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Series 1, Episode 4

Transcript by: Sarah Falk

TRANSCRIPT

Stephen
Hello, hello, and welcome to QI, the quiz that rhymes with "Stephen Fry". Now, let's . . . let's meet the members of our happy band: Al Davies . . . Howie Goodall . . . Jez Hardy . . . and Jo Brand. Now, the rules are simple: I am a pimple. No, that's enough rhyming. Erm . . . Er, the rules are a cinch, in fact; the questions are not. As almost no one ever gets one right, I award points for being interesting, and penalties for being pathetically-obvious. Each member of the panel is provided with an attention-seeking device. Er, Jeremy goes:

Jeremy
[presses buzzer, which plays a cannon's boom followed by a duck squawking]
[reacts to the buzzer as though he's been hit]

Stephen
Howard goes:

Howard
[presses buzzer, which plays a guitar flourish]

Stephen
Jo goes:

Jo
[presses buzzer, which plays a campy, synthesized jazz tune]

Stephen
Alan goes:

Alan
[presses buzzer, which dings and says brightly, "Cashier number four, please!"]

Stephen
Very good. Right, I'm going straight onto the first question, which is, in fact, very easy. So, fingers on those mushroomoid buzzers, please: What is the main ingredient of air?

Alan
[presses buzzer, which dings and says brightly, "Cashier number four, please!"]

Stephen
Alan.

Alan
Oxygen.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the word "OXYGEN".

Stephen
Oh, Alan! So early on! [holds up card which reads "OXYGEN"] No. No, no, no. Not true, I'm afraid. And I'm afraid you get –

Jo
[presses buzzer, which jazzes synthetically]

Stephen
 – a bit of a forfeit. Yes?

Jo
Is it nitrogen?

Stephen
"Nitrogen" is the right answer. Well done.

Jo
[pumps arm in victory] Yes!

Stephen
I have to warn you that if you had said "carbon dioxide", you would have lost 3,000 points, because there is so little carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Alan
Because trees eat it all.

Stephen
Sort-of, yes, that's right. There is, in fact –

Alan
Trees do. They get rid of carbon dioxide. But if you're in a lift with someone, and after a while –

Stephen
Methane.

Alan
 – there will be – [breaks off].

Stephen
Sorry. I was just second-guessing you there.

Alan
No, but after a while, there . . . there won't be enough air in the lift, and that will be carbon dioxide. The cause of death . . . would be.

Jeremy
Always take a tree into a lift with you.

Alan
Yes.

Jeremy
And then you can hide, as well.

Alan
Yeah.

Jeremy
Move around the lift unseen.

Alan
You could entertain yourself. . . . It should be a fruit tree, so there'd be some food, as well as something to get rid of the carbon dioxide.

Jeremy
And you can make a shelter to shield you from the burning light, and possibly, a canoe, to escape.

Alan
In the event of flooding.

Stephen
But, no, this is absolutely right. Nitrogen is 78% of air. Less than 21% of air is oxygen, and only three hundredths of 1% of the air is carbon dioxide.

Alan
But nitrogen's lethal. If you breathe in –

Stephen
It's not really . . . 

Alan
 – nitrogen only, you would die.

Stephen
Yes. Because you do need oxygen, don't you?

Alan
Yes.

Stephen
Yes.

Alan
I've been scuba diving, and if you get nitro
nitrogen narcosis, it means you're getting bubbles of nitrogen –

Stephen
Yes. "The bends."

Alan
 – in your veins.

Stephen
Yes.

Alan
That's called "the bends".

Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
And people think "the bends" is 'cause you go a bit – [slumps and writhes in his seat] – like that, but actually, you get stuck – [freezes] – in odd positions, 'cause your body can't move properly,
'cause it's full of nitrogen, which is lethal.

Jeremy
No, that's when the wind changes. When you've been . . . when the wind changes when you're swinging on your chair and running with scissors at the same time.

Stephen
Well, we're going to move from "air" . . . we're going to move from "air" to "areas". What is the most boring place in Britain?

Jo
[presses buzzer, which jazzes synthetically]

Stephen
Jo.

Jo
Is it, erm, the Big Brother house?

Stephen
Very good. I'm actually, er . . . I have to confess, I'm feeling rather good about Big Brother at the moment, not that I've seen any of it, but, er . . . my, erm . . . my agent got a call yesterday – and I don't know what this means – erm, and they wondered if I . . . I –

Alan
Had to blow the dust off the phone straight away!

Stephen
 
one of the . . . one of the . . . what are they called?

Alan
[blows on an imaginary telephone several times, and fans dust away]

Stephen
What are they called? Thank you.

Alan
[picks up phone] "Mr F
. . . Mr Fry's agent!"

Stephen
Thank you. Now, what . . . what are they called in Big Brother? Inmates. Inmates?

Alan
Housemates.

Stephen
Housemates, housemates. House


Alan
Frymates.

Stephen
One of the housemates . . . apparently, they're allowed to have a book. Which may be some . . . a . . . a new thing


Alan
They are allowed to have a book.

Stephen
and one of the housemates has asked

Jo
No, no, they're not.

Stephen
New thing.

Alan
They are.

Jo
They can't read. They're not.

Stephen
the

Alan
[picks up notepad and looks at it in confusion]

Stephen
one of the housemates has asked for one of my books. Isn't that exciting?

Alan
Oh, that's


Stephen
I feel touched by celebrity, almost.

Alan
You know, the coffee table's a bit wonky.

Stephen
The . . . I remember from watching the first series. The one thing I really look forward to is . . . was Day 8,
'cause [imitates Marcus Bentley] "Day Eight" was a wonderful sound, isn't it? Bless him. Newcastle, I believe. Erm . . . Oh, yes.

Alan
Newcastle is far from being the most boring place in Britain.

Stephen
Certainly is not the most boring place in Britain, and thank you for dragging us back to the question.

Alan
Is this gonna be something like . . . there's been an actual survey of amenities, facilities . . . 

Stephen
"Survey" is a very good word to stick to, actually, because I'm talking technically, the most boring place, or tech–


Alan
You mean, flattest?

Stephen
Not exactly flattest . . . 

Jeremy
Argos.

Stephen
No. Most Greek islands are very pleasant. What's . . . what's wrong with Argos?

Jeremy
"Next"


Stephen
Oh!

Jeremy
"Next" is a very good catalog because it gives you a chance to see what the clothes would look like if attractive people wore them.

Stephen
Very good. Now, yes, Howard. I believe you were trying to buzz.

Howard
Erm, is this, erm . . . just moving up here on Alan's idea, but . . . is this a place on the Ordinance Survey where there are no signs of any kind


Stephen
Ten points.

Howard
No church, no nothing?

Stephen
Ten points. Absolutely right. Correct.

[The audience begins to applaud for Howard.]

Alan
Salisbury Plain.

Stephen
No, it's not Salisbury Plain.

Alan
Sorry, Howard. I jumped in on your round of applause.

Stephen
I have . . . I have a sort of slight mind to take five points away from you for suggesting that Salisbury Plain is the most . . . it has, probably, the most important Ordinance Survey reference in all of the United Kingdom: Stonehenge. For God's sake.

Alan
Which is . . . quite an interesting place.

Stephen
It certainly is. But


Alan
My uncle


Stephen
Oh, yes?

Alan
stood on a landmine on Salisbury Plain

Jeremy
Bad move.

Stephen
During manouevres, was it?

Alan
during the National Service.

Stephen
Yes, because the army used a lot for . . . for


Alan
It really, really, really hurt, but, er, he didn't lose a foot.

Stephen
I'm sure if the manufacturers had known it was going to really, really hurt, they would have . . . they would have come up with a safety version.

Alan
It was a little . . . it was much, much worse than, for example, stepping on a drawing pin, which really, really, really hurts . . . Much worse than that.

Stephen
No.

Jeremy
Paper cut's the worst thing, isn't it?

Stephen
Lemon on a paper cut.

Jeremy
Paper cut! 'Cause people say, "Oh, there's nothing worse than a paper cut. Not a sword, not a chainsaw . . . nothing." . . . "Nothing worse than a summer cold. Not syphilis, grenade up the bum . . . nothing."

Stephen
Fair point! But


Alan
East Anglia.

Stephen
No, thank you very much.

Alan
Almost a featureless environment!

Stephen
No. I am . . . as an East Anglian, I abs
. . . I refute that with every fibre of my being. The actual answer is a field

Jeremy
[interrupts] No, you can't refute . . . That's bad grammar, that, Stephen. To refute, you have to provide evidence.

Stephen
Yes . . . 

Jeremy
You mean "rebut".

Stephen
No, I mean "repudiate".

Jeremy
Fair enough.

Stephen
Yeah. But a good point. Very good point.

Jeremy
If you weren't . . . if you weren't showing off, you could have said "reject".

Stephen
Yes, indeed. You're absolutely right. Though it's not bad grammar, is it? It's just bad semantics.

Jeremy
Yeah, whatever.

Stephen
Yeah. Yeah. But, er . . . yeah. No, I stand . . . I stand hideously corrected and shamed.

Erm, a field outside Ousefleet, near Scunthorpe, in Lincolnshire. There's absolutely nothing in it apart from part an electricity pylon and some overhead cabling. On the 1:50,000 scale Ordinance Survey map, it's the blankest square kilometre in the country.

Alan
[carefully] Is it not in East Anglia?

Stephen
Well, all right! It's north. I think of it as the north, erm . . . Erm, Lincolnshire. Yeah.

Jeremy
There's a terrifyingly-large morehen up in the top right!

Stephen
Yes.

Alan
It's a picture of Ousefleet, anyway!

Stephen
Charles Dickens, on the other hand, would not agree. He'd have voted for Chelmsford. He stayed there once, and described it as "the dullest and most stupid spot on the face of the earth". And Charles Dickens should know, because he actually invented the word "boredom". Did you know that?

Alan
[shakes his head]

Jeremy
No.

Stephen
Isn't that interesting? Bleak House, in 1852. A little, quite interesting ripple just ran around the audience, there.

From one author to another. What did Barbara Cartland do in 1983, which involved a sofa and a hot-water bottle?

Howard
[presses buzzer, which flourishes]
Do you know, she was buried in a cardboard coffin, underneath an oak tree in the grounds of her house?

Stephen
I didn't! And I'll give you five points for being quite interesting


Howard
I know . . . and I haven't even finished


Stephen
Oh, you're going to get more, are you?

Howard
The oak tree was planted by Elizabeth I. And the mourners at her funeral took away . . . were given a leaf from the oak tree as a remembrance.

Stephen
Gosh. That's very good.

Howard
Is that quite interesting?

Stephen
Your five points stands; I'm not going to increase it . . . but that is very good. A cardboard . . . Why cardboard?

Alan
It's not really called a


Stephen
To . . . so it would perish?

Howard
It melts . . . it melts into the


Stephen
Yeah.

Howard
I presume, to melt into the earth

Stephen
Biodegradable.

Howard
the sod

Jeremy
That's
'cause they weren't entirely sure she was dead, because for the last . . . for the last 50 or 60 years, it was a bone of contention among

Alan
Yeah.

Jeremy
among most people.

Howard
Was it in 1983


Jo
She wrote a book! [throws hands up]

Howard
or something like that, she broke a record, in one year

Stephen
Thank you.

Howard
for writing the largest number of books? Ever.

Stephen
That had ever been written by anybody in a single year.

Howard
It was something like, you know, 30-something. 38. 39. 40.

Stephen
Not . . . I'll cer
. . . I'll certainly give you

Howard
28. 35.

Alan
32!

Stephen
I'll give you three points before you give me every number in the known universe. She actually wrote 23


Alan
23! I said


Stephen
23 novelsand she got into the Guinness Book of Records . . . she wrote in one year, using . . . using only from the hours

Alan
I have that written down.

Stephen
of one to half-past one

Alan
[holding up notepad] Here.

Stephen
In 78 years, she produced over 600 books.

Alan
Has anyone in the audience ever read one?

[Silence.]

Stephen
Isn't that interesting? I


Alan
Does anyone know anyone who's ever read one? Has anyone ever seen one?

Jo
Your birthday.

Stephen
[looking at Jo] Now, you see, probably in hospitals is probably a place you do see them, isn't it?

Jo
Psychiatric hospitals.

Stephen
Psychiatric hospitals . . . Erm, she did say, a
after she had written all these; she said, "I'll keep going 'til my face falls off." A face, incidentally, that reminded Clive James of two crows that had crash-landed into the White Cliffs of Dover.

Now, what's 15 miles away from everybody, and smells of geraniums?

Jeremy
[presses buzzer, which booms and squawks]
It would be an out-of-town warehouse shop called "World of Geraniums".

Stephen
"No" is the answer to that, because you . . . wherever you are


Alan
It's 15 miles from e


Stephen
From everyone.

Alan
from everyone

Stephen
From everyone.

Alan
It must be
[points to ceiling]straight up.

Stephen
Good . . . 

Jo
Or down.

Stephen
I like . . . I like your thinking.

Alan
Or towards the earth's core itself.

Stephen
Yeah.

Jeremy
Is that like, "you're never more than 15 miles from a geranium," like "eight feet from a rat"?

Stephen
It's not quite like that. You're . . . you're never . . . you're never more than 15 miles from the smell of a geranium. It's a very odd thing.

Howard
Ah. Wait a minute.

Alan
Space smells like a geranium?

Howard
Er, mustard gas smells like geraniums.

Stephen
Not mustard
–  . . . Mustard gas, hence the name, smells faintly of mustard, I think you'll find . . . No. It's . . . it's a very famous gas, but . . . which is most famous for forming a layer in our atmosphere.

Jeremy
Ozone!

Alan
The ozone layer!

Stephen
It is indeed ozone. I don't give you any points, because that was too easy. Ozone is . . . is . . . is, of course


Howard
[bursts out laughing]

Stephen
well, having said it was a famous "layer", come onis a gas. There we are. There's the ionosphere, there's the mesosphere, the stratosphere, and there's the ozone layer, just wedged in-between the stratosphere and the mesosphere.

Alan
It smells of geraniums?

Stephen
15 miles away . . . and it does smell faintly of geraniums.

Alan
Now, I put it to you


Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
that were you to go into the ozone layer and sniff . . . 

Stephen
Hm.

Alan
 . . . you would die.

Stephen
Well


Alan
You would not have enough time to say, "It smells a bit like
" [starts to choke]

Stephen
The . . . the


Alan
Someone goes [calls downwards], "What's it smell like?!" [makes more choking noises]

Stephen
Well, now, ozone is a poisonous form of oxygen. But without it, the sun's ultraviolet rays would kill all land animals and plants. Ozone is blue, and smells faintly of geraniums.

One of my favourite layers of the atmosphere is called the "Heaviside layer". Heaviside layer. Erm


Jeremy
Is it a bit on the heavy side?

Stephen
Well, no . . . oddly enough, it isn't. It's named after someone called Heaviside, who was a rather marvelous self-taught physicist. But it sort-of sounds so like it should be.

Alan
"Self-taught" sounds like he writes it on the blackboard, then runs around and sits and jots it down.

Stephen
What resembles a half-melted rubber bulldog? This was a description by the film critic John Simon of a very great film actor


Jo
Is it Walter Matthau?

Stephen
It is Walter Matthau! Five points! Well done!

Jo
[extends arms in delight]

Stephen
Very good.

Jo
[to Alan] How did I get that?

Alan
Well, he does


Jo
I love Walter Matthau.

Stephen
Top work. That's, er, according to the critic John Simon. There we are.

Now. From actors to atomic physics. What are atoms mostly made of?

Alan
Well, they're made . . . they are . . . not "mostly" . . . They're just made of the thing that they are, in that
[brings fingers together as though holding an atom]

Stephen
Right . . . 

Alan
and not combined with other atoms. They are alone . . . 

Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
Therefore, they are . . . just an atom.

Stephen
It's . . . it's not exactly a trick question, but they're mostly made of nothing, by a very, very long way. Even . . . even the atom of stone or diamond is more "nothing" than it is anything solid.

Alan
Like a t
–tiny, really small, little piece of nothing. Does it have protons and electrons, or is that a molecule?

Stephen
You're right. No, p
–protons and neutrons in the middle, there, which is the nucleus, and then the electron, which whizzes around outside.

Alan
I remember that from physics.

Stephen
Yeah. Yeah. An atom, in fact, is, er, much, much emptier, relatively speaking, than the whole solar system. Ernest Rutherford, the first man to describe the inside of an atom, likened, er . . . er, it . . . likened it to a . . . a few flies in a cathedral. That's what those little particles are inside the atom. The simplest element in the universe is hydrogen. It has a nucleus of just one proton, around which orbits a single electron. Now, if the proton were the size of a drawing pin . . . yeah? Yeah? Erm . . . erm, the electron would be the size of a pinhead, and it would be one kilometre away.

Jeremy
Yeah, but if I were to put a pineapple on my head, I'd look like Carmen Miranda, but I don't!

Stephen
 . . . I don't think you quite entered into the spirit of it.

Alan
Well, they're really hard to divide up into more than one part.

Stephen
Yes.
'Cause the word means . . . that. It means . . . It means "no cut".

Alan
Can't split.

Stephen
A-tom. Yes. I think it's "tomeo" is the Greek for "I cut". And . . . As in "appendectomy": to cut. Cut the appendix, and so on. And the rather wonderful English word tmesis, which, so far as I know, is the only English word that begins with the letters "tm". T-M-E-S-I-S; it's rather wonderful. Which is that . . . when you cut a word in half by putting another word inside, like saying "abso-blooming-lutely," or "sen-fucking-sational," or . . . called tmesis.

Jo
Or S-cunt-horpe.

Stephen
Or S-cunt-horpe. Thank you very much, indeed. Well, that's, er


Now, what's the difference between a hydrogen atom and a grand piano?

Alan
Ah.

Jeremy
[presses buzzer, which booms and squawks]

Howard
[presses buzzer, which trills]

Stephen
Jeremy got there first. Just.

Jeremy
Well . . . size


Stephen
Yes.

Jeremy
shape

Stephen
Yes, you're right, it's a foolish question.

Jeremy
and, possibly, Iraq did have the capability of splitting a grand piano.

Stephen
Very, very good. Very good indeed. Five points. That's very good. Yes, but Howard. The musician.

Howard
Hydrogen was identified by an eccentric man called Cavendish, who was a reclusive nutter, basically


Stephen
Right.

Howard
who did lots of very good scientific things in a room

Stephen
Brother of the Duke of Devonshire, I believe.

Howard
Was he?

Stephen
Yes.

Howard
Well, he was certainly a toff, and he had a lot of money, so he spent his whole life living in this house, doing experiments. And he lived in Great Marlborough Street, in Soho. And if you walk from Great Marlborough Street to Jermyn Street, it takes you about three minutes. And he identified, erm, hydrogen, in about 1770, something like that. In 1770, the world's first grand piano was made by Americus Bacchus, who had his studio in Jermyn Street


Stephen
Well!

Howard
at exactly the same time. So my connection is, they probably met at the same coffee shoppe.

Stephen
That's brilliant. You've gotta have five points for that. That's superb. Superb stuff. I love it. I like that. Peculiar man. Peculiar man. And how odd to have an English aristocrat who's also peculiar. There you are.

I'll tell you what it is. I . . . I . . . I expect Howard to get it if I tell you that there are 89 frequencies to a hydrogen atom.

Howard
Well, there are 88 keys on a piano.

Stephen
Absolutely. Therefore, 88 frequencies if you, obviously, discount harmonics. There are 88 notes.

Howard
Although not on an imperial grand. There are more than 88 keys on an imperial grand.

Stephen
Are there?

Howard
Yes, and that


Stephen
That's good. Thank God I didn't say "an imperial grand".

Howard
unfortunately, looks like an imperial grand, in which case, it has four extra legs.

Stephen
Well, in fact, it still is beaten by the, erm . . . er, by the . . . by the hydrogen atom, 'cause late-breaking news in my ear is, in fact, that there are actually over a hundred frequencies to . . . to a hydrogen atom.

So that was a bit of a naughty round, so we'll have a nice, easy one. Er, how many wives did Henry VIII have?

Howard
[presses buzzer, which flourishes]

Alan
[presses buzzer, which dings and says brightly, "Cashier number four, please!"]
 . . . Six.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the word "SIX".

Stephen
Oh, Alan, Alan, Alan!

Alan
"The six wives of Henry VIII."

Stephen
Just because other people have made the mistake, it's no excuse for you to make it, too. It was, erm


Alan
He had six wives!

Jeremy
He had major, major commitment problems, didn't he? I imagine, every time, he said, "Oh, it's not you. It's me." And then, I suppose, they had a trial separation, which involved a brief trial and a very major separation!

Stephen
Yes, well done. Of head from shoulders, exactly right.

Jeremy
It must have been very difficult for the new woman in his life each time. She'd say, "Oh, I don't know, Henry. Every
everywhere I look, I just see her face," 'cause it's on a pole.

Stephen
Actually, no


Jo
[presses buzzer, which dings once]

Stephen
Yes.

Jo
Can I just say something interesting about Henry VIII?

Stephen
Please do. Yes.

Jo
Right. When he died, and his body was moved from Greenwich up to, erm, wherever it went . . . Selfridges or somewhere, erm


Stephen
Maybe Westminster Abbey. We'll check on that.

Jo
Maybe Westminster Abbey.

Stephen
Yes.

Jo
Possibly Kentucky Fried Chicken. I don't know. But, erm, his . . . his guts were so rotten, and it was such a hot day, that his stomach exploded.

Stephen
Ah, what a nasty thought.

Jo
Isn't that a nice image?

Stephen
Yes, he was syphilitic, and he was huge, and he was . . . he was a mess of a man


Jo
He sounds bloody gorgeous, doesn't he?

Stephen
Well . . . As a young man, he was. As a young man, he was considered one of the most attractive men in
in all of Renaissance Europe. He was . . . he was much admired

Jo
I prefer syphilitic and bloated, myself


Stephen
athletic, musical, poetic . . . Yes, he did get a bit bloated. [puts hands on own stomach] I can't understand people who do.

Jo
but at least they're easy.

Stephen
Erm . . . No. Yes. It's an interesting fact, this. The real answer is "three or four". Henry's fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled on two grounds: It was never consummated, and . . . and she was already betrothed to Francis, Duke of Lorraine. This was, er, correct in law, at the time, and all parties agreed that no legal marriage had ever taken place. That leaves five wives. Er, the Pope declared Henry's second marriage, to Anne Boleyn, void, because Henry was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. And the king himself, as head of the new Church of England, declared that, er, his first marriage was invalid on the correct legal ground that a man could not marry his brother's wife, and Catherine of Aragon had been married to his brother Arthur.

Alan
[fingers on temples] Did he . . . did he or did he not have six weddings?

Stephen
Yes, he did, but that wasn't the question I asked.

Alan
And did he say, "This is my wife . . . " 
Six different people? Six different mothers-in-law all said of him, "He is my bloated, syphilitic son-in-law . . . "

Stephen
But by his second marriage, he said he'd never been married, because he never had a wife, because his first wife he could not be married to, Catherine of Aragon


Alan
What about all the families who said, "Yes, you did: We were there!"?

Stephen
There was a wedding, but there was no legal


Alan
They heard the speeches. They'd wake up in the morning, dead, wouldn't they?

Stephen
But there was no legal spousal status. That's the point we're trying to make. But, of course


Jeremy
How many toast racks did he have?

Stephen
That's the . . . that's the d
. . . That's the way. Count the toast racks, and you'll find out.

Alan
Now, can I ask a question about that painting?

Stephen
Yes.

Alan
Is it all wrong in perspective? It looks 2-D to me.

Howard
All Holbein's pictures are a bit flat.

Stephen
They are.

Howard
He did one of Martin Luther, and it's very flat.

Stephen
Yes.

Howard
It's like a pancake or an omelette.

Stephen
No, he did . . . he could certainly do perspective tricks, 'cause he did a marvelous one which you have to see from below, didn't you? We may find a picture


Alan
Yeah, that's what he said, after he bollocksed it up. "No, you have to . . . you have to see it from below!"

Stephen
It was very


Alan
Holbein's really very crap


Stephen
it was a sort of elongated skulls, and things, and then when you move underneath it, the full shortening effect of actually being under the paintingit suddenly becomes exactly the right proportions.

Alan
Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Stephen
Good Lord, you are extraordinary! How do you know these things?

Alan
It took four years.

Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
Which is . . . the same length of time it takes to paint the Forth bridge in Scotland.

Stephen
Well, there you are. You're struggling towards being interesting. I may . . . I may have to give you two points.

Does anyone remember . . . There's a wonderful line in that film The Agony and the Esctasy, which is about . . . about . . . Charlton Heston plays Michelangelo, and Rex Harrison plays


Alan
Charlton Heston plays Michelangelo?

Stephen
Yes.

Jo
Yes, unfortunately.

Alan
The effete Italian homosexual?

Stephen
Yeah, that's the one. He was never effete


Alan
Played by the president of the gun club?

Stephen
He was an athletic . . . he was an athletic Italian homosexual.

Alan
I thought he was the wussy one!

Stephen
He may well have preferred man-on-man action; that doesn't mean


Alan
No, I don't mean . . . When I say
. . .

Stephen
 
he was Julian Clary! He could have been butch, like me! You see

Alan
When I say "wussy one", I don't mean he was . . . he was gay; I mean he was a bit of a
[bends wrists and flops whole torso from side to side].

Stephen
No.

Alan
I thought Da Vinci


Stephen
You've got it the other way around. He


Alan
I thought Da Vinci was the hard case, and


Stephen
No, no. Michelangelo was an animal! He was . . . he was physically strong


Alan
Michelangelo was, and he never washed!

Stephen
Very strong, a strong beard, and . . . and, er


Alan
He stank!

Stephen
but

Alan
Alan Yentob said this


Stephen
but he preferred to take it up the Gary Glitter, and there we are.

Er, now. Depending on whether you believe the Pope or, indeed, the king, or both of them together, Henry VIII, therefore, had either four wives or three.

Erm, now, what English word rhymes with silver?

Howard
[presses buzzer, which flourishes]
Is this one of the ones like "orange", where there is no rhyme for it?

Stephen
Ooh . . . 

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the word "NOTHING".

Stephen
You . . . you kind-of said that, didn't you? No. A lot of people think, like "orange", that there is no, er, rhyme for . . . for silver, but there is.

Alan
Bilver.

Stephen
No.

Jo
Chilver.

Alan
Dilver?

Stephen
Yes! "Chilver." Well done. I don't know . . . Well done for working through sounds.

Jo
I don't know what it means.

Stephen
Chilver.

Jo
Chilver?

Stephen
A "chilver" is a . . . is a . . . is a . . . is a ewe lamb.

Alan
It's


Jo
A me lamb?

Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
It's a lady lamb.

Jo
A me lamb? [points to Alan] You lamb.

Alan
Female lamb. A ewe. [points to Jo] No, you.

Jo
No, you. A you lamb. You.

Alan
You.
 
Jo
You.

Stephen
Erm, where do all the diamonds come from? In the world.

Alan
South Africa.

Stephen
Oh, no!

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "SOUTH AFRICA".

Stephen
He's done it again. [holds up card which reads "SOUTH AFRICA"] No, no, no. No, all the diamonds in the world come from volcanoes. All diamonds are formed under


Alan
Norman Island.

Stephen
immense heat and pressure, hundreds of kilometres beneath the earth, and are brought to the surface in volcanic eruptions. Twenty countries in the world produce diamonds

Alan
Japan.

Stephen
just now, South Africa is only the fifth-largest producer after Australia

Alan
No.

Stephen
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Botswana

Alan
[echoing]
"–swana"

Stephen
and Russia.

Alan
"Russia". Russia! I said that!

Stephen
You did. Well done . . . you. Now, here's a quite interesting thing. Diamonds are made of pure carbon, er, and so is graphite, the stuff that, er, pencils are made from; the lead of a pencil, er . . . but with the carbon atoms arranged slightly differently, so slightly differently that diamond is the hardest-known substance on earth, with a score of 10 on the Moh Hardness Scale, but graphite is one of the softest


Alan
"Mo' Hardness", like . . . as in "Mo' Better Blues"?

Stephen
No, as in "M-O-H", the name of the


Alan
Ah.

Stephen
fellow who gave us this hardness scale. Diamonds score 10, and . . . and graphite scores very, very low; 1.2, or something like that

Alan
What about


Stephen
one of the softest

Alan
Audley Harrison?

Stephen
He was well 'ard.

Now, what's invisible, and travels at 38 miles an hour?

Alan
[presses buzzer, which dings and says brightly, "Cashier number four, please!"]

Jeremy
[presses buzzer, which booms and squawks]

Stephen
[to Alan] Yes.

Alan
I think it's . . . is it the, er, the air that we expel from our nasal passages?

Stephen
It isn't that, I'm sorry to say.

Jeremy
38 miles an hour, and it's invisible?

Stephen
Yes.

Jeremy
Got to be a ghost on a moped, or a stealth Škoda, or a Virgin train.

Stephen
No. It


Howard
Is it . . . okay.

Stephen
Yeah?

Howard
Is it a wind, like, you know, sirocco, or the mistral, or something like that?

Stephen
One of those winds? It's not one of those. This is something that often travels a great deal faster, but it has been recorded as traveling at 38 miles an hour. You could overtake it, freewheeling on a bicycle.

Alan
A fart.

Stephen
No. . . . It usually goes much, much faster. I mean, really fast. This thing is


Alan
How fast is a fart, though?

Stephen
No, well . . . no, please. Let's not


Jo
A sneeze


Alan
Because they've measured how fast your sneeze is


Stephen
Well, they've measured maximum speeds of, er


Alan
No one's ever measured how fast we expel


Stephen
Well, they're so varied, aren't they, as we know


Jeremy
[to Alan] Do you wonder why?

Stephen
Yeah.

Jeremy
You're work– . . . you're working in laboratory conditions all day. There's Bunsen burners around.

Stephen
Exactly.

Alan
You could fart, and someone could be on the other side of the lab with a stopwatch, like that, and they could go
[sniffs]"Yes, it's here!"

Stephen
Very good.

Howard
Is it . . . is it


Stephen
Can I drag this above the level


Alan
"38 miles an hour, I estimate!"

Stephen
Can I drag this above the level of They Think This Is All Over, or whatever it is?

Howard
Is it a tidal wave? A tsunami?

Stephen
No, it's something that goes even faster. What . . . what's the fastest thing that you can think of?

Alan
Light.

Stephen
"Light" is the right answer!

Alan
Is it?

Stephen
Absolutely right. Light . . . light usually, as you probably know


Alan
186,000 miles a second!

Stephen
Very good. I'll give you a few points for that. That's quite correct. Light


Howard
Oh, so, wait a minute. Someone slowed it down, didn't they?

Stephen
Yeah.

Howard
They put it


Stephen
Do you know how?

Howard
Was it


Alan
So they can get into bed before the light went out.

Howard
They put it in ice or something?

Alan
That's the only reason there is physics. [mimes going in slow motion]

Stephen
Top work. No, you're quite right


Howard
They . . . they put a laser light through
I don't knowice? Glass? Something like that? Frosty?

Stephen
Even colder. It . . . Much colder than that. Much, much colder.

Alan
Fridge.

Stephen
No, really cold. It's colder than


Jo
Igloo!

Alan
Frozen vodka!

Stephen
So cold. So . . . so much colder than that.

Jeremy
Blackpool!

Stephen
You're all doing well. No, astoundingly, light is, first, invisible; you can't see it; only what bumps into it, or it bumps into. If you could see it, you wouldn't be able to see anything else. Erm, it's often said that the speed of light is constant, but it isn't. Only in a vacuum, when it is 186,000 miles a second. In any other medium, er, the speed of light varies considerably, as a matter of fact. Through diamonds, for example, it goes less than half as . . . as fast: 80,000 miles a second


Alan
Is that
'cause it's going, [impressed] "Wooo . . . !"

Stephen
Yeah. Exactly.

Alan
"This is the hardest thing!"

Stephen
The slowest that it has . . . the slowest that it's ever been recorded at is through sodium, at -270 degrees, er, where it travels at 38 miles per hour.

Now, fingers on buzzers, please, for the chance of an enormous, last-minute bonus for that final question, which is on "animals". Complete the phrase: "A chameleon changes colour to match its . . . "

Alan
[presses buzzer, which dings and says brightly, "Cashier number four, please!"]

Stephen
Yes.

Alan
[accented] En-vi-ron-ment.

Stephen
Oh! That counts as "background," I'm afraid


Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the word "BACKGROUND".

Stephen
that's gotta be . . . that's gotta be considered hugely wrong. Hugely wrong. I'm afraid you’ve fallen for it again. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t; it doesn’t, it never has, it never will.

Howard
[presses buzzer, which flourishes]
Temperature?

Stephen
But it suits its . . . Yes, we’ll give you . . . we’ll give you a couple for temperature, yes.

Jo
[presses buzzer, which dings once]
Car?

Stephen
 [drowned out by laughter] . . . "background" or "environment", in a way, doesn’t it? To match anything else around it. It doesn’t change colours to match anything. It changes colour according to mood. It could be mood or temperature or emotion . . . fear, for example; so on, like that.

Alan
But they’re changing to the colour of the branch that they’re hanging on.

Stephen
No, they don’t


Alan
Don’t they?

Stephen
That is . . . that is . . . that is the, er, fallacy.

Alan
Do they know that? Has someone told them? Shouldn’t they be told?

Stephen
Well, they usually


Alan
[to imaginary chameleon on desk] I don’t know what you’re doing that for; we can see you!

Stephen
The usual


Alan
[pretends to hang onto plant] "I happen to be in a slightly dodgy mood. That’s all this is about. I’m not trying to look like this leaf."

Stephen
It used to be thought of chameleons; in fact, if you were to say . . . a hundred years ago, if you were to ask someone, "What is the . . . what is the well-known fact about chameleons?" they would say that they live on air, which was assumed to be, because they move so very, very little, and can very rarely be seen to be breathing. Another thing about er . . . erm, chameleons, is that their eyes can swivel independently.

Alan
Do they know that?

Stephen
I’m sure they do


Alan
Or do they think the planet's just going
[wobbles hands around his eyes].

Stephen
They must have worked it out.

Right, well, it only leaves for me, therefore, ladies and gentlemen, to give you the final scores. And they are . . . quite interesting. Erm, I fear that in last place is Alan, with minus twenty-four points. In third place: Jeremy, with seven. Second is Howard, with thirteen, but in the lead, rousingly, is Jo, with thirty-six points!

Jo
Oh, my word.

Stephen
That’s about it for QI this week. There’s just time for me to thank Jeremy, Howard, Jo, and Alan, and to say something quite interesting to finish with, concerning an interesting property of graphite, taken from the Agony column in the Daily Mirror. "Dear Marge, I noted, in your column a few weeks ago, the pros and cons of women going without a bra. A few weeks ago, I saw a small item in the paper which may help to settle the matter. It is said that if a woman is not certain whether or not she should go braless, she should place a pencil under her bosom. If the pencil stays there, she should wear a bra. I would sign my name to this letter, but my wife still has my pencil." Good night. Thank you.


Episode Notes
  • Wonderful line. Stephen never gets around to finishing his anecdote in this episode. In the recording for 6x11, however, he revealed that the line he so liked is, "Don't dicker with your pontiff." (His revelation did again not make it to the broadcast episode.)

    The actual line from The Agony in the Ecstacy, spoken by Pope Julius II, is: "You dare to dicker with your pontiff?"

  • Julian Clary. Poor maligned Julian actually appears as a QI panellist three series hence, in 4x07.

  • Virgin train. The reliability of the Virgin rail service is again called into question in 5x01, when Bill Bailey remarks that a toy train that "stops in the right place" can't be a Virgin train.

References
  • Psychiatric hospitals. Before her beginning a professional career as a comedian, Jo Brand worked as a psychiatric nurse for ten years, a fact that was also mentioned in 1x09, 2x05, 3x11, and 4x01.