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 16 is repeated on Dave today at 9pm.

Series I, Episode 6 - Inventive

With Bill Bailey, Nina Conti (with her puppet Gran) and Sean Lock.

Further details


- You should be glad that you did not invent the flying car, the parachute suit and the web rotary press because the people who did invent them were killed by their own machines. William Bullock, inventor of the rotary press, which was a huge advance in printing, fell into the machine's works and was killed by them. Austrian Franz Reichelt invented a suit with a parachute in it and tried to prove it would work by throwing himself off the Eiffel Tower in 1912, but it did not work and he fell to his death. It may have been the case that it would have worked if only it was done at a greater height. Californian Henry Smolinski invented a flying car, in which you drove to an airport, collected the wings, attached them to the car, then flew to another airport, took off the wings and drove away. In 1973 one of the struts broke off and Smolinski and his co-pilot fell to their deaths.

- Tangent: Bill claims a man fell through a tunnel the size of a CD and he managed to survive. Alan however claims that he is now however in a redundant format.

- XL Tangent: Alan does not like flying, but despite this he was brought a flying lesson for his 40th birthday costing £99.

- Tangent: Nina once lost Gran on a plane which she claims for legal reasons she cannot mention, but Gran says it is Ryanair.

- Tangent: Stephen has a friend who has micro-pigs. When they travel via air his friend puts the pigs in the hand luggage without telling anyone. The phrase "Pig in a poke" comes from dishonest pig sellers who would hide a dog in a sack (a poke) and claim it was a pig. The phrase is also hard for ventriloquists to say, but Nina manages to get Gran to say it successfully.

- The well known invention which lurks in the belly and deserves to dwell in the cesspool is ventriloquism. The Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius, who once excommunicated the Pope, used this phrase to describe it. The word means "belly speaker" and ventriloquism has a dark history. People originally would just throw their voice anywhere and people thought it may have been demonic possession or a divine utterance. One woman, Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent, used her ventriloquism to object to marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. She was later executed and her head was put on a pole. By the 19th century it became a form of entertainment, but the first acts did not use dummies. They did things like making voices come from suitcases or making the sound of a chimneysweep going further up and up a chimney. The first ventriloquist to have a dummy was Fred Russell with his puppet Costa Joe.

- Tangent: The other members of the panel are given their own puppets and try to do ventriloquism themselves. Bill in the process accidentally breaks his buzzer.

- XL Tangent: Ventriloquist acts were once popular on radio. One of the most popular BBC comedies was Educating Archie starring Peter Brough. It was the show that Tony Hancock first appeared on. However, Brough made the mistake of moving the show to television and it was shown to everyone that his lips moved all the time.

- XL Tangent: Nina was taught ventriloquism by Ken Campbell, and he excited her by saying that people tend not to say the first thing that comes into their head but the second, and in a way she could say what she was really thinking using her puppets. Campbell's puppets were given to Nina in his will and Gran used to belong to Campbell. However, many puppets are donated to a "Doll heaven" in Vent Haven, Kentucky. Over 700 ventriloquists have donated their dolls to it.

- XL Tangent: The idea of a ventriloquist doll taking over the actual ventriloquist is most famously seen in the film Magic. Nina confesses that she sometimes wonders why Gran is not saying her line, despite the fact that Gran cannot really talk.

- Imaginary friends among children are more common place than we may think. It is believed by some psychiatrists that having imaginary friends is a good thing because it improves social interaction with real people and their verbal skills. However, some children have malevolent imaginary friends who tell them to do bad things or scare them.

- Tangent: Yasser Arafat said that the history of religious wars is the history of people fighting over their imaginary friends. Arafat was married to a Frenchwoman.

- XL Tangent: The actress Candice Bergman claims that she had an imaginary brother, who was Charlie McCarthy. He was the puppet belonging to Edgar Bergman, Candice's father and the most famous ventriloquist in America. Charlie had his own bedroom, wardrobe and monogrammed clothes. Candice was brought up as Charlie's brother.

- Each member of the panel has an old invention from the Maurice Collins Collection, and is asked to identify what it is.

- Bill: Has a wooden finger stretcher which was used by pianists to increase the range that they could play with one hand. Bill can play from notes C to E, which is a wide reach.

- Sean: A glass water grenade which was once used by firemen to put fires out by throwing them into the middle of the blaze.

- Nina and Gran: A wooden tube-like device which is inserted into the rectum in order to administer a solution to help with haemorrhoids. It comes with a screw lid which is turned and forces the solution out of the holes in the bottom.

- Alan: A pair of glasses which allow the wearer to read a book while lying down, without having to hold the book up high.

- Stephen: A policeman's Lady Reviver, which contained smelling salts and was used by the police in order to revive women who had fainted.

- XL: Edward Beard Budding's invention affected an army of men with wooden blocks strapped to their feet because it put them out of work. Budding's most famous invention was the lawnmower, which was inspired by an earlier invention of his which cut the cloth nap on soldiers' uniforms. Previously, lawns were cut by scythe men who made sure the grass was level by wearing wooden blocks on their feet and matching the height of grass to the height of the block. Once the lawnmower was invented it put them out of work. However, the lawnmower did allow huge fields to be cut easily, allowing anyone to have their own lawn and also to make it easier to play sports such as football and cricket by having a level grass pitch. Budding came from Stroud, Gloucestershire, as does Laurie Lee.

- XL Tangent: There is a British Lawnmower Museum in Southport which has over 300 exhibits, including the lawnmowers belonging to Vanessa Feltz, Alan Titchmarsh, Nicholas Parsons, Brian May, Roger McGough, Albert Pierrepoint, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

- XL: The man who invented the idea of having bacon and eggs for breakfast and the phrase "Torches of freedom" was Edward Bernays, who it could be argued to also invented public relations. A nephew of Sigmund Freud, he was once employed by an American food company. At the time American breakfasts were very light, but he collected 5,000 doctors and he made testament to the "fact" that a heartily breakfast was better for you and promoted the idea of having bacon and eggs. This worked and the dish became a staple. The phrase "torches of freedom" was created by him to promote cigarettes to women. At the time, during women's suffrage, it was considered unladylike to smoke and one woman in New York was arrested for smoking in the 1920s. So Bernays took a photograph of women during an Easter parade smoking cigarettes, promoting the idea that this was empowering and that cigarettes were, "torches of freedom".

General Ignorance

- XL: The internet was invented by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, who were responsible for the internet protocol. The first "internet" was called ARPANET and was an offshoot of the American defence programme in the 1960s. The first communication took place in California, from Los Angeles to the Stanford Research Institute (over 400 miles), and read "Lo". The full message was "Login" but the system crashed mid-way through the message. Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, which was a much later invention and is just one thing you can use on the internet. (Forfeit: Tim Berners-Lee)

- Nobody Knows: Nobody knows how dinosaurs had sex. While the most common theory is that they did it like reptiles and birds do it today using a cloacal sack, no sexual organs survive because the flesh has all rotted away. We have only been able to sex dinosaurs in the last 15 years. Alan gets the bonus.

- XL: The right conditions for dry rot are that it has to be damp. According to architects rising damp does not exist, although it is mentioned in building regulations. It is believed that it is normal damp that comes from a leak.

- No diseases are spread by feral pigeons according to pigeon experts.


- Nina Conti: 5 points
- Gran: 4 points
- Sean Lock: 3 points
- Alan Davies: 1 point
- Bill Bailey: -3 points

Broadcast details

Friday 14th October 2011
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Bill Bailey Guest
Sean Lock Guest
Nina Conti 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


Ventriloquist Dummies

A chat about ventriloquist dummies with all the panalists playing with them.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Bill Bailey, Sean Lock, Nina Conti.


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