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, Episode 13 is repeated on Dave tomorrow at 2am.

Series I, Episode 2 - International

Further details


- The set is decorated with signs usually found in airports. Stephen is wearing an aeroplane pilot's uniform.


- Nobody Knows: Bill gets three points for mentioning the fact that nobody knows how the QI scoring system works.

- XL Tangent: The man who does the scoring for QI is called Colin. He works for Lumina, a company which also works for Pointless and Eggheads.

- If you were on an aeroplane in which both the pilot and the co-pilot had fallen ill, it would be incredibly difficult for anyone else to land the plane down safely. Luckily, an incident such as this has never occurred in commercial airline travel history. Simulations have been carried out in the USA with people with civil private pilot licences. In these cases one person could not move the seat that moved them towards the control, another turned the radio off, and another turned off the autopilot and crashed the plane immediately. One of the first problems is getting into the cockpit, which is much more secure these days following 9/11. The pilot and co-pilot may be too ill to let you in. If the plane was on autopilot you could continue to fly level, and once you began to land people would talk you through the procedure, but there are so many variables that it is really difficult. There is however an auto-land system. The chances of an intelligent person landing the aircraft in such a situation are 1 in 10 if it is in autopilot, and 1 in 100 if it is not in autopilot.

- Tangent: Jack claims that in his uniform, Stephen looks more like a bursar, getting him confused with a purser. A purser is the person who collects money for items of duty free on planes, whereas a bursar is the person who sorts out the finance of public schools.

- Tangent: The pilot and co-pilot on a plane always have different meals from each other in case one of the meals makes one of them feel ill. In the case of extra long haul flights there are three pilots instead of two.

- XL Tangent: There are 400,000 people in the air at any given time.

- Tangent: Autopilot was invented in 1914, during the Paris Air Show. It was an American invention and used a gyroscope.

- Tangent: The shortest commercial flight in the world is in the Orkney Islands, from Westray and Westray Papa. It usually takes two minutes, but the shortest it has ever taken is 58 seconds. The distance is shorter than the runaway of Edinburgh Airport. A return ticket is £39; however, you do get a certificate and a miniature of Highland Park whisky.

- The panel are shown a picture of two Indian policeman and are asked which of the two is best. The answer is the one with the moustache. In the state of Madhya Pradesh policemen are paid 30 rupees more for growing a moustache. They believe that policeman with moustaches are less intimidating, get on better with the local community and are more respected by the public. In India, moustaches are considered a sign of virility, but there is a north-south divide. In the north, where Bollywood and the cricket team are, they are rarer than in the south.

- Tangent: In the British Army between 1860 and 1914 it was a regulation that every soldier had to have a moustache. If you shaved it off, you could be imprisoned. Stephen then puts on a fake General Melchett-style moustache to show what kinds of things people used to protect their moustaches. These included cups and spoons to prevent your moustache from getting wet when drinking or eating soup, as well as a cover to prevent your moustache from messing up while you slept. The world's longest moustache is 14 feet long. The man who has it has made a living from it, appearing in the film Octopussy.

- XL Tangent: The only Action Man toy with a beard was the adventurer, which was in the Navy. The Navy is the only branch of the armed forces in which you can have a beard.

- XL Tangent: No-one working at Disney is allowed to have facial hair. Some years ago, an angry email was sent by Disney's HR department to their employees saying that anyone who described Disney as "Mousewitz" would be fired. Within half an hour the employees started calling Disney "Duckau".

- XL: A question inspired by the International Brigade, who fought on the Republican Side of the Spanish Civil War: out of a Vickers machine gun, a tomato and a jellyfish, the jellyfish is the odd one out because it is the only one not improved by adding urine. The idea that jellyfish stings can be cured with the use of urine is an urban myth. Seawater is better at curing it. Human urine is a very good fertiliser for growing tomatoes. The Vickers machine gun would often overheat so it was cooled using a water-cooled jacket. The water is poured from the top and collected in a jerry can at the bottom so it can be used again. However, in places where there was very little water, urine was used to keep them cool. The International Brigade often used the phrase "Pass the piss". The Vickers was used between the First World War and the Korean War. In the novel Good-Bye to All That, Robert Graves claimed that soldiers used to make tea from the water used to cool the machine guns. The Russians made guns with a hole in them so you could pee straight into them.

- XL: In 1953, Italy's biggest export was accordions. They mostly came from the town of Castelfidardo, which still makes them. (Forfeit: Urine; Pasta)

- Mussolini wanted Italians to eat risotto to make them big and strong. He had a national propaganda day devoted to risotto, and wanted Italians to stop eating pasta. The Italians resisted this, but he did have the support of the Futurists, an art movement akin to the Dadaists. One, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, said pasta made Italians lethargic, pessimistic and sentimental. He had a restaurant serving dishes such as "Aerofood", which involved pieces of olive, fennel and kumquat being eaten with the right hand, while the left hand caresses sandpaper, velvet and silk, during which time the diner is blasted with a giant fan and sprayed with the scent of carnations to the music of Wagner. Other dishes included "Chicken Fiat", in which a chicken is roasted with a handful of mild steel ball bearings inside, and is served with whipped cream once the flavour of the metal has been absorbed; and "Excited Pig", in which salami is skinned, cooked in strong espresso and flavoured with eau du cologne.

- XL Tangent: Stephen talks about a restaurant in Berlin which is completely dark and you are served by blind people. As you cannot see the food you use other senses to enhance your experience. Stephen says that he often likes to torture his mother when he goes to restaurants by refusing to tell his mother what he wants.

- XL: The Italians have rules about what sort of sauce goes with what sort of pasta. A stronger sauce would go with shell-shaped pasta to contain it. Hollow pasta is usually given a tomato like sauce because it runs through the tube and fills it. The Italians also do not serve pasta with parmesan cheese, regarding it as vulgar. They also consider Bolognese to be for idiots. The British use about four times as much sauce as the Italians, as the Italians just coat the pasta with it.

- - XL Tangent: Stephen admits that he loves spaghetti hoops on toast.

- The international head of state who snubbed Jesse Owens after his triumph at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is commonly believed that he was snubbed by Adolf Hitler, but this is not the case. On the first day of the Games Hitler only congratulated German winners. Someone then told Hitler that he should either congratulate all the winners or none at all, so Hitler refused to congratulate anyone. Owens claimed in his autobiography: "When I passed the Chancellor, he arose, waved his hand at me and I waved back at him. Hitler didn't snub me; it was FDR who snubbed me. The President didn't even send me a telegram. When I came back to my native country, I couldn't ride at the front of the bus, I had to go to the back door, I wasn't invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I certainly wasn't invited the White House to shake hands with the President either." Owens won four gold medals at the Games, but despite this he had to use the goods lift at the Waldorf Astoria to get into the reception for returning US athletes as he was not allowed to use the front door. (Forfeit: Hitler)

- Tangent: During the discussion about Hitler, a picture is shown of senior Nazi figures at the Berlin Olympics saluting to the crowd. Alan then notices that the figure on the far right of the picture looks like he is sticking his hand up to his nose as a sort of silly rude gesture. They then realise that the man doing it is Hermann Göring. David jokingly says that everyone in the picture is in the far right.

- Tangent: Sammy Davis Jr. could not go through the front door of the hotels in Las Vegas where he was performing.

- Nobody Knows: The panel are shown a creek and are asked where the rainwater which flows down it goes to. Nobody knows where it goes. It is North Two Ocean Creek in Wyoming, nearby by the Continental Divide. Water on one side of it will flow into the Pacific Ocean and on the other side will flow into the Atlantic. However, no-one knows where the water goes when it lands in the creek itself. Alan gets the bonus.

General Ignorance

- The world's largest pyramid is Cholula, which is an Aztec pyramid. Although it is not as tall and has a flat top, it has a bigger cubic capacity of 4.3 cubic kilometres, as opposed to the Cheops' 3.36 cubic kilometres. A pyramid with a flat top is called a "frustum". (Forfeit: The one in the middle)

- XL: The country with the fattest people in the world is Nauru. Out of a population of around 10,000 97% of men and 93% of women are obese or overweight. The people are offended at being called obese and claim that they are a stocky people.

- The First World War was first named as such in 1918. Lt. Col. Charles à Court Repington wrote in his diary on 19th September 1918 that he met with a Major Johnstone of Harvard University to discuss what the war should be called. Rejected names included "The War" (would not last) and "The German War" (giving too much credit to the Germans). Then Repington suggested "The World War", and they mutually agreed to call it "The First World War", 'in order to prevent the millennium folk from forgetting that the history of the world is the history of war.' In 1920 Repington published a book called The First World War: 1914-18. It had also been known as "The Great War", but before that the other Great War was the Napoleonic War. (Forfeit: 1939; After the Second World War; During the Second World War)

- XL: The colonel-in-chiefs of the Royal Dragoons and the First King's Dragoons Guards failed to turn up for duty at the start of the First World War because they were leading the German forces. Kaiser Wilhelm was colonel-in-chief of the Royal Dragoons and Franz Joseph Habsburg was colonel-in-chief of the First King's Dragoons Guards. This was not the last time such a blunder was made. In the 1930s the British made the Japanese Emperor Hirohito a field marshal.

- XL: The stiff arm salute as used by the Nazis was originally used by the Olympic movement until 1936 and by American school children taking the Oath of Allegiance until it was dropped following the rise of Hitler. The idea that it was first used by the Romans has no evidence to support it. This idea was however used by French classical artists such as David who believed they did. (Forfeit: Romans)


- Bill Bailey: 4 points
- Alan Davies: -10 points
- Jack Dee: -27 points
- David Mitchell: -44 points

Broadcast details

Friday 16th September 2011
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Bill Bailey Guest
David Mitchell Guest
Jack Dee Guest
Writing team
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Justin Pollard Question Writer
James Harkin Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Andrew Hunter Murray Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
David Morley (as Dave Morley) Executive Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer


David Mitchell explains the origins of WWI

David Mitchell attempts to answer the question: "When was the First World War first named as such?"

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Bill Bailey, David Mitchell, Jack Dee.


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 47 further repeats of this episode
  • This episode's inital overnight ratings
  • 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?