr Fry was joined by Lee Mack, Jimmy Carr, Sandi Toksvig and the ever-present Alan Davies. The subject was I-Spy.

To list the amount of interesting facts would take longer than watching the show itself and to list the amount of jokes, gags or hints of amusement would take almost as long. A few key points on last night's episode that ticked both boxes were the plastic mould of Einstein's face that tricks the mind and making the Queen happy or sad on a five pound note. Without giving it away I think you definitely have to watch the show in order to get the point of each.

QI is a very unique programme on the old telebox these days as it educates whilst entertaining. Maintaining the balance and keeping an audience who have flicked on for either is a tricky thing to master, but QI has mastered it with flying colours I do believe. I did learn a few things that I did not know before watching and I although most of it may be useless I do feel more confident going into next week's pub quiz.

Star of the show last night would have to go Lee Mack who isn't the cleverest of men, but is damn funny. Catch it on the iPlayer and expand your intelligence whilst having a chuckle.

D.J. Haza, What Culture!, 10th September 2011

QI review

'The aye-aye has an elongated middle-finger, and his Madagascan neighbours don't like being shown it. Still, who does?'

Ash Smyth, The Arts Desk, 10th September 2011

A Guide to QI. Series I, Episode 1 'I Spy'

The first two stars of QI research for the I series don't actually begin with I.

James Harkin,, 9th September 2011

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