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Series 7, Episode 10

Transcript by: Glenn Campbell
Notes: This transcript has not been edited for style or content, but I'm sure it's jolly good.

TRANSCRIPT

Stephen
Gooooooood evening good evening good evening and welcome to QI where tonight's show will be great because our theme is greatness itself. Let's meet four giants of the game show genre… Great Scott it's David Mitchell… Great Balls of Fire it's Sean Lock… a great panjandrum Jo Brand… oh great, it's Alan Davies.

And Sean goes:

Sean
[presses buzzer, which plays "Great Balls of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis]

Stephen
Jo goes:

Jo
[presses buzzer, which plays "The Great Pretender" by The Platters]

Stephen
David goes:

David
[presses buzzer, which plays the theme from "The Great Escape"]

Stephen
Oh, I just want to hear that for the rest of the evening, actually. And Alan goes:

Alan
[presses buzzer, which plays the call centre answering message from Great Eastern Railways as heard over a phone]

Stephen
Hey, good. Now, tell me about the Great Disappointment.

Jo
[presses buzzer, which plays "Pretender"]

Stephen
Jo?

Jo
Have you been talking to my husband?

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "HAVE YOU BEEN TALKING TO MY HUSBAND?"

Stephen
Unbelievable! Unbelievable.

Jo
That is so unfair.

Stephen
That was not a fix. How… how predictable you are.

Jo
I am.

Stephen
Er, yes, The Great Disappointment…

Alan
Was it something that afflicted many people?

Stephen
Well it was a surprisingly large number. When one thinks of expectations, for example, I mean, really delirious excitement about some enormous happening that would take place in the world…

Jo
A birth.

Stephen
… or a rebirth…

Alan
A second coming.

Stephen
Second coming is exactly right.

Alan
And there wasn't one.

Stephen
Amazingly. There's a man called William Miller who discovered, by close scrutiny of the Bible, that Christ would come back in 1844 and scourge the world and clean the sanctuary – in the words of Daniel 8:4 – and it wasn't like a minor cult. There were over a million Millerites who believed this. They sold their property, they sold their farms, they gave up everything and they believed that it was all going to happen. And newspapers believed it, all kinds of people believed it. Their confidence was such that one man threw himself off a barn at exactly midnight, convinced that he would be scooped up and saved. He wasn't, you'll be astonished…

Alan
[holding his nose as if injured] "I need a doctor!" "Jesus is here…" "No, I need a doctor!"

Stephen
Jesus didn't arrive and it was known as The Great Disappointment.

Alan
Was this in America, by any chance?

Stephen
How did you guess?

Alan
They won't learn, will they?

Stephen
Well no, they really won't. Because, what's so interesting is… a lot of people haven't heard of William Miller but although this Great Disappointment happened, his followers shaved off into different religions of which you may have heard. For example, there was a woman who founded a religion called the Seventh-day Adventists, now has fifteen million adherents in America. And she was a Millerite.

Then there was another man called Charles Russell who founded an even better-known religion, the Jehovah's Witnesses.

David
They… they thought the world was going to end in about 1920, didn't they… didn't they think in the 1920's that the world was going to end?

Stephen
Yeah well that's part of what… the apocalypse is, is the second coming. According to Revelations, the last trumpet sounds, there's a mighty wind and Christ "harrows hell", whatever that means.

Sean
But I don't think those people really believe it's the end of the world. Because if you really did believe the world was going to end, you wouldn't wander around going, "I think the world's going to end." You'd be just going, "Aaaaaaaa! We're all going to die!"

Stephen
You'd be saying, "Fancy a shag?" to that person you'd never dared say it to before, that's what most people, in questionnaires asked, what they'd do.

Jo
John McQuerick, in my case.

Stephen
John McQuerick, yes… exactly.

Jo
Can I just say, as far as that "harrows hell" thing, you just need to put a comma in that sentence… "Christ, Harrows hell."

Stephen
By the way, who had purple triangles in the concentration camps, the death camps?

Sean
Er, was it Barney the dinosaur?

Stephen
It is an odd thing, it's a thing that people…

David
Based on instinct I think you're talking about Quality Street.

Stephen
No, you know there were those…

David
Triangles are green.

Stephen
So yellow stars for Jews, blue triangles for gay people, so I don't know which I'm wearing… both? What I wouldn't wear is a purple triangle, which was the purple triangle?

Alan
Christians?

Stephen
No. Well…

Sean
Gypsies?

Stephen
No, not gypsies.

Jo
Lesbians?

Stephen
It was Jehovah's Witnesses.

Alan
Manchester United supporters?

Stephen
No… Because Jehovah's Witnesses were also in those camps and they had purple triangles. Just a weird thought. Anyway, right up to now there is a new, kind of, wave of people in America who believe – and about 50% of Americans do believe – that Christ will return and they have a special word for it. A special word for this moment when their bodies will be removed suddenly by Christ, leaving only their clothes behind them. It's called the Rapture and it's enormous.

In 1988, four million copies of Edgar Whisenant's book "88 Reasons Why The Rapture Could be in 1988" were sold. The Rapture wasn't in 1988, you may remember, but www.raptureready.com has millions of hits a year as well as offering you handy letters to leave behind for your non-saved friends and loved ones. It has a particularly good section called "Oops! I guess I wasn't ready." This list spells out the perils of the post-rapture world in which you are marked by the Antichrist and stung by enormous wasps.

David
But on the plus side, the price of clothing goes right down.

Stephen
Yes, there is that. There's a handy quiz called "Am I Rapture Ready?"

David
Is there any advice on what sort of loose-fitting clothes to wear…

Stephen
So that when…

David
… that would be better, so you don't get caught on anything. You wouldn't like to get whipped out of a jockstrap, really. Wear boxer shorts or something like that.

Stephen
Yeah, well… You'd better be careful because it's imminent.

David
Is it?

Stephen
It is imminent, yeah. The Rapture is imminent.

Alan
When you say 'imminent', you mean this week, or… ?

Stephen
Oddly enough they're not being that specific.

Alan
Oh, really?

Stephen
Yeah. You wouldn't want a second Great Disappointment would we?

Alan
No, that would be… I certainly would be disappointed.

Stephen
No. Well the Great Disappointment came in 1844 when Jesus confounded all expectations by failing to return in glory.

Why are so many great men, though, short?

Viewscreens: Four panels bearing images of Stalin, Franco, Napoleon and Mussolini.

David
Are they really?

Stephen
David… David… You've hit the nail on the head. Rem acu tetigisti as they would say in Latin.

David
I'm sure they would.

Stephen
Yeah.

Sean
It means "Nice one, son."

Stephen
Yup, that's absolutely right. In fact Napoleon…

Alan
Napoleon was short wasn't he?

Stephen
No, he was above average height.

Alan
Everyone was short in those days.

David
Wasn't he… He is five foot six, which is taller than it is now.

Stephen
He was five foot seven, actually.

Stephen
Yeah. Average height was about five foot six-ish.

Alan
So it was just the British who decided he was short. Put him down a bit.

Stephen
Yes! It was a… particularly a cartoonist called Gillray. When we were at war with Napoleon, there was a famous one of George the Third [holds his hand palm up before his face, as if looking at something small perched there] with a little Napoleon, based on Gulliver's Travels, like that…

Viewscreens: The cartoon of George III looking at Napoleon on his hand, through a spyglass.

Stephen
… and he's actually saying, "I can not but conclude you to be one of the most pernicious little odious reptiles that nature every suffered to crawl upon the surface of the Earth." There… that's…

David
It's snappy.

Stephen
It's a snappy one, isn't it? But he was three inches taller than Nelson, for example. Nelson was three inches shorter than Napoleon. It's certainly true that sta…

Alan
Was Nelson five foot four?

Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
Like Danny DeVito?

Stephen
Yes. He was very… yeah, short chap.

Alan
No wonder they put him on such a big column.

Jo
Is that…

Stephen
He's tall in Trafalgar Square.

Jo
Is that 'short man' syndrome a kind of retrospective thing then, that we've kind of invented more recently and then just gone back and said they're all short?

Stephen
Yeah. Some of them were short, though, there's no question. I mean, Stalin was surprisingly short, he was only five five, Mussolini was five six, Franco was five four.

Alan
Five four?

Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
They are all short, Stephen.

Stephen
Well no, Hilter five eight, Idi Amin was six four.

Alan
Yeah, big fellow.

Stephen
That's my height.

Stephen
Mmm. Fidel Castro six one, er, Mao was five nine which is rather tall for a Chinese person.

Sean
So… mostly they're not judged on their height, are they?

Stephen
No, they're not, but all I'm…

Sean
We let that go.

Stephen
All I'm saying, you know, there seems to be historically no evidence that short people are more power hungry, more tyrannical than people of average or tall stature.

Sean
Knew why it came about though, 'cause it's just that, probably that one thing that short people have got to cling on to. One day they might be a dictator. And we've just taken that away from them. That little hope.

Stephen
Well…

David
All this not being able to reach things from shelves, one day will be made up for when I kill millions of people. Stand on their bodies. Reach the jam.

Alan
I think everybody knows somebody short in their life who has been particularly angry and abused a position of authority and then you decide he's a bit like Hitler…

Stephen
That's the point, you notice when the short man who has a tantrum and say, "Oh he's a short man, Napoleon complex." …

David
Tall man has a tantrum, you just leg it.

Stephen
Exactly. I have to say I'm rather shocked by this: Heightism does exist. Short people are paid less, on average, than tall people. The disparity is comparable in magnitude to race and gender. A survey of Fortune 500 companies…

Alan
They should rise up.

Stephen
Yeah. Hey! The Chief Executive Officers of Fortune 500 companies, 90% are above average height. Which is astounding, really. And 30% of those are over six two. They're the tallest 4% of the…

Sean
Every now and again a short fellow breaks through…

Stephen
Yeah, oh stop…

Sean
Escapes, gets away…

Stephen
Yeah, yeah.

Sean
"Look at me!"

Stephen
It is…

Sean
"I made it!"

Stephen
It is rather shocking that there is this disparity.

Viewscreens: Picture of Carlo Brunei and Bernie Eccleston with spouses.

Stephen
And of course, we always notice the powerful short man with the young, tall wife.

Alan
It's billionaire Bernie Eccleston.

Sean [pointing at viewscreens]
I've seen him… with her. She's actually much taller than that, above him…

Stephen
Yes, she's bending her knee there.

Sean
Yeah. I mean, he has to jump up to slap her on the bum. He can run through her legs.

Stephen
And who's the couple on the left?

Alan
That's Carlo Brunei and…

Jo
Sarcosi.

Stephen
Sarcosi.

Jo
Well at least the women have both got handbags that their husbands can fit in, which is good.

Stephen
No, there isn't really any evidence that dictators are shorter than the rest of us, the Napoleon complex is a bit of a myth, it seems.

So, now some great men, on the contrary, are actually tall. For example, Charlemagne, the immensely charismatic, civilised, attractive eighth century King of the Francs, Holy Roman Emperor, founder of modern Europe … Now our researchers have discovered that in fact – we've been digging into your family trees in that Who Do You Think You Are? kind of way, and we've come up with some rather exciting news. See if you can guess which of you is descended from Charlemagne?

Jo
Well, civilised and attractive, it ain't me is it? I think Alan.

Stephen
Alan?

Sean
What, is it all of us?

Stephen
Yes. All of us, including me, including everyone in the audience and everyone watching at home, if they're European.

Sean
He was a love machine.

Stephen
It's just mathematically certain. The fact is, you know how you have – obviously, everyone has two parents - four grandparents, eight grand-grandparents… it's that grain of rice on the chess board thing… eight, sixteen… By the time you get back to the generations, just in the thirteenth century, you have more direct ancestors than there have even been human beings. It's about eighty billion. The number, by the time you get back that far.

Sean
My brain's. I…

Stephen
Yeah, well, all you have to do…

Sean
How can you have more ancestors than there are people that's ever been?

Stephen
Well, you can't. That's the point.

Sean [mimes his head exploding]
Boom! [he collapses on the desk]

Stephen
The point is, you can't…

Alan
It was bound to happen on this show, eventually.

Stephen
… the point is, you have to share that ancestry.

Sean
Oh, I see, right.

Stephen
The point is they have to be shared.

Jo [to David]
Are your brothers here tonight?

David
Sorry?

Jo
Are your brothers here tonight?

David
I've only got one brother.

Jo
Oh.

David
And he's not.

Jo
Oh, I was going to say, Phil and Grant, I thought they might be related to you.

Stephen
Well they would be.

Jo
Wouldn't that be great, if they were your brothers? Wouldn't you love it?

David
Well there's be a problem with that because they don't exist. I think that would be weird, to find out you were related to someone fictional. You start to doubt your own existence.

Jo
Apparently, we all are.

Stephen
Yeah.

David
Charlemagne's not fictional, he's historical…

Jo
No, all our ancestors… all our eighty billion… well, not all of them, obviously, but…

David
Eighty billion ancestors, one of them's got to be Winnie the Pooh.

Stephen
Yeah. That's very odd. It was a man called Mark Humphreys who was, in 1995 in Dublin University was doing… and he discovered that his wife was King Edward the Third's great granddaughter twenty generations down the line, and he looked further into it and he realised that so was Hermann Göring and Daniel Boone, the American explorer / pioneer. And he kind of worked out the mathematics of it and he's the one who's given us that.

Sean
I'm just thinking about Charlemagne, I think that would be a really good name for, like, an after-shave. Wouldn't it? [in a deep, coarse voice] "Charlemagne"…

David
Let's smell medieval.

Sean [same deep voice]
"I'm everybody's daddy."

Stephen
Oh, very true. We're all related to Charlemagne, it seems. Computer models have shown that anyone living in the eighth century, who had plenty of children and grand children is likely to be related to everyone living in Europe today.

So tell me, what good did the Great Fire of London do?

Jo
[presses buzzer, which plays "Pretender"]
I'm risking it here but I don't care… Wiped out the plague.

Stephen
Oh dear, no.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "CLEARED THE CITY OF PLAGUE "

Stephen
It was taught in schools so you've got every reason to think it, but it's just simply not true. There's no evidence whatsoever. Apart from anything else, the plague was already over.

David
Yeah, it sort of… it wiped out the conditions in which it could have come back.

Stephen
Not really because the plague was really in the suburbs, not in the city. The city was not the place that was most affected by the plague but it was the place that was destroyed by the fire. By the time September 1666 happened, which was the fire, there were very few deaths, it had gone down to… it had almost ended. No-one quite knows why it ended, but it certainly wasn't the fire.

Sean
Did it make it easier for them to knock down a lot of places that they had their eye on?

Stephen
Essentially that's the point, it gave the chance for Christopher Wren to get some church building done, especially St. Paul 's, of course.

David
They had lots of grandiose plans about turning London into a grid or a spiral or that, and then they kind of thought about it for ages and went, "Put it back as it was." You know, all squiggly lines and weird corners please.

Stephen
Yeah, which we have, it is one of…

David
Yeah but I think Christopher Wren was a bit depressed about it.

Stephen
Well the best thing about the Great Fire of London was that it got Wren an opportunity to build St. Paul 's. What it didn't do was clear the city of plague, however.

Now Samuel Pepys famously buried his Parmesan cheese to protect it from the Great Fire but why does cheese taste better when it's grated?

Alan
Well sometimes it does but if you get one of those catering bags of grated cheese – if you should be working for a catering company and happened to steal one, for example -

David
What sort of twit would do that?

Alan
- and you get it home, you put it on your toast… It tastes rank, horrible, dry skanky old cheese. So…

Stephen
Ah, that might be because grated cheese, yes, does taste better…

David
You mean freshly grated.

Stephen
Yeah, freshly grated, it's got more surface area for the tongue…

Jo
Tastes a little stronger.

Stephen
Well it's more intense, that's absolutely right. Well, what about Parmesan? When that's grated, that smells of what?

Alan
Cheese.

Stephen
No. Have you not noticed?

Jo
Vomit.

Stephen
Vomit, yeah. It does smell of vomit, I mean, it really does. It has two short-chain fatty acids called butyric and isovaleric acid. They're sort of sweaty-feet chemicals that body odour and various other things have. And interestingly – human beings being what they are – if you have two bottles of the same… those two fatty acids in them, so identical smell, and you label one Parmesan and you label the other one vomit, people will say, "Oh, I quite like that one." With the Parmesan and the other one they go, "Oooargh!" Like that.

Sean
I always think, the thing about Parmesan… You know when you buy Parmesan, I never understood why it has a sell-by date on it, 'cause it just never goes off, does it? You can put it on a rooftop in Nairobi for a year, it just… does nothing… Now why do they have to have a sell-by date?

David
So that you will destroy it and buy some more. You buy cheese at the supermarket and it says "Consume within two days of opening" or something…

Stephen
Yes, but it's the cheese that's…

David
… and it's this vast amount of… How much cheese do you think I'm going to get through? Why? It's fine! They know it's fine.

Stephen
Plus it has a label on it saying, "Twenty years' aged."

David
Yes, exactly, and what… you've sold it two days before it's completely inedible, you've saved for me.

Stephen
It is true.

David
It's gone off already. I mean, cheese, basically, hasn't it?

Stephen
Well that's it's point exactly, it is the celebration of what happens when milk goes off big time styli.

Sean
Yeah, you should just… You should work for the Milk Marketing Board. "Get some lovely English milk gone off big time styli." … "I'll have a milk gone off big time styli and a tomato sandwich please." That's a brilliant description, the best description of cheese. I was just thinking, though, David, rather than have a sell-by date on cheese they should have the date that cheese becomes poisonous. Then you know when to stop eating it.

David
Do they know that date, when cheese becomes poisonous? Is it a global thing, two days before the rapture? Maybe that's when cheese becomes poisonous.

Sean
Or maybe it's the day they worked out everyone in the world is related to Peter Andre. And they go, "That's when it becomes poisonous."

David
At which point people will happily eat it and die.

Jo
But also, aren't those sell-by dates are just over-cautious aren't they? You could probably leave it for ages…

Alan
Yeah they're just covering themselves in case you get ill.

Jo
… get it out the bin a couple of weeks later, it'll be fine.

Sean
Put it down your pants, go in the sauna…

Stephen
Sean… Sean…

Sean
Take it out…

Stephen
Sean…

Sean
… obviously reshape it again.

Stephen
Sean, you're not alone. There are people here.

Alan
You're saying it out loud, you're not thinking it.

Stephen
Grated cheese tastes stronger because there's a greater surface area that cheese makes contact with your tongue.

Now, just how great were the great train robbers?

Alan
Well they're not that great 'cause they got caught.

Stephen
Well, yeah. I mean, they got so caught. They got caught almost immediately and they got caught in very stupid ways. Do you know how they were caught?

Sean
When they left the, er… Well, in the film anyway – that's all I know about it – in the film when they left there was a sort of, a… what's it called… an air traffic control tower… they left… didn't they… they… they leave that in the film. [suddenly smiling] Oh! I'm mixing it up with Herbie Rides Again.

Stephen
I think you may be. No, this is a train robbery, not a plane robbery.

Sean
For a minute, I did think… I forget what it was.

Stephen
Plane robbery? This… this was in Buckinghamshire in 1963, August the eighth 1963. The Great Train Robbery, it was a lot of money, about forty million pounds' worth the amount there.

Alan
Did they know it was on there or did they get lucky?

Stephen
No, no, they knew, it was planned…

Alan
Been tipped off.

Stephen
… it was a travelling Post Office train and it was one and five and ten pound used notes that were on their way to be burned… So they felt like they were just liberating it, you know? Erm, but when they got caught…

They went to this farm and played Monopoly, using stolen money as Monopoly money, and then they cleared out and left their fingerprints over everything, over all the Monopoly set. And they were all… you know like form… they were all, you know, known blaggers. So they were just rounded up, or twelve of the gang of fifteen. One was acquitted, two were never caught. They were pretty inept is the answer, basically.

Jo
So why, that begs the question, why were they called great? Because of the amount of money they nicked?

Stephen
I think because it was a train robbery. And there was a Great Train Robbery in America and in 1903 the first ever film that was a story rather than just a camera pointing at nature or people in a park… actually a constructed narrative, a drama, was called The Great Train Robbery.

So it was very famous. So when there was a train robbery and it was a big one, the word 'great' naturally fitted in front of it. You know, it's just like one of those clichés that newspapers will go for. And they went for that one.

David
It just sounds like they stole the train, though, doesn't it?

Stephen
Yes!

David
That would be impressive. You can't steal a train.

Sean
You can't steal a train can you?

David
No well that because you can't go… it's got rails. You know where it's going to go. It can go there more quickly or more slowly but it's still going to King's Cross.

Alan
If you've got… if you've got Gromit in the gang…

Stephen
Yes! That's true.

Alan
He can lay track as he's going along.

David
Some sort of Gromit-like escape for the… That would be a Great Train Robbery.

Stephen
That would. Who's the most famous of the Great Train Robbers would you say?

Jo and Alan
Ronnie Biggs.

Stephen
Ronnie, also Ronnie Biggs, yeah. And what was his role? Was he the mastermind, is that why he's best known?

Viewscreens: Mug shot of Ronnie Biggs.

Sean
No.

Stephen
No, he was such a small peg in the whole thing.

Jo
Was he the driver?

Stephen
No, he wasn't even that. He was 'inside'… he was doing a 'stretch' for taking and driving away, and the mastermind of the entire event met him and said, "I'm planning this blag"…

Alan
"I'm planning a game of Monopoly."

Stephen
Yeah. A game of Monopoly.

David
"We've just got to pick something up on the way. I've lost all the fake money and the only way of replacing it I can think of…"

Alan
"We phoned Wallington's, they didn't want to know. Get a new set, they said. Don't be ridiculous I said."

Stephen
Anyway the mastermind was called Bruce Reynolds and he said, "If youcan find me someone who can drive a train, a diesel train, I will cut you in on a big job that's going down."

David [spluttering]
It's not like somebody's going to, sort of, melt diamonds with their eyes. "We want someone who can drive… a diesel train… apparently they exist somewhere."

Stephen
But the amazing thing, David Mitchell, is that Biggs found this guy whose nickname was Old Pete or Stan Agate – no-one knows who he was 'cause he was the one who was never caught -

Alan
Was that Old Pete the train driver?

Stephen
So his job, after this…

Sean
After Casey Jones had turned him down…

Stephen
… this, for being found, Ronnie Biggs got a share worth £147,000 which in today's money is 1.6 million… and all he had to do, Ronnie Biggs, was get this guy, Old Pete, to the scene. But this Old Pete got to the train and said, "Oh I don't know how to drive that." But Biggs still got his share but Old Pete was useless, he couldn't drive a train, he'd been lying all the time.

Sean
I had no idea Old Pete is like those actors who've got, on their CV, "Yes, I can horse ride." … "Oh yes, I can drive a train, I play mandolin too… a train through China ? No problem at all."

David
That's how he found him, he went for his spotlight. The other was apparently well reviewed in Much Ado About Nothing.

Stephen
And he's trained in modern dance, that would come in handy.

Sean [to Stephen]
You sound like you're quite fond of them.

Stephen
No I'm not fond of them… they had a, sort of, mythic role and that but I like the fact that they were bunglingly incompetent.

Sean
Yeah, yeah, they weren't as evil as perhaps they'd been portrayed.

Stephen
No, no, exactly.

Alan
People like villains. There's a café near me that serves bangers and mash and that old-fashioned English grub, and on the menus.. the menu's got Sid James and Barbara Windsor in a Carry On film, and then there's Peter Cook and Dudley Moore dressed up in their overcoats, and then on the third one there's the Kray twins.

Stephen
Blimey!

Alan
Chirpy cultural icons, great comedians of the sixties and notorious maimers and murderers.

Stephen
Yeah. It is odd, isn't it? Very strange.

Well the Great Train Robbers weren't particularly great, most of them were caught because they left fingerprints on the Monopoly set at the safe house.

From criminal bungling to a great scientific mystery: why did it take three hundred years to give the giant tortoise a scientific name?

Viewscreens: Illustration of several giant tortoises.

Alan
A scientific name?

Stephen
Yeah, i.e. the Latin name, turned out to be called geacolonia… you know…

Sean
Is it because they just thought that was pretty good, Giant Tortoise

Alan
… we'll leave it with that.

Sean
Yeah.

David [chuckles]

Stephen
Yeah?

David
No, I was, I… I was going to say something about it which… and now it's unusable. [pauses] I'm going to have to say it…

Stephen
Come on! Go on, go on.

David
I thought [struggles to find the words] …

Alan
This better be good.

David
They thought it was a normal tortoise, but it's… but closer. Is what I was going to say… I couldn't get that concept, would it be actually further away than normal, a normal one further away would actually be a minute one… Would they mistake a quite far away normal one for a miniaturised one? It's a bit…

Sean
The thing that… [also struggles to find the words] you're saying is that… if the tortoise was big…

David
If there was like a tortoise over there that was giant, that for some reason felt was just there, then I wouldn't think it was giant. I'd think it was just… there's just one there… just a normal tortoise and he went "Oh my God, it's over there!"

Stephen
You'd have to be on a huge beach with no other points of reference.

David
Well yes, exactly.

Alan
Are they, er…

Stephen
That's not the reason.

Alan
Are they particularly litigious? You know, if you give me a name, I'll sue you.

Stephen
No it wasn't that. It's a nice thought to get. No, they had another property which was most unfortunate for them to have.

Jo
What, the tortoises did?

Stephen
Yeah.

Alan
They were edible.

Stephen
They were so edible. Anyone, I mean…

David
Anyone who saw one couldn't stop to think of a name for it, they just had to eat it. Straight away.

Alan [pretending to talk with his mouth full]
"Fetch me one of those… I dunno what they're called… Get one, they're really very good!"

David
Don't you know, there's no Latin name for Pistachio nuts either. Like the same thing, no-one could be bothered, "Shut up with your Latin, eat them, they're brilliant."

Stephen
That's what happened, none of them made it…

Alan [pretending to hastily shove many tiny morsels of food into his mouth]
There's no Latin name for Maltesers.

Stephen
It's kind of true. None of them made it to London, none of them made it to Europe.

David
"Now this time… this time we're going to take it and we're going to…"

Alan
"Don't tuck in… leave it… no… we're taking it back."

Sean
On the ferry coming in to Dover, there's a bloke going… [licks his lips happily] Leaving the door where the tortoise escaped… [picks his teeth and whistles nonchalantly].

David
"Look there's nine of them, we'll eat eight. Absolutely…"

Alan
Even though the sea's been calm there's one tortoise left. "Come on, we'll go back… Let's just go back and get some more."

David
Imagine the moment after they've eaten that last tortoise, they're sitting there thinking, "Oh, we are twats." … "I'm too full…"

Stephen
Even Darwin, on Darwin 's last voyage… there were dozens, there were dozens of them…

Alan
He collected every species in the world… "We ate that one."

Stephen
They did.

Alan
"We've got all the butterflies, we've got all the beetles… eaten that."

Stephen
The only descriptions of them are comparing them to chicken, beef, mutton and butter and saying how much better they are than all of those things. No-one who'd ever eaten tortoise had ever eaten anything better. And the liver and the bone marrow, every part of it was unbelievably delicious.

Jo
Whereabouts are they from?

Stephen
Well, from the tropics, mostly.

Jo
Are there flights over there?

Stephen
They are now protected! All twelve species.

David
I bet they're not, they're that delicious they can't be. They'll say, "Yeah we've protected them, no need to look."

Stephen
Burp!

Alan
There's a border around them like North Korea.

Sean
And big piles of shells like those piles of tyres you see in a scrapyard.

Stephen
But, erm, yeah… there were some that survived and let me tell you about a very extraordinary one.

Alan [pointing to viewscreens]
Look at that bloke there, he's just befriending that one.

 

"Come over here mate, I'm trying to think of a name for you." [pretends to suddenly bring down a club] "Getoffya!"

Stephen
But… they are amazing animals apart from how delicious they are. Adwaita died in 2006 and he was Clive of India's pet.

Viewscreens: Picture of Adwaita and attendant.

Stephen
There he is.

Alan
Over 200 years old or something.

Stephen
255. He was born before Mozart, before the French Revolution and his death was announced on CNN. I mean, that's a heck of a life.

Alan
And you can list his achievements on the back of a stamp. Well, his principal achievement was…

Stephen
He lived 255 years, people think probably the oldest living creature because they don't live so long out of captivity like most animals. And he was well cared for but it's still pretty astonishing.

Jo
It is quite. So he lived 255 years and is massive. I mean, I've achieved 50% of that. I don't see why that's so great.

Stephen
There are twelve species of them, all of them endangered.

Jo
Do they all taste nice?

Stephen
Well I don't know but it's very sad that they have… so many were… other species were, you know, just wiped out. Just because they were so lovely.

Not only that, they were also used as water stores. It sounds a weird thing but they have a special, kind of, internal bladder that stores water so perfectly that it's drinkable. When you slit them open to cook them, you also get, you know, like a gallon of fresh water. So they would stack them up on boats, tons of them, they'd be stacked up, one on the other, and they couldn't move. And they didn't need to be fed for months, so they actually contributed a lot to whaling and other things because they were used as a foodstuff and as a water supply that was just, kind of…

Sean
So you got the water as well and I'd imagine if you smashed the shell open there's like a little toy in there like a kinder egg. Like a little game, you've got to get the balls in the holes.

David
What… How did they exist in the wild anyway if they're so delicious and slow moving and massively useful?

Stephen
They didn't have any natural predators until man discovered them, basically.

David
So they were evolutionarily complacent.

Stephen
They were, exactly, like a lot of island species, they're a lot like that. And it's only man who crosses islands in the way we do, who does it.

David
All those ridiculous flightless birds on New Zealand. Essentially they got lazy…

Stephen
Yep. What's the point of those…

David
… They got lazy, what's the point of flying? And some of them go, "We'll need it one day, I'll bet we'll need it one day." And they… "Naah, you're too anal you are. just walk around, it's easier."

Stephen
Yup. Anyway, despite being discovered in 1535, giant tortoises weren't properly catalogued by science until the early nineteenth century because they were so delicious that no samples ever made it back home.

And to another puzzling giant. If a giant panda does a handstand in front of you, what's he trying to tell you?

Alan
Erm… put some money in the hat?

Stephen
Oh, nice thought.

David
There's a human in a costume?

Stephen
Er, well, er…

Alan
"No" "Go away" "Come nearer" "Be afraid of me" "Leave me alone"?

Stephen
Yes, it's that kind of thing. They have to eat twelve hours a day, so they haven't got much time for rutting and fighting so the best they can do is they can urinate and mark out their territory. Then the handstand is one of their most popular methods of urination. Would you like to see a panda doing a handstand and urinating?

Alan
I would definitely.

Jo
I'd quite like to see a bloke doing it actually.

Stephen
Yeah.

Viewscreens: Video clip of a panda backing up against a tree and urinating inverted.

Alan [as video plays]
There he goes.

Stephen
There… oh… he's rather missed the tree unfortunately. Very good.
[The clip ends and restarts on a video loop]

Alan
It's not a very accurate thing.

Stephen
No, he's supposed to hit the tree but he's missing.

Alan
Ah, this thing's gonna run around, excellent.

Stephen
Yeah, it's on a loop.

David
For a creature that is incredibly busy eating, there are more efficient ways of pissing than that.

Stephen
Yeah, I suppose. The point is, you see, the higher you piss. The more dominant you are. So another… the other male comes along and if he sniffs the wee quite low down on the tree, he thinks, "Ah, it's a woos." But if it's very very high, he goes, "Woah I'm not going anywhere near that."

David [pointing at Viewscreens]
Is that… that's a woos.

Stephen
I'm afraid it won't count as he missed the tree, I'm afraid, this one.

Alan
Well he's trying to piss on the cameraman, he's doing well. "Get off my land."

Jo
I… it's not really a proper handstand, is it?

Stephen
Well no, he's…

Jo
He's leaning against the tree, I think that's cheating. I was expecting a proper performing panda.

Stephen
Oh I'm so sorry. [The video ends] Well they are, as you probably know, an endangered species…

Sean
Are they delicious?

Stephen
I… dear… hope not.

Alan
Only the ears.

Stephen
Oh no! Sweet little pandy! The odd thing is – it's a fairly recent discovery, San Diego zoo – is that they don't need Viagra, they don't need these… this whole idea of "Gosh how do you get two pandas in captivity to breed?" is, it's discovered, if they swap cages and smell each other's secretions and wee, they're up for it. So they really don't breed any more reluctantly than any other type of bear. They're actually perfectly good. So maybe there's hope for…

Alan
So what was all that fuss about for all those years?

Stephen
For years we didn't know how to get them to do it in public, in zoos and things like that, we weren't providing them with the territory, so that's why these discoveries are very important, that this… these things that look quite comic, like the peeing or whatever, are actually vital to the survival of the species.

David
They look fake, don't they? I mean…

Stephen
They really do. They so do.

David
… Of all the animals, they look fake.

Stephen
Yeah, yeah.

Alan
Looks like a bloke in a bear suit. "Don't give it away but my name's Jeff."

Sean
It would take me quite a few years before I was prepared to have sex in a zoo.

Stephen
Yeah, exactly.

David [to Sean]
Remember this is a world in which… it's not creatures of your species who'd be watching. So you're in a cage, invited to have sex… it's only pandas watching. Would you feel embarrassed in front of the pandas?

Sean
I don't like to take my pants off in front of a cat.

David
No, I'm sure you don't like to take them off… but would you actually mind?

Sean
I do. He goes out of the door, the pants come off.

Stephen
Dear me.

Sean
I put… I usually put a tea towel over the goldfish.

Stephen
Right, good. Nice to know. Erm… thanks.

If a panda does a handstand in front of you, he's telling you you're on his land. They do this to get their scent markings as high up a tree as possible.

And with that, it's time for the great test of general ignorance so fingers on buzzers if you please… Now, how did Catherine the Great die?

Viewscreens: Portrait of Catherine the Great on horseback.

Alan
Oh, it's quite famous…

David and Sean
Horse.

Alan
… unfortunately, I don't know.

Stephen [to David and Sean]
She what?

Sean
She didn't… have sex with a horse…

Stephen
Correct.

Sean
… she …

Jo
… died on the commode.

Stephen
Oh…

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "ON THE LOO".

Stephen
Oh dear… no…

Jo
"On the loo"?

Stephen
Well commode… loo… er, there are those, of course, Elvis Presley was said to have died that way, George the Second died "at stool" but…

Jo
"At stool"?

Stephen
"At stool" is how they described it, rather splendidly straining away… er, but Catherine… she did have a stroke on the loo – on the commode – but she died in bed.

Alan
Is that a euphemism?

Stephen
Oh dear.

Alan
"I'm having a stroke on the commode." – "We'll leave you there, love, for a minute."

Sean
She… she did have sex with horses, though?

Stephen
No she didn't, no.

Alan [pointing at viewscreens]
That horse's head is too small.

Stephen
Yeah they did paint them like that. It's a very odd eighteenth century thing, painting horses with small heads.

Jo
She never had sex with one horse?

Stephen
Not… no, it's sort of made up…

Jo
Donkey?

Stephen
… made up… nor a donkey… She did with lots of courtiers, she was a very sexually active woman.

Jo
Not quite what I was saying, though.

Stephen
No it's not, no. But the point… some Paul, Paul the First, the Tsar of…

Jo
He spread the rumour.

Stephen
… he spread the rumour, as did… and the French were also responsible for spreading it. They had other…

Sean [east end accent]
"My mum, right… guess what she's done… my mum… you wouldn't believe it… had sex with a horse."

David
"That's why I'm so good at showjumping."

Stephen
Anyway, despite all the salacious gossip, Catherine died in bed where she was being cared for following a stroke.

In cold weather, where does most of your heat escape from?

[Panellists 'oh' and 'er' as they stall, sensing the forfeit.]

Sean
Your head.

Stephen
Oh! Really?

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "YOUR HEAD".

Alan
It's supposed to be 75%, that's what I've been told, that comes out your head.

David
Is it not just the fact that the head is the bit of you that's more, sort of, naked?

Stephen
Well, that's right, if it is, but only 10% of your heat. You're actually… if your arm was exposed, more would escape from your arm than your head.

David
If people went around with bare buttocks a lot, they would say, "In the cold you should really put on a buttock hat, you lose all your heat through your buttocks." "Don't be ridiculous, no need these days to cover your buttocks all the time." In the same way everyone used to wear hats, now they go around bare-headed a lot.

Sean
I'm glad my… this sounds wrong, this… I'm glad my grandmother's dead… 'cause that would blow her mind, that would. I'm not glad she's dead…

Stephen
No…

Sean
I'm sad she's dead. It's not a long time ago so this doesn't affect it at all.

Stephen
You're glad she isn't here to hear that.

Sean
Yes. I would also, at the same time, it's a shame she never saw me on a plane sitting next to Lionel Blair. That would've been a lovely moment as well.

Stephen
Aww. This happened to you?

Sean
She died before I was able to tell her that 'cause she would've seen that as the absolute pinnacle of human achievement.

Stephen
So it is.

Sean
Yes it was very nice.

Stephen
There's nothing special about your head and heat loss, on a cold day you would lose more heat through an exposed leg or arm than a bare head.

What was the lingua franca of ancient Rome?

Sean
[presses buzzer, which plays "Great Balls of Fire"]

Stephen
Yes?

Sean
Er, Dutch. [points to Viewscreens] Because I knew that's not gonna come up.

Stephen
Oh, very good, yes.

Sean
See, that's the way you gotta think, Jo. You gotta think what they wouldn't put up.

Jo
Cheers Sean.
[presses buzzer, which plays "Pretender"]
Latin.

Stephen
Oh!

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

Jo
I did that deliberately. Yeah, I know…

Stephen
She's going for the record.

David
At this point it makes sense…

Jo
It makes almost no difference…

Stephen
You might as well… It's like shooting the moon when you play hearts or one of those games, isn't it?

Jo
That is such a brilliant game.

Alan
What does lingua franca mean?

Stephen
When people get together, it's a language that is commonly used as like a… everybody's second language, as it were.

Sean
Is it Greek?

Stephen
Yes! It is Greek, is the right answer. Greek is the language that people would use in Rome if they weren't Latin speakers.

[Sean and Jo exchange looks with nearly suppressed smiles]

Stephen
Finally, how many men have been President of the United States ?

Alan
Oh, it's 46 or something?

Stephen
Well, shall we ask the great man himself? Shall we ask the current President?

Alan
Is he here?

Stephen
Is he here tonight? [gestures towards the wing] Ladies and gentlemen…

Sean
What a waste of a guest!

Alan
I would've gladly given up my seat. Bet he'd sat in the audience for this one.

Stephen
Here he is, the President - but which number? - of the United States. He's here to tell us.

Viewscreens : Video clip of Barack Obama during his inauguration.

Barack Obama:
I thank President Bush for his service to our nation as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition. 44 Americans have now taken the Presidential oath.

Forfeit : Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the number "44".

Stephen
He's wrong! He's wrong, he made a mistake.

Alan
He's only been on once and he's already…

Viewscreens: Picture of Grover Cleveland.

Stephen
He is currently known as the 44th just as Bush was known as the 43rd. But they aren't. Bush was the 42nd and he's the 43rd. Do you know why this is?

David
Was some of them…

Sean
Was one invisible?

David
Was there somebody who was President for a bit and then stopped being President… someone else… than came back?

Stephen
There was one non-consecutive President, who was the 22nd and the 24th.

David
Why did they count him as two? Doesn't make any sense… yet they count Clinton as one.

Stephen
Yeah because his terms were consecutive. This one was 22 nd then Harrison was President, then he was the 24th. This was Grover Cleveland.

David
I think if I was doing that… if I was setting that system up, I would've gone for the number of different men… I would say, you know, you get a new number if you're a different man, not if there was a gap.

Stephen
Exactly. No, I know, there's only ever been one gap and for some reason they didn't do that. So when he took his second oath, he was called the 24th President although he was the same man who had been the 22nd.

Alan
Though he was, actually, Stalin.

Stephen
He was… he does look a bit like Stalin.

David
So not only did he rule Russia - kill millions of people - he was two Presidents of the United States.

Stephen
It's a weird system.

David
That's a CV!

Stephen
It's quite a bombshell.

Alan
Now we know what he was doing in between Presidents.

Stephen
Exactly. Barack Obama is in fact the 43rd person to become President of the United States because Grover Cleveland held the position twice with a four year break in between, making him the 22nd and the 24th President of the United States.

It's a great shame but it's the end of the show, time to look at the scores. Well my word, my word, my word… my word! Erm, in first place with four points… it's David Mitchell! In second place with plus two is Alan Davies… in third place with minus six, Sean Lock… but, in fourth place with minus ten it's Barack Obama…

Viewscreens : Picture of Barack Obama looking sad.

Stephen
Barack? Where are you? Minus ten… which means tonight in fifth place with a very impressive minus forty-six, Jo Brand!

So it only remains to say thank you from David, Sean, Jo, Alan and me and I leave you with this thought from the great Jack Handy: "Before you criticise someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticise them, you'll be a mile away… and you'll have their shoes!"

Goodnight.

 


 

 

 

Rem acu tetigisti: – from Plautus, Rudens : "Teitgisti acu" ("You have hit the nail on the head")

Lingua franca: – "French tongue" - the common or universal language.