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Series 6, Episode 10

Transcript by: Glenn Campbell
Edited by (and XL bits by): Sarah Falk
Notes: All text in rose font is from the extended version, QI XL. Text in cerulean font is solely in the half hour broadcast.

TRANSCRIPT

Stephen

Well! Good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, good evening, and welcome to QI, where tonight, we're having fun with "flora and fauna". It's like . . . like animal, vegetable, and mineral, only . . . only, without the mineral. Er, in the flowerbed tonight, we have a perennial favourite, Jimmy Carr . . . a hardy annual, John Sergeant . . . a heavily-scented late bloomer, Jo Brand . . . and a cat having a crap in a flowerpot, Alan Davies. But, erm, before we plunge into my arboretum and bestiary, let's go wild with our buzzers. John goes:

John

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a lion roaring]

Stephen

Jimmy goes:

Jimmy

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a wolf howling]

Stephen

Jo goes:

Jo

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of an elephant trumpeting]

Stephen

And Alan goes:

Alan

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a small dog barking, followed by a cat's fighting cry, and ending with a crash of tumbling crockery]

Stephen

Oh, dear. Well done. Now . . . So, let's start on our sofa-bound safari. What does my buttonhole tell you about me? [shows the panellists a red flower he is wearing in his buttonhole]

Jo

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of an elephant trumpeting]

Stephen

Jo?

Jo

That you're a closet heterosexual.

Stephen

How dare you!

Jo

I'm sorry.

Jimmy

It tell us that you are what you are, you are your own special creation.

Alan

It's not going to fire water at me, is it?

Stephen

It's not going to do that. It's a real flower, and it's a real member of a particular family of flowers, and it has a name.

Jo

It's a . . . 

John

It's a rhododendron.

Stephen

It's not a rhododendron.

Jo

Camellia. 

Stephen

It is a camellia, well done. Exactly a camellia.

Jo

And you are "La Dame aux Camélias".

Stephen

Oh, tell me about "La Dame aux Camélias".

Jo

It's a novel . . . 

Stephen

It's a novel.

Jo

Yeah. About a lady –

Stephen

And do you know what this meant?

Jo

 – who liked camellias.

Stephen

Do you . . . Exactly, yeah.

Jo
Is that . . . Am I on the right track?

Stephen
It's good, but there is a thing about the red camellia that is very extraordinary. Unbelievably shocking to mid-nineteenth century France.

Jo

Periods.

Stephen

You're so right. Marguerite Gautier, the heroine of the novel La Dame aux Camélias, wore, for twenty-five days of the month, a white camellia; for five days, a red one, to tell her lovers that she was not available . . . 

Jo
Arsenal were playing at home.

Stephen

That . . . [points to Alan]. Arsenal were playing away . . . 

Jo

Playing at home, playing at home!

Stephen

Or whatever. At home, is it? At home . . . The decorators were in the . . . et cetera . . . 

John

I'm not following this. Are you saying that you are available, or you're not available? 

Stephen

I'm saying that I've got a period on, darling. You can't have me, I'm sorry..

Jimmy

What was this in? Was this in some play? What's . . . What's this in?

Stephen

It's a novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, the bastard son of the creator of The Three Musketeers.

Jimmy

Is she . . . 

Jo

Can I just say . . . I thought it was so sweet . . . Because no woman in her entire life has ever said, "I've got a period on."

Stephen

Do you know . . . 

Jo

You either say, "I've got a period," or "I'm on." You don't conflate them together.

Stephen

Oh, fair enough. Okay.

Jo [humorously]

"I've got a period on."

Stephen

But anyway, it became a play . . . Sarah Bernhardt was in it thousands of times. It became . . . In 1854, Verdi saw the play and turned it into the opera, for five points . . . ?

No one responds for a few seconds.

Jimmy

It that what the opera's called? Sorry.

Stephen

No. Come on . . . 

Jimmy

It's called, "For Five Points". It's very good.

Alan

Camille . . . Camellia . . . Something flower, the flower . . . 

Stephen

No. Audience will know . . .  Man in Audience
La Traviata.

Stephen
La Traviata. Audience get ten points because that's very good, well done. 

Alan

Oh, not in the lead again!

Jimmy

So, La Traviata, which I've heard of, and is a proper grown-up thing, is about a woman having her period, is it?

Stephen

No, no, no. It's the story of a famous courtesan who is in love, and the real one . . . She had . . . There were seven men who were so impassioned about her but couldn't afford her prices. They clubbed together, and they also bought her a chest of drawers with seven separate drawers in so they could keep their own clothes. And it was turned into a film as well, which was . . . ?

Jimmy
Snow White. The seven guys with one girl is a bit . . . 

Stephen

Very good! Very good. And the film based on La Dame aux Camélias is . . . ?

Jo
Carry on Menstruating.

Stephen
"Camille."

John

Camille.

Stephen

Yes, in La Dame aux Camélias and La Traviata, the heroine indicates her availability by wearing different coloured camellias. The book caused an outrage and made the flower an overnight gardening sensation in Paris and beyond.

Something a bit more wholesome now, erm. It's good news; daddy is taking you to the flea circus. Erm, which bit are you most looking forward to? What do you know about flea circuses?

Alan

I had fleas in my flat once. 

Stephen

Did you really?

Alan

Rentokil quoted six hundred quid to get rid of it; I found a bloke in the local paper who did it for forty. I don't know what he sprayed; cats did this – [mimes being a cat making minimal contact with the floor] – for a few days.

Stephen

You're not quite . . . Do you know what the biggest destroyer of human fleas has been, much bigger than pesticides?

John

Yes, I know the answer . . . It's vacuum cleaners.

Stephen

You're absolutely right.

John

Yes, they – [pretends to vacuum] – "woof woof woof", and the fleas don't like it.

Jimmy

I think your vacuum cleaner may be broken if it's going "woof woof woof".

John

No, er . . . 

Jimmy

I think you might want to take that one back, get a new one.

John

They're specialised, these vacuum cleaners.

Jimmy

And they kill lots of fleas, do they?

Stephen

Yep.

John

Another thing you got to know about them is that the back legs of fleas are incredibly powerful, and if a human being had as powerful legs, they could jump over the Eiffel Tower.

Stephen

You're absolutely right, because eighty times your own height is what you'll be able to jump.

John

These flea circuses, though, we don't have them in our time, but they were amazingly popular in the 1920s and '30s because they had to find something interesting to do in between the two World Wars.

Stephen

Exactly, they were filling in.

John

Yeah, so fleas were sort of very exciting, and there were a lot more of them about . . . 

Stephen

There were. In fact, they died out in the early sixties, probably. But . . . You will see  . . . There's some film here showing you that, you're right, these strong legs allow them to pull . . . They were harnessed to little bits of wire . . . 

Jimmy

Sorry, were they . . . Were they real?

Stephen

Yep. They stopped being real . . . You're thinking of Michael Bentine's little mechanical ones with little automatic machines that . . . 

Jimmy

And you thought you could see the fleas even though there was no . . . 

Stephen

No, there really were fleas.

Jimmy

There's genuinely people-trained fleas?

Stephen

Absolutely . . . Well, not . . . No, they're not trained; they're . . . Unfortunately, they're basically tortured. You would glue them to musical instruments and various other things and then heat the under-part where they were so that their attempts to make themselves free would look as if they were playing instruments.

Jimmy

That's like Britain's got Talent. That sounds horrible.

Stephen

Almost as horrible as Britain's got Talent, you're absolutely right. Well, let's see some film if we can, mister man in the gallery.

Viewscreens: Monochrome film of a flea circus

Stephen [as film starts]

There they are . . . 

Jimmy

Why are they performing on his arm? 

Stephen

They get fed with his blood.

Jimmy

Ah!

John [as magnifying glass is shown]

That's to show how small they are.

Jimmy

I don't think that man needs a bigger face.

Alan

He's going to burn them with the sun. Oh, it's Ben Hur!

[as two flea-powered vehicles collide] That's like Robot Wars!

Jo [as camera operator is shown]

Why have they got a serial killer operating the camera?

Stephen

That's more comedy.

John [as film ends]

That reminds me of a very old joke. Are you ready for a very old joke? 

Stephen

Oh I'd love to hear a very old joke. 

John

Here is a very old joke. How do you build a flea circus?

Stephen

Oh, yeah?

John

You have to start from scratch.

Stephen

Wey hey! Excellent.

Viewscreens: Macro view of a flea-drawn cart atop a human finger.

Alan

Is that stuck into the flea, or is it glued on?

Stephen

It's glued or they make little wire harnesses for them, and as I said, people like Michael Bentine then did these mechanical ones. He did one for a Royal Variety Performance in the sixties, and that's when I first saw it and I realised there were no fleas, and like you, I thought there was no such thing and it was just a, sort of, joke.

John

They were alw– . . . It's also part of an idea that you have freak shows, wouldn't you; you'd have all sorts of daft things . . . 

Stephen

I . . . It's, er, awful to raise this . . . [to Jo and John] You two aren't related, are you? 

John

Well . . . Are you suggesting we're some kind of freak show –

Stephen

No, I just said that . . . 

John

 – that should be next to the flea circus? Jo?

Stephen

Could be . . . 

John

There's not a . . . Well, there's a bit of a likeness. We're brother and sister.

Stephen

Now that explains it.

Flea circuses covered a range of acts including chariot races and fencing matches as well as acrobatics, and . . . techniques included gluing the fleas to musical instruments and then heating the floor so they appeared to be playing the instruments as they struggled to escape.

Now, what is the really odd thing about the only fish in the world that lives in a tree?

Viewscreens: Graphic with a fish in a tree.

Alan

Is it going to be an underwater tree thing? Like those little fish that can live in anemones because they are the only ones that aren't poisoned by them; that sort of thing?

Stephen

No, ah, actually, these are trees above the surface.They are . . . 

John [at viewscreen]

Stephen, is that meant to be the perfect picture of . . . 

Stephen

No. That's ridiculous, no . . . 

John

Because I tell you otherwise. I know that's a salmon for a start. It does not like to live in a tree, I know that.

Viewscreens: Picture of a mangrove swamp.

Stephen

No, we can actually show you the real fish in the tree. There we are in the mangrove swamps of Belize and Florida . . . 

John

Where is it? I can't see it . . . 

Stephen

Erm, Florida . . . Well, you can't see it yet, but this is its natural habitat, and because these pools shrink and it goes up these little grooves made by insects, it goes up . . . Whole groups of them go up into the tree – we can actually see one poking it's little eye out there. In a tree, and it will live there, but . . . 

Viewscreens: A killifish in a channel of water within the tree.

Jimmy

And what's . . . what's the unusual thing? It can . . . Can it whistle one tune while it hums another?

Stephen

The unusual . . . Kind of. Almost an erotic version of that: It is the only vertebrate that is a hermaphrodite that self-fertilises. That's actually how it breeds; it pleasures itself and makes itself court . . . 

Jimmy

Why don't we . . . Why don't we all do that? I mean, in terms of Darwinian natural selection, why don't we all do that? Because that would be tremendous fun . . . My teenage years . . . 

Stephen

It would be fun, yeah. You're right.

Jimmy

There would be hundreds and thousands.

Jo

It would be quite good fun, as well, to tell yourself you've got a headache, wouldn't it, eh? "No, I'm sorry, I can't tonight."

John

Doesn't it have a name? Isn't it called asexual reproduction?

Stephen

No, well, it's actually hermaphroditic. It's not like parthenogenesis, you may be thinking of.

John

Oh, oh, oh, right. I was . . . 

Jimmy

Come on! Keep up! 

John

I was struggling towards that.

Stephen

Yep, it might've been . . . 

Alan

He's new.

Stephen

It's called a "killifish", and there are actually 1270 different species of killifish.

Viewscreens: A killifish.

John

[pointing at viewscreen] That's not the same one we've just seen. 

Stephen

That is not. That's probably a different . . . species –

Jimmy

It's his sister, Bische.

Stephen

 – or an aged one, but it's certainly a killifish.

Now, while we're at the water's edge, why does a flamingo stand on one leg?

John

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a lion roaring]

Stephen
Yes.

John

I think I've got the answer. Because it wants to go to sleep.

Stephen

Yes.

John

Is it?

Stephen

You're right. You're absolutely right.

John

Ah, well . . . 

Jimmy

I was going to say "land mines". Are they pink because they're on their period but it's not a very heavy flow?

Stephen

No, you're right, though. They have the ability, like a lot of other animals, for half of themselves to go to sleep at one time, so the half with the leg up is asleep – that whole half of their body in a torpid state and the blood flows less and that leg couldn't sustain them while asleep. When that has had enough sleep, they then swap over, and that leg comes down and the other one goes up.

Jimmy

There must be a terrible in-between moment when they just fall on their arse.

Stephen

You wonder about that, don't you? The other theory . . . 

Jo

How does that work, then? Does it go naturally kind of down the middle of their face and their neck, or does their arse go to sleep and then their face wakes up?

Stephen

One assumes it's sort of down the middle, whether that's . . . I don't know.

Alan

Suppose my leg's gone to sleep. That's a whole new thing . . . 

Stephen

Precisely, their leg literally has gone to sleep. And they are pink because . . . ? 

John

It's . . . It's, erm, wait a mo– . . . Crayf– . . . Not crayfish. Prawns or something.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "BECAUSE THEY EAT PRAWNS".

Stephen

Ooh, it's not prawns, no. It's a commonly held fallacy that they're pink because they eat pink food like prawns or shrimps, but actually . . . 

Jimmy

Or Angel Delight.

Stephen

Or Angel Delight. No, they eat a blue-green algae which, oddly enough, is full of this keratinoid that makes them pink. And so in zoos, they give them supplements to make them pink, which, er . . . 

Viewscreens: Flamingos in shallow water.

Jimmy

I tell you, the flamingo version of "Where is Wally?" is really cruel.

Stephen

It is, isn't it? They are . . . Interestingly, they can drink boiling water because they . . . 

Jimmy

How did they find that out? It must've been a very cruel man that found that out. [mimes feeding a flamingo] "Here you go."

Stephen

They live in . . . near geysers, where the water is at that temperature quite happily.

Alan

They can eat a McDonald's apple pie.

Stephen

The only species that can. Very good. 

Alan

The only species that can do it.

Stephen

Yep, which is the hottest substance known to man, isn't it?

Alan

Yeah. Developed by NASA.

Stephen

Yeah.

So, there you are. Er, that's . . . that's your flamingo. I think we've sucked all the nutrient out of the flamingo. Erm, now, what kind of tricks could you play on a naive rhinoceros?

Jimmy
Ooh. [presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a wolf howling]

Stephen
Yeah.

Jimmy
You could tell it that it's a unicorn that just needs to moisturise.

Stephen
Poor thing.

Jimmy
You could tell it . . . You could tell it that you are the wife of a Nigerian ambassador, and if sent you $4000 . . . It would probably go for it, wouldn't it?

Stephen
It might!

Jimmy
So this is a naive rhino, as opposed to, you know, sometimes you get a rhino that's quite worldly-wise . . . 

Stephen
No, it's the zoological or natural history meaning of the world "naive". It has a special meaning when applied to animals. Do you know what that is?

Jimmy
Naive animal. Just is a bit . . . [shrugs].

John
Is it very old?

Stephen
No, it's to do with an animal that is suddenly put into a terrain or ecosphere, if you like, which its evolution has not prepared it for. Or . . . 

Jo
Like a rhinoceros going to Peckham.

Stephen
Exactly! Or the other thing could happen. That into, for example, the classic example is an island; a new species arrives that could cause absolute havoc. Something like a dodo, for example, or all kinds of birds and animals in Bermuda and various islands that had literally evolved with no sense of fear whatsoever. Because a sense of fear uses up energy, 'cause you're constantly running and looking and being nervous, and if you live in an island where all the species are friendly, or none of them, at least, wants to eat you, you completely, over the thousands of years, lose any sense of fear. So when people first arrived on Bermuda, for example, there were all these birds that would just wander into their hands. You could pick them up, put them in a cooking pot. And the other birds would cluster around quite happily.

The point is, you can play almost any kind of trick on a naive rhinoceros. The term is applied to animals that meet threats that their environment hasn't prepared them for, such as when a new predator is introduced to an island.

Now, as night falls on our expedition, the evening chorus starts up from the water hole. It's spring, and love is in the air. What are these toads saying to each other?

Viewscreens: The sound of Natterjack toads accompanies a still image.

Alan

It's very repetitive . . . 

Stephen

Yeah. These are Natterjacks, and Natterjacks, like a lot of toads, have explosive sexual engagements, if you like, when suddenly . . . 

Jimmy

Not just toads.  

Stephen

Suddenly it's ready, and the male toad will jump on absolutely anything: animal, vegetable, or mineral. But hopefully, a female toad . . . But very often it will jump on a male toad and start humping away –

Jimmy

That's okay too.

Stephen

 – which is fine –

Jimmy

Yeah.

Stephen

– erm, but the male toad underneath often doesn't like it, and –

Jimmy

Well, you know, reach around.

Stephen

– and it makes . . . It makes a noise, and that is the noise you hear during the mating season.

Alan
There's a boy at my school who used to catch frogs and skin them and let them go.

Stephen
Oh!

Jimmy
Well, he let them go! Look on the positive side! Why have you always got to focus on the negative, -

Stephen
? He was a humanitarian.

Alan
He said, "It's amazing. You could see all their insides." [grimaces]

Stephen
Just one word comes to my head: Essex. I don't know why . . . Erm, there we are.

Jimmy
Who said it was at school? It was a borstal.

Stephen
At school. That is cruel.

Alan
Well, he said he did that anyway. He said you only have to leave a little bit around their eyes . . . 

Stephen
Oh!

Jimmy

Well, you don't want to be cruel! So . . . Are you saying that these . . . The sound we heard was is a lot of frogs going . . . 

Alan

"Don't bother me; I'm a bloke."

Jimmy

So I just can't understand the idea that this toad would have evolved and it would've gone, "Well, okay, when the mating season comes around, just go for your life," rather that trying to chat a girl up. In a frog's mind.

Stephen

It seems extraordinary. Do you know the difference between a frog and a toad?

Alan

Spelling.

Stephen

Very good. You know, you might as well be right. There's no definitive difference, to be honest; generally speaking, toads have drier skin and they have drier lives, but essentially there is no real difference.

Alan

My dog once . . . I used to have an Alsatian, and she came to wake me up one morning, which was unusual – normally she'd wait for me to wake up. She came and she put her head under the duvet and pulled it off me, like that . . . and I said "What are you doing?" And she went to the bedroom door and she looked at me, did that, and I caught her up, and she went to the kitchen door, still looking at me, and led me to her water bowl which was by the back door, and she was looking at it and looking at me . . . and I looked at it, and there was a frog in it.

Stephen

That's so sweet.

Alan

And it must've come in the back door like the night before and then just found itself in the kitchen, and it got in the water bowl and sat there all night, with its eyes – [mimes being a frog looking up, with the water level just below its eyes] – and this huge dog standing there . . . 

Jimmy

I just . . . 

Alan

And he thought, "I gotta go and get

Alan
. This is . . . "

Jimmy

Thing I love about that is the idea of the relationship . . . You and your dog, being on quite a level . . . 

Stephen

Yeah.

Jimmy

"Come have a look at this,

Alan
."

Alan

We shared a flat. Problem was, I had a walled garden, and I don't know how the frogs got in the garden. They do it at the same time every year.

Stephen

The odd thing you're saying about this . . . Every time this . . . An enormous quantity of toads are killed every year on the roads; about twenty tonnes of toad lose their lives. We're trying to make it less with toad tunnels. Do you know the reason that so many die on the road?

Alan

They all cross at the same time. It's mating season.

Stephen

Yeah, they have ancient mating ponds that they have had for, it seems, hundreds and hundreds of years, and whether there's a road there or not, that's the way they've always gone, and it's in their . . . 

Alan

It used to happen in Buckhurst Hill, a pond in Buckhurst Hill near the high road, and people would get out and go, with frying pans –

Stephen

Yep, and help them across.

Alan

 – and they'd hop into a frying pan, and then you just flick them – [mimes flinging toads with a frying pan] – because there are scores of them.

Stephen

It combines fun with doing good. You couldn't ask for better.

Alan

[mimes bring a toad flying through the air] And if it lands on another toad, it's all good.

Stephen

Did you hear a very extraordinary story in Hamburg in 2005 about the exploding toads?

John

Vaguely, yes.

Stephen

What happened was, toads started exploding during the mating season. More than a thousand toads, swollen to three times their usual size, crawled out of the water making eerie screeching noises and blew up, propelling their entrails up to a yard away. People immediately thought, well, it might be a virus or industrial pollution but it turned out . . . Do you know what was the cause?

Jimmy

Al Quaeda.

Stephen

No, it wasn't . . . 

Alan

Suicide toads. 

Jimmy

Suicide toad . . . They were all fundamentalists and . . . misguided . . . 

Alan

They go to the marketplace and splatter everyone with toad entrails. "That'll learn ya." [holds up fist] Toad rights.

Stephen

It w– . . . It was crows. Crows had discovered how to fly in and with . . . in one swift, efficient movement, remove the liver of the toads. They just go straight in, pull out the liver.

Jimmy

Are these ninja crows? Wha– . . . 

Stephen

Yeah! Sean
What on earth are you talking about? They come in, they've got their little scalpel ready . . . ?

Stephen

No, they used their beak.

Jimmy

What, just . . . And in, through the mouth? 

Stephen

Yep. And the birds had worked out how to do that. With a single strike through the chest, they could remove the liver. The toad's defence mechanism did the rest; they puffed themselves up to intimidate their foe, forcing their intestines out of the hole that had been made, under high pressure, in a kind of fatal hernia. {{

Jimmy
That's extraordinary. Of course, the other thing about toads is it sometimes rains toads, doesn't it? That does happen.

Jo
It rained fish once in Knighton, in Wales. I do know that, because what happened was, 'cause there was like a mini-tornado, and it just picked a load of fish up out of the river and blew them along, and then rained on the town. So that can happen.

Stephen
Do you know that joke about a . . . a librarian who sees this hen come into the library, and the hen comes up and says, "Buk!", and, er –

Jimmy
It's definitely a hen.

Stephen
– the librarian gives the book; she tucks the book under her arm. And the next day the hen comes in and goes "Buk buk buk!" And the librarian gives it three books. Puts them under her arm, takes them away. The next day it goes, "Buk buk buk buk buk!" Five books! The librarian thinks, "This is weird. I've never, ever known of a hen that is this fast at reading. This is just extraordinary. I've got to find out what's going on." So she grabs her macintosh and follows the hen out of the library into a house. And she looks in through the keyhole. And there's the hen sitting on a bed and there's a frog on the bed with a little thermometer in its mouth, obviously not very well. And the hen is tending it, and offers the book, and each time the frog goes, "Reddit! Reddit!" Silly joke, but . . . !

Alan
[flaps his arms up and down] If that's a seagull, then what's this? [flaps one arm and tucks the other into his side] That's a seagull coming back from the library.

Stephen
Very good!

Jimmy
Do you want to hear my library joke?

Stephen
Go on.

Jimmy
A man walks into a library and says, "Fish and chips, please." The librarian says, "This is a library." He says, "Sorry. [whispers] Fish and chips, please."

Stephen
Excellent. But the reason I mentioned my particular joke is, actually, there's something very odd about this perception we have that frogs go, "reddit, reddit," or "ribbit, ribbit". And do you know why it is that all around the world, people do jokes or imagine that frogs make that noise? Because there's only one species of frog that makes that noise. And do you know where it is?

Jimmy
Is it in Hollywood, California?

Stephen
Yes! It's the Pacific Tree Frog. And when sound came to movies and they wanted to start doing soundtracks to everything from Sanders of the River to Tarzan movies and anything that basically was an outside job, they sent their sound recordists out to record frogs, amongst other things, for their archives for sound, and all the frogs, all the way down the coast of the Pacific, sound like, "ribbit, ribbit". And they don't in Africa, they don't in Europe, they don't in Central America, and they don't in Asia. So in all American films for about 30 or 40 years, when you would hear this "ribbit, ribbit" noise . . . and it became the sound of a frog, but it just happens to be – five points, Jimmy Carr – in Hollywood, California. Yay!

The most common sound of a toad is "get off", because it's the high-pitched croak of protest it makes when a male accidentally mounts it.

Now, erm, what's the worst that could happen in the middle of a fairy ring?

Jimmy
Well, I'm not taking the . . . There's a time and a place for this sort of thing, and it is 10:30, Graham Norton Show.

Stephen
Well, thank you for not saying "sand in the Vaseline" or something obvious like that.

Jimmy
Oh, no, I'll get to that.

Stephen
All right, fair enough.

Alan
I'll talk over him. It's gotta be some sort of flora or fauna, I'll wager . . . 

Stephen
Oddly enough, it's neither. But it's a living thing! And if it's a living thing, and it's not flora or fauna . . . 

Jimmy
[gasps] Leprechaun.

Stephen
Fungus!

Jimmy
They're magic, aren't they, fairy rings?

Stephen
Fairy rings are said to be magic things –

Jimmy
By simple people.

Stephen
– in which they are – exactly. Because fungus grows in these, or can grow in these circles. And when the mushrooms shrink back, er, you get the discoloured grass in a ring as well. You see it as well in anc– . . . There's one in France, up to 700 years old.

Jimmy
What's the thing that happens then?

Stephen
Well, there are myths and legends about it. For example, Jo Brand, if you're a young lady –

Jo
Well, I don't know why you look at me!

Stephen
I was trying to be gallant!

Jo
It doesn't suit you.

Stephen
All right then, fair enough. Then imagine a young lady, Jo Brand.

Jo
I'll try.

Stephen
Apparently, if she goes into a fairy ring on a May Day morning and washes her face with the dew from the grass inside, she will turn into a hag.

Jo
So, are you saying, obviously I've done that?

Stephen
No! I'm saying whatever you do, don't do that.

Jo
Don't go into a fairy ring?

Jimmy
Don't do that again. There are worse things that can happen to a fair young maiden these days, at the swings with half a bottle of cider.

Stephen
Anyway, supposedly you might turn into a crone or get stuck in a time vortex . . . All kinds of superstitions. Actually, fairy rings aren't caused by dancing fairies; they are a fungus.

}} Now, what use is a frog after a one night stand?

John

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a lion roaring]

Stephen

Yep?

John

I think I've got the answer. Given the spirit of this show . . . It's about sex, isn't it?

Stephen

It kind of is. I did say, "after a one night stand" . . . 

John

I knew it.

Alan

Some sort of natural morning-after pill effect?

Stephen

No, not that. For thirty years, between 1930 and 1960, this was used by western science, in an absolutely serious way, to perform a very important function.

Jimmy

Can you . . . Can they . . . Do they turn a different colour or something if a woman's pregnant? 

Stephen

It's not exactly, that but that was precisely the use they were put to. As pregnancy tests.

Jimmy

Not really?

Stephen

Yep.

Jimmy

They were pregnancy tests? 

Stephen

They were pregnancy tests.

Jimmy

A woman pees on that?

Stephen

No . . . No, a woman's urine is injected into it.

Jimmy

How?

Stephen

With a needle, how else?

Jimmy

Oh, okay.

Alan

[gesturing at viewscreens] No wonder it looks so pissed.

Stephen

That's an African bullfrog, I think, but actually they used the clawed toad as much, or various . . . 

Jimmy

Hang on. That frog there's had another frog on his back trying to bum him, and then suddenly there's a woman's pee being injected into him . . . He's having a horrible day. 

Stephen

Well, the point is that it's a female clawed frog. If the woman was pregnant, the female frog, within eight to twelve hours, would ovulate. It's a simple as that.

Jo

Why, do they have a little blue line on their backs, so you can look at it like this . . . ?

Stephen

A little plus, yeah.

Jo

 "Ooh. You're pregnant."

Stephen

A plus or a minus. But it was a standard pregnancy test.

Jimmy
The best way to test if a woman is pregnant is, just, leave it nine months, see . . . see if it gets a flat. If it gets a house, it's twins.

Stephen
There's a terrible, er . . . There was a terrible outcome from having these African frogs around the place. The National Health Service in Britain kept a lot of them, and some of them escaped, and unfortunately, they had a disease –

Jimmy

They were full of piss.

Stephen

 – called . . . It was called Chytridiomycosis, and it is threatening a third of all the world's amphibians now; it's spread around the world. It's actually a . . . a deep tragedy, and these frogs have caused part of it, so our western desire to know whether we're pregnant before the nine months has caused huge damage to lots of amphibians.

So, there we are. African clawed frogs ovulate if injected with the urine of a pregnant woman, and until the 1950s this was the only available pregnancy test.

gJohn
[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a lion roaring]

Stephen
Yea.

John
I think we've got to worry about this, because the louse goes on to the hog, right?

Stephen
Yeah.

John
But the hogs are very small, and they're not very interesting, and they're dying out.

Stephen
You're absolutely right, John Sergeant, yes. It's an easily-forgotten fact that when a species we care about – as humans, we tend to care about big woolly species – when they become endangered, we forget that there are many other species that are dependent on them, and such an example is the Pygmy Hog, of which there are about 150 left in the world. And there's a whole species of louse which is only able to live on them.

Jimmy
I can't believe it's able to sustain that louse, 'cause they're about the same size!

Stephen
[laughs] It's, erm . . . 

Jimmy
You get a couple of those on your back; no wonder they're dying out.

Stephen
We have lice, of course, human lice.

Jimmy
Well, I didn't want to discuss that. Go and see a specialist.

Stephen
And, er, they're quite interesting. They tell us a lot about ourselves. For example, the body louse only lives in human clothing, and we know that it's only 70,000 years old as a sub-species of louse. And that sort of tells us that humans started to wear clothing 70,000 years ago.

John
We didn't mention this about our fleas, do you . . . You know about all that stuff and the flea circus . . . Well, they only use human fleas. And the human fleas are now dying out any may be extinct.

Stephen
Because of –

John
Because of vacuum cleaning –

Stephen
  – and going "woof-woof", yeah.

John
But it's, er . . . But it's odd, isn't it?

Stephen
You're absolutely right.

Jimmy
It is a bizarre thing, though, where we care more about the little fluffy things than the horrible . . . that beast-y looking thing.

Stephen
Yeah.

Jimmy
'Cause . . . Isn't that the thing about the panda? The panda is the emblem of the World Wildlife Fund, so a massively disproportionate amount of money goes toward saving the panda, because it looks like a battered wife.

Stephen
You're absolutely right.

The pygmy hog-sucking louse is the only species of louse classified as critically endangered. It's co-endangered with the dwindling pygmy hog population in northern India.

Now, whilst the pygmy hog-sucking louse is in decline, it's up-up-and-away for ferrets. So tell me, now, how does a ferret build an airliner?

Jo

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of an elephant trumpeting]

Stephen

Yes?

Jo

Really weasily. 

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

Stephen

Oh! Oh, no! I'm sorry . . . We got there before you. Very good. Oh, dear.

Jimmy

If it's any consolation, I was seconds behind you.

Stephen

Boeing used them.

Jimmy

What, sorry, Boeing . . . ?

Stephen

Boeing used ferrets.

Jimmy

To build the plane?

Stephen

To help build the plane. Not to build the whole plane.

Jimmy

They don't put that in the ads, do they?

Stephen

No. And they're not ashamed of it, and actually they were used for the wedding of Charles and Diana, for, er, the Millennium Party in the Park, for various . . . 

Alan

They were . . . looking for things?

Stephen

Nope.

John

Their fur?

Stephen

Nope.

Alan

Is it . . . You want to get something down a very long tunnel; you tie it to them . . . 

Stephen

Brilliant, brilliant. You're absolutely . . . That's precisely what it is, Alan. They use it for wiring, and they happily go through the narrowest of spaces, and it's encouraged . . . It comes out the other end, and you've got the wire through the space. It was used by Boeing right up until the 1960s, and, er . . . 

Jimmy

It's a brilliant idea.

Stephen

Isn't it? It's very clever. Anyway, they're now the third most popular pet in America after cats and dogs. They welcome you when you come back from a day's work, like puppies. They're very like puppies.  

Alan

[gestures] "Come in, come in."

Stephen

Yeah, there're thrilled to see you. They're very pleased to see you.

John

Do they run up your trousers, though?

Stephen

Well, the trouser business is interesting. I mean, there are people who claim that this is a Yorkshire sport of having ferrets in your trousers, but no one's quite sure whether it really is. It's become one, but it kind of started as a hoax in a famous interview that some old . . . 

Alan

They were always in sitcoms in the seventies. There was always some or other ferret . . .  

Stephen

Exactly. "There's a ferret up your trousers."

Alan

[mimes having a ferret up his trousers]

Stephen

They're used now for pet therapy, because they are very pleasing, friendly animals.

Alan

You mean they sit opposite you on a chair and . . . 

Stephen

Talk you through your problems.

Alan

"And how does that make you feel?"

Stephen

And interacting with them, apparently, reduces your stress hormones. It's helpful for the elderly, the depressed, and children recovering from severe illnesses. And they're used for that. So . . . Get a ferret!

And so once more, we plunge ferret-like into the black hole of General Ignorance. Fingers on buzzers, if you would. What's the fastest thing in the natural world?

Alan

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a small dog barking]

Stephen

Alan?

Alan

Blue whale.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "BLUE WHALE".

Stephen

Every time! Every time. It's never going to be "blue whale", is it? It's never going to be "blue whale". Any other thoughts? Fastest . . . 

Jimmy

The fastest thing. . . . 

Alan

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a small dog barking]

Stephen

In the natural world. Yeah?

Alan

Cheetah.

Stephen

No!

Alan
 . . . 

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

Alan

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a small dog barking]

Oh! I know! A comet.

Stephen

In the natural . . . Still alive. Okay . . . 

Jo

Is it something like a cheetah, but it's not?

Stephen

No. It's not an animal. It's a flower.

John

So you're on a road, and suddenly it overtakes you.  

Stephen

No.

John

Blimey!

Stephen

We're talking ejaculation.

John

[gasps]

Stephen

We're talking, again, sex.

John

It's the sex obsession.

Stephen

What do they do? They . . . They . . . 

Jimmy

What, sorry, the fastest thing on Earth? Is this a personal sleight at me?

Stephen

No . . . 

Jimmy

Because I've had a very busy week.

Stephen

It's not . . . It's not that. It's a flower called the White Mulberry, and it pushes out its pollen at half the speed of sound. Mach point five. Swish! It's over 350 miles per hour.

John

Gosh!

Stephen

It's the fastest thing in biology. Nothing moves faster.

John

But what about an aircraft? Oh, yeah . . . .

Stephen

In biology.

Jimmy

But what about a naturally reared, organic aircraft? What if . . . 

Alan

Yeah, made out of ferrets.

Stephen

It's the Morus alba, and what do I have on me that is . . . owes itself to . . . 

Alan

Your flower, surely?

Stephen

No, something else owes itself to the White Mulberry that I'm wearing.

Jimmy

Is it a silk tie?

John

Oh, silk!

Stephen

Silk, of course. yeah, there are thousands of them in China in particular, of course. Much silk is . . . The silkworm lives on the White Mulberry leaves. But it pollinates . . . It pushes out its pollen at this astounding speed, stored elastic energy in its stamens.

Jimmy

Wow, so if you've got hay fever, you've got no chance of escaping it.

Stephen

You really haven't.

Jimmy

It's coming out at quite a pace.

Alan

Poke your eye out. [mimes being hit in the eye by the pollen]

Jimmy

No wonder it's itchy . . . Waah!

Stephen
[growls] So, there you have it. Erm, what is . . . 

Jimmy
That's nice.

Stephen
Just growling.

Jimmy
[growls]

Alan
I want it as a ringtone.

Stephen
Fingers back on buzzers.

Jimmy
[growls again]

Stephen

So there you have it. You move on, then, so fingers on buttons . . . What do you call a slug with a shell?

Alan

I'm not falling for that one.

Jimmy

Er . . . I'll . . . I'll take the bullet.

[presses buzzer, which plays the sound of a wolf howling]

Snail?

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

Stephen

Oh!

Alan

Just for a moment, I thought you were going to say, "Yes, you do," and then carry on!

Stephen

No, er . . . 

Jimmy

I'm sorry; you asked, "What do I call . . . "

Stephen

Yeah, ha ha ha. No, you can't get out of it that way, I'm afraid. No, a snail with a shell is a snail, and a slug with a shell is a slug. Some slugs have shells, and they are slugs, not snails. They have vestigial shells, small shells, and soft of vitrified shells like the glass slug. And slugs we think of as being sort of shell-less snails, but they can have little things on. And they eat each other's slime as an act of foreplay. And then afterwards . . . 

Jimmy

So do I.

Stephen

Carry on with this. Does the female then bite off your penis?

Jimmy
Well, it nibbles!

Stephen
They are, obviously, terrible garden pests, but they're, after insects, the most . . . 

Alan

They used to live in our kitchen when we were students, and there'd just be trails across the floor in the morning. We didn't do anything about it.

Stephen

No, that's . . . You'd just have bits of cornflake stuck into it . . . 

Alan

Eww. Carry on . . . Yeah . . . 

Stephen

There are 37,000 species of gastropod. After insects, they're the most common class of animal on the earth.

Jimmy

37,000?

Stephen

Mmm.

Jimmy

Okay, I'll write that down.

Stephen
Mm. If you would. I'll test you next week. How do peacocks impress the ladies.

Alan
Again! These traps . . . By doing the thing! By doing the . . . [waves his arms to signal the peacock's tail].

Stephen
So what! I don't know what you're saying!

Jimmy
Do they say to the female peacock, "How do you like your eggs in the morning?" "Protected from foxes!"

Stephen
It's good that you've avoided our trap, because you're right.

Viewscreens: Picture of a peacock with its tailfeathers open.

You'd think it was fanning. I mean, there they are. Look at that. That's an astonishing sight. That's real. It's not made up. But some Japanese scientists at the University of Tokyo have discovered, much to everybody's surprise, after a long study, that pea-hens seem to select peacocks according to other criteria. There seems to be –

Alan
Sense of humour.

Stephen
Yeah, exactly! That's it!

Jimmy
Personality.

Stephen
It's not . . . It's personality and sense of humour . . . It's not colour and . . . 

Jimmy
Were they filling in a questionnaire? Because often I find they say that, but when it comes down to it . . . They want a much bigger, sort of, hunkier guy.

Stephen
They took seven years to do this and they observed 258 matings. It seems a very surprising result, but they've been wasting their time growing these tails if we're to believe the Japanese people.

John
So what did they do? They took their tails off? How did they experiment?

Stephen
I don't know how the experiment was done. They judged tail quality in two ways: first by simply measuring tail length, and second by taking photos of each male during the tail-fanning display ritual and counting the number of eye-spots. Next they examined whether the females chose males with the best quality tails according to those criteria, but that may not be the peacock's criteria, exactly.

John
I think it's dodgy research.

Stephen
I sort of agree with you, John, I have to say.

John
I think we have to do the whole thing over again and dress them in raincoats.

Stephen
You're welcome to it. Anyway, what happened after Captain Cook shot an albatross?

Viewscreens: Picture of Captain Cook next to a picture of an albatross.

Jimmy
[at viewscreens] So this fellow shot that fellow? I can see why. He's looking right at him. That's Captain Cook, supposedly. He looks rather like Roy Dotrice, the actor, there, for some reason, but it's Captain Cook. And the answer is, they ate it!

Jo
seph Bank, the great botanist, after whom Botany Bay is, of course, named . . . He sailed with them, and he describes it in his diary. He said everyone commended them, the albatross steaks, and ate heartily, though there was fresh pork upon the table. So this idea that it was a bad idea to eat albatross seems to have come after Captain Cook. And in fact, it probably came from the poem, " . . . the Ancient Mariner", the Coleridge poem, with which you're all familiar, of course.

What do we know about – shh! Of course you know it! What do we know about albatrosses generally? Anything interesting about them?

John
Yeah, they . . . They get caught up in fishing lines all the time.

Stephen
They do, and they're all under threat.

John
I was very upset about that.

Stephen
Because they're very extraordinary . . . 

John
And, er, they fly thousands of miles?

Stephen
The young wandering albatross will set off and will be in the air for 10 years before it lands again.

Alan
[at viewscreens] That one's looking at me!

Stephen
Is it? It's looking at the camera. But isn't that amazing? 10 years without landing. I mean, they're absolutely astounding.

Jimmy
Why does it land after 10 years? It must feel like a bit of a fool. It must go: I think I can go 11!

Stephen
Mating. Mating and the eggs inclubate and hatch with its mate.

Jimmy
You couldn't lay the eggs on the move?

Stephen
No, darling.

Alan
So they don't fly into the water to get food?

Stephen
They dive in to get fish, yeah.

Alan
Or eat other airborne food that we might pass by.

Stephen
No, no, it's fish. But they don't actually land, as I say. And they go for six days without flapping their wings. They can glide for that long. They preserve their energy amazingly.

John
And they're on thermals, aren't they?

Jimmy
They wear thermals?!

Stephen
No, they're actually lower. They take the wind off the surface of the water.

John
Try and listen to the headmaster.

Stephen

And finally, before we stagger back to civilisation, is a mushroom an animal or a plant?

Viewscreens: A mushroom in a field.

Jo

A plant.

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

Jo

Or an animal.

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

Jo

Or a . . . 

John

It's not either. It's a fungus.

Stephen

Which is it closer to? If that makes any sense.

Jo

An animal or a plant, you mean?

Jimmy

[pointing to viewscreens] Well, there, it's closer to a plant.

Stephen

Wey hey. Very good.

Alan

You'd think it was a plant, so I'd say animal.

Stephen

You're correct, absolutely right. It's . . . Recently it was discovered that it has more in common with animals than it does with plants.

Now, it's time to have our guests gassed, stuffed, and mounted in glass cases as we come to the scores. Taking the laurels of victory this week is the audience, with plus ten!

You see? How about that? Well done, audience. You see? It pays to know about opera. Just that, "Traviata", and they win.

But in a creditable second place, with minus one, Jimmy Carr! And in third place with an excellent score for a beginner, minus four, John Sergeant. And, in his usual fourth place, but oddly not last, with minus eighteen, Alan Davies. And, in this "F" series, finally and fifthly, it's the filthily fabulous Jo Brand, with minus twenty-seven!

So, that's all from this florid and formal edition of QI. It's good night from Jo, John, Jimmy, Alan, and from me, and I leave you with this floral tribute from Richard Brinsley Sheridan, a great pick-up line: "Won't you come into the garden? I'd like my roses to see you." Good night.


Episode Notes
  • Never. The answer was "blue whale", just once, though asked in French in episode 6x05.

References

  • Related. A fact not missed by Jo Brand when she introduced herself as John Sergeant in her Live at the Apollo gig. "Or near as dammit, apparently."