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Series 8, Episode 3

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

TRANSCRIPT

Stephen

Well, hello there, hello there, hello there, hello, and welcome to QI where tonight we’ll be looking at all manner of hoaxes, hokum, hucksters and hogwash.

And to help, or more likely hinder us, a veritable hoard of hornswogglers, with 10 top tips to increase your manhood, it’s Sean Lock.

And joining him the esteemed president of the bank of Nigeria, Danny Baker.

By his side professor of hoaxology at the university of the internet, David Mitchell.

And believe it or not, Alan Davies.

Now, in keeping with our theme tonight, one of our buzzers is a hoax. So see if you can tell me which one of these buzzing calls is not the mating call of a deer.

Sean goes:

Sean

[presses buzzer, which plays an animal’s mating call] 

Stephen

Danny goes:

Danny

[presses buzzer, which plays a very similar mating call] 

Stephen

David goes:

David

[presses buzzer, which plays a similar, but longer and more pathetic call] 

Stephen

And Alan goes:

Alan

[presses buzzer, which is a man calling “Hello dear!” in a Scottish accent] 

Stephen

Now, starting as we mean to go on, we’ve actually hidden...

Sean

Is it Alan’s?

Stephen

Yes. Well done.

Alan

I thought it was Danny’s. I was going to say Danny’s right up until that moment.

Stephen

Right at the last moment. Now listen, you’ve got ‘Hoax Cards’ here. [hands out large playing cards with pictures of jokers on them] Little jokers to play because in keeping with the theme, uh, there will be one question which is a hoax.

[Alan practices holding up his card]

And you play your hoax card and you get extra points. If you play it and it isn’t a hoax you lose points but don’t have your hoax cards unspent at the end of the game.

Sean

What happens?

Stephen

Well, I’m not going to tell you.

Alan

Can we play them more than once?

Stephen

Um… you could… possibly, no.

Alan

Nope. Once only.

David

I don’t think this format point has been worked out in enough detail. You should have decided if we can play them more than once.

Stephen

No you can’t.

David

That’s going to be crucial.

Stephen

No you can’t. I was just thinking of being generous and then I realised it was foolish.

David

For the pilot of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, did somebody go, “And if we get one wrong? That’s ok is it?” “Yeah I think that’s OK, yeah. Oh, hang on.”

Stephen

[laughs]

Alan

How many lives do we get?

Sean

Can you just do that [holds up his card] or do you have to day something?

Stephen  

You can say I think that’s a hoax, yeah.

Sean

Right.

Stephen

That would count.

Sean

So you’ve got to say something, you can’t just go, I did that [flips joker card up and then immediately back down] “You didn’t see it.”

Stephen

[laughs No, you have to make it manifest. Oh god, I had no idea this whole thing would be so complicated.

Sean

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to just do it on the first question, then none of us can lose out. If we all do it on the first question…

Danny

If we all do it on that.

Sean

We all lose points, and then it’s just done. We don’t have to worry about it, spend the rest of the show going “Um, do I use my Hoax Card?” What do you reckon guys, you in for that?

Danny

We’re all going to say yes, but we’re all going to not really do it.

Stephen

Ah, yes, that’s game theory writ large.

Alan

But when I’m using it, it might be a hoax.

Sean

Yeah.

Stephen

Ah…oh no. [puts his head in his hand] I can see I’ve made a terrible rod for my own back here.

Well, umm anyway let’s see what happens. There’s some characters behind me, shifty looking characters, what were they up to last night?

Viewscreens: A photo of three met sitting at a picnic table drinking beer.

Alan

This isn’t the hoax. They were all definitely up to something last night. [to Sean] Thank god we didn’t do that card.

Sean

Were they cottaging? They were cottaging.

Stephen [laughs]

Sean Lock!

Sean

They were all out cottaging, it was a really tough night’s cottaging and they’ve gone “We need a pint after that.”

Alan

They were brewing. They were up all night making a picnic table.

Stephen [laughs]

Before you get too insulting, they’re in the studio tonight. I just thought I aught to warn you.

Danny

Oh, they were winning the Mr Handsome competition!

[Shot of the same three men, sitting in the audience, laughing]

Stephen [laughs]

That’s more like it.

Sean

Were they harming horses? [mimes slashing] You know when people harm horses, like, slash horses?

Stephen

No! But it was a night-time covert activity like slashing horses.

Sean

Goats. So, slashing goats.

Stephen

No, let’s assume we wouldn’t invite into the studio people that maimed animals.

David

Were they pretending to be gas men and thereby stealing the property of aged people?

Stephen

No. Let me, if I told you that this was in Wiltshire, would that help?

David

Cathedral stealing.

Alan

Grave robbing? Grave robbing’s always at…

Sean

Oh, they drew something rude? On Stonehenge? They drew something rude on Stonehenge.

Stephen

In the summer…

Alan

Crop circles.

Stephen

Oh, Alan, well done. Crop circles. Absolutely right.

Viewscreens: photo of the same three men with their implements, in a field.

There they are. The equipment needed for crop circling, a plank with rope, but what was the crop circle we commissioned them to do?

Alan

A QI symbol.

Stephen

A QI crop circle, and they did it for us and it’s rather impressive, we’re rather pleased with it.

Alan

Because QI is run by aliens.

Stephen

Would you like to see it?

Alan

I certainly would.

Stephen

Well let’s have it, we actually went to the expense of having a travelling aerial shot.

Alan

Oh…

Viewscreens: Video of a field, shot from a great height, slowly moving toward the crop circle, to the sound of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries.

Stephen

What do you think of that?

Danny

Hoax! [holds up his card] You didn’t!

Stephen

We did.

Danny

That’s real? It looks like a Led Zeppelin cover.

Joker Forfeit: Instead of Klaxons, organ music and maniacal giggling. Viewscreens show a picture of a joker.

Stephen

Oh, you fail I’m afraid, it was real.

The extraordinary thing is, almost within half an hour of it being completed and the dawn rising, we were contacted by people, someone wanted to know, they said “Is it real, or is it man-made?” [shrugs and holds his hands up]

Danny

[laughs]

Stephen

To which the answer is, um… both.

David

I ask that about sandwiches all the time.

Stephen

But it’s a rather marvellous example of a breed of phenomenon that has, has been going since when?

Alan

Is the farmer, is the farmer here tonight because…

Sean

Since the Eighties.

Stephen

We have recompensed the farmer. It doesn’t actually do much damage.

Sean

How many mice were frightened in the making of that?

Stephen

We can’t tell how many mice were frightened.

Danny

I’ll bet this is older than we suspect.

Stephen

It’s actually very recent.

Danny

Is it?

Stephen

It is really, yeah.

Sean

Eighties?

Stephen

Well, Seventies it began and it got more and more refined. There was a man called...

David

So like PizzaExpress?

Viewscreens: Picture of a man crop circling.

Stephen [laughs]

Yeah. There was a fellow called Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, and they admitted that they’d been responsible for almost all the crop circles. They used to be on the news every summer.

 Danny

Yeah, I know.

Stephen

There’d be aerial shots and there were people who called themselves Cereologists who genuinely believed that these were the work of people from outer space…

Danny

Oh, nonsense.

Stephen

…or from magnetic forces from ley lines or all kinds of nonsense.

Alan

Didn’t they do things like, they’d do a crop circle and then they’d leave a couple of scorch marks or something?

Stephen

Yes.

Alan

As if the engine had blasted off back into space.

Stephen

We’ve got, where are our three here? [Points into the audience] Put your hands… there, is that John Lundberg, there you are, there’s John.

[Shot of the crop circlers in the audience]

Can you tell me how you did yours without giving away too many trade secrets? What the most technological item you need?

John

Ah, we need something called a stalk stomper which is a plank of wood and a loop of rope that you put under your foot to flatten the crop, and to actually mark out the design you use a surveyors tape, so it’s very very kind of simple techniques and very simple tools.

Sean

What about your spaceship? What spaceship do you use?

John

I’m saving up for one, but the fee I got for this, it’s going to take a while.

Stephen

So how many do you do a year in the season?

John

Um, we don’t say how many we make but we’ve made hundreds over the years that we’ve been doing it.

Stephen

And do people, are there still those who believe, who refuse to believe that it’s all hoaxers like you?

John

Absolutely, well, they’ve been ringing you production office, haven’t they.

Stephen

Well, that’s right.

David

Are there people who’ve ever thought that graffiti on like, train lines was done by aliens?

Stephen

It sounds logical.

Danny

Well, the lines in the Nazca desert which are…

Stephen

Very good point, the Nazca lines.

Danny

The Nazca lines, which they say can only be seen from space, which is not true.

Viewscreens: Photo of the Nazca desert lines.

Danny [points to screen]

There they go.

Sean

We can see them from here.

Danny

The great fraud Von Däniken who wrote Chariots of the Gods and all those books in the early Seventies, he said they were runways for ancient spacecraft. It’s what he said, and Carl Sagan said, hang on, these people come millions of light years across the universe and they need runways? What are they in, B-52’s?  What do they need runways for?

Stephen

I’ve been there, what’s extraordinary about that place, its one of the driest places on the planet in Southern Peru, just above the Atacama Desert and because of this man Däniken people came from far and wide on motorbikes and they churned the place up. Some of these are only about 10 centimetres deep, the lines, and they’ve stayed like that simply because it hasn’t rained for decades, and centuries in some parts of that part of South America. And so every line you can see around there is some hippie who’s sort of gone around, it’s now, you’re now banned from going there. But they’re rather splendid.

David

Maybe if it’s just stayed all, they’re not very deep but they’ve stayed just because it doesn’t rain, maybe the people who did them didn’t really want them to stay that long, they were just pissing around and would be rather embarrassed.

Stephen

Yes.

David

The same way as if you know you were on the beach at night, bit pissed, you write the word ‘dick’, imagine you went back two thousand years later, it’s still there, you’d be mortified. People were sort of worshipping it.

 Stephen [laughs]

That’s absolutely right.

[to John]

John Lundberg, thank you very much indeed.

Danny

I think in the States it’s quite popular too, not as popular as here but the second biggest crop in the States is marijuana. After corn.

Alan

Really?

Danny

Yeah, in America.

Stephen

In certain states in America there are huge areas of it. It’s very difficult to know what to do with it, how to get rid of it. [to Alan] Sorry?

Alan

The cauliflower is in decline.

Stephen

Is it? I like cauliflower.

Alan

I love cauliflower.

Stephen

If you wanted to please me Alan, one day, make me a cauliflower cheese and I’d be a happy person.

Alan [as if granting a wish]

Very well.

Stephen

Thank you.

Alan

Uh, it’s gone down from 33000 acres to 28000 acres in Britain.

Stephen [impressed]

Really, very good.

David

Has there been a decline in demand for cauliflower?

Alan

Yeah.

Stephen

Ah.

David

People are stupid aren’t they.

Alan

They are stupid.

Stephen

They’re lovely vegetables.

Alan

They don’t know how to cook it you see. They just think it doesn’t taste of anything, 'cause they boil it and then it doesn’t taste of anything.

David

Also if you break off a little bit of cauliflower and look at it…

Stephen

A floret.

David

…a floret, it looks like a tiny albino tree.

Stephen

It does. I so agree. And if you’re on a low carb diet, you can mash it and it’s a very good substitute for mash. It works very well.

Sean

I like to do it, I like to do it in a bin with loads of other rubbish. All around it, and it all piles up around there and then you put it, leave it out, and magical men take it away in a van. Because I’ve never opened the fridge and gone, “Oh, brilliant, there’s a cauliflower in there.” I’ve always gone “Oh, Christ, there’s a cauliflower in there. We’re going to have to cook it.” There’s always the bin.

David

That’s how I react to a rat.

Sean

Yeah.

David

“Oh Christ, we’re going to have to cook it.”

Sean

I do like it, but it’s a pain.  It’s a pain in the neck, isn’t it.

Stephen

What is?

Danny [over the top of Alan and Sean, who are talking to one another]

I don’t think I’ve ever seen how it grows, is it… is it the centre of a plant or something?

Stephen

What the cauliflower? You are an urban boy.

[to Alan and Sean, who are now arguing]

Can we have one conversation, rather than three?

Alan [to Sean]

Why do you have to cook it twice though?

Sean [insistent]

You have to cook it twice!

Stephen

No you don’t.

Sean

You can’t just cook it, you have to cook it twice! You have to cook it, boil it, and then you put it in another dish and cook it again with a sauce. It’s a nightmare. It’s like, such a demanding vegetable. It just wants so much, it’s all about time, it wants to spend time with you, before you eat it.

Stephen

Well, thank you Nigella.

Anyway, yes, far from being proof of a more intelligent life form, crop circles can be made using a plank of wood, some rope, a hat sometimes, couple of coat hangers, that kind of thing, but conversely, would you believe that they put a man on the moon?

Viewscreens: A photo of a rocket launching in to space.

Sean

Who? [points to the crop circlers in the audience] Who, these guys?

Stephen

NASA.

Sean

Oh, NASA. Yes, yeah I think they put a man on the moon.

Stephen

You believe that.

David

I believe it, yes.

Viewscreens: Photo of a full moon.

 

Stephen

You believe it, good, that’s all. That’s sort of the end of the question really, but you probably know that quite a lot of people don’t believe it.

David

Oh no.

Sean

No.

Alan

Yeah, well… I sort of believe one thing.

Danny

Oh ho ho!

Stephen

Yeah?

Danny [laughs]

Alan

Which is I kind of believe that they might have done some mocked up fake photographs.

Stephen

Really, why?

Alan

Because I was, shown a, someone convinced me of it. [laughs]

Stephen

Yeah.

Viewscreens: Film footage from the Apollo 11 astronauts planting a flag on the moon surface.

Alan

By talking about the angle of light and the shadows on the moon. All that sort of stuff, but then I did an advert with Patrick Moore, and I said, “So, Patrick, did they land on the moon?” and he looked so annoyed with me.

Stephen

Yeah.

Alan

He actually explained to me how he had helped map the moon for NASA and he’s spent years on the project and the landing site was partly his idea, and if I ever spoke to him again he was going to be sick in my eye.

Stephen [laughs]

They are rather tart, Buzz Aldrin, if you spoke to Buzz Aldrin he might have punched you.

Danny

I was going to say…

Stephen

Buzz Aldrin punched someone.

Danny

Did he?

Stephen

'Cause he just got so tired of these conspiracy arses.

Alan

Actually, I think it was a television documentary about…

Stephen

Well, there have been several of course.

Alan

You know, “Look at this photo, this couldn’t possibly have been taken on the moon, this is obviously taken in a studio.”

Stephen

You’re getting me started now, 'cause one gets very sort of strange about this, but there are a lot of conspiracies. 6 per cent of Americans believe that man didn’t land on the moon, but 25 per cent of Britons believe that they didn’t. So that’s a quarter of our nation.

David

So we’re…

Stephen

Are not convinced apparently.

David [puts his head in his hand]

Oh, that’s so depressing.

Stephen

It is.

Sean

It’s the flag, one of its, one of the things I read…

Stephen  [pointing to the viewscreen]

The flag is another thing. Yes. There it is.

Viewscreens: Photo of one of the Apollo 11 astronauts next to the flag.

Sean

The flag, and you think obviously they’ve starched the flag because they wanted to get a good photograph of it. They’ve stiffened the flag.

Stephen

No they haven’t stiffened it, that’s the point, the fact is it’s rumpled, there’s no breath of wind out there, obviously, 'cause you’re in space, which, as it were, a vacuum. But what there is, is movement. If you impart movement to something it doesn’t stop moving for a long time because there’s nothing to, there’s no resistance against it. So they unpacked it, unfurled it, put it down, and it moved back and forth, and people said “Ah! Breeze. Ha ha.” As if, a) they would be stupid enough to fake it and allow the take that had the breeze in it to go out…

Sean

But also, if you went to moon, the least you’d expect is a flag moved a bit strangely.

Stephen [laughs]

That may be one way of looking at it.

Sean

You know what I mean, you were expecting to meet the Soup Dragon, and you think “OK, he’s not there. The flag moved a bit strangely, I can go with that.”

Stephen

Why isn’t one of them holding up a camera? 'Cause you can see him reflected, the one taking the picture is reflected in the visor of the other one and he’s not holding up a camera…

Viewscreens: Photo of one of the Apollo 11 astronauts with the reflection of the other in his visor.

Like that, you see. But that’s because they didn’t, in the visors, put a camera up in front of their visor. They were mounted.

David

You couldn’t really actually imagine them getting a camera out, and you know, click [mimes taking a photo, fiddling with film] winding it on with the gloves.

Stephen

Yes, quite.

Alan

I will just say though in defence of the people who suspect there may be something afoot, the track record of the American government in terms of deceiving its population…

Stephen

Yes.

Alan

Isn’t great.

Stephen

Ah, but.

Alan

If you were a little bit dubious, I wouldn’t blame you.

Stephen

Alan, 400000 people were employed on this thing, plus the 12 astronauts, and it may be that the Americans have a bad record on doing covert things but they have an even worse record on getting found out, the President can’t keep a secret of where his penis is!  Do you seriously think that they would somehow, you know, look at Clinton there. You know, if they can’t even keep a secret of banging an intern in the White House…

Alan

Well, no, of course in the old days she would have just disappeared.

Stephen

Yes, but she didn’t. You know, and we know what Kennedy got up to and the fact is it’s just…

Sean

I tell you one thing, I think NASA killed Michael Jackson. That’s a fact.

Stephen

Right.

Sean

I do, I believe they killed him, because, he died last summer, yeah, he died in about July last year, it was the anniversary, he died the same week that was the anniversary of the initial moon landing of the first moonwalk, right. They resent the fact that anytime anyone puts moonwalk into Google or anything it comes up with him sliding backwards with the hat on, and not the billions they spent going up to do a moonwalk, they hated that and they killed him. And I believe that’s a fact.

David

I don’ think NASA would get organised to kill him, but I think it might have been Buzz. 'Cause he’s clearly a very angry man. He’s gone to the moon, it was pointless. People don’t believe he went there; it was pointless. So of course he’s going to kill someone.

Sean

I’d like to go to the moon.

Stephen

You would like to?

Sean

Yeah, I’d like to do that.

Stephen

And two of the other things, just in case people are saying “Ah, but you haven’t mentioned the clincher.” One was the idea that below the lunar module that landed there was no crater or sense of disturbed dust. The fact is, is the engines cut off and it hovered down and it very very quickly landed. And unlike in science fiction films it doesn’t send out spears of flame as it descends. That just didn’t happen.

Danny

Because it was designed by , you know, human brains and geniuses and not a lot of people sitting tapping away at the internet who’ve got to get up and work in the morning. Who do you trust here?

David

We are in trouble as a species if people refuse to believe in things that they couldn’t actually do themselves.

Stephen [laughs]

It’s so true, it’s so true. And the other one was the footprints, they said “Oh look, it’s too much moisture because look how clear they are. Only a sort of caked mud could do that”

Viewscreens: A photo of a footprint in the dust on the lunar surface.

 But actually you could do that with flour. The fact is it’s just very fine ground, and it makes, and there’s of course it’s a vacuum, again, it coheres. And the other thing with the mirrors that Apollo 12 astronauts put on the moon which are now used for bouncing lasers off, for detecting for example, how far the moon is getting away from us and you can make incredibly accurate measurements because of mirrors on the surface of the moon.

Viewscreens: Photo of a full moon.

And perhaps for me the clinching one is that America’s enemy at the time, in the Space Race, was the Soviet Union, and not once did they make a suggestion that they thought America hadn’t done it. They never said, [adopts Russian accent] “No, we know this was hoax.”

Alan

Yeah.

Stephen

The fact is that for every ill-conceived argument that the moon landings were a hoax, there’s a perfectly logical explanation to put our minds at rest.

Now for something a little closer to home, how would you make your house the most famous house in Britain?

Viewscreens: A Downing Street-style front door surrounded by blue plaques.

Alan

Oh, that’s easy.

Stephen

Yep?

Alan

You murder lots and lots of people, dismember them, and bury them in the garden.

Stephen

That…

Sean

Marry the Queen.

Stephen

Yes…

Sean

Marry the Queen and say, “You’re not living there. No, love. You’re not living in those palaces anymore.”

Stephen

You’re living in 3 Ironside Crescent, Carlisle.

Sean

Yeah.

Stephen

Yeah, OK. Those would work, yep, those would work.

David

Some sort of spectacular suicide?

Stephen

That, well…

David

I suppose actually, the murdering people would work better. Which I think is sad.

Stephen

Murdering is probably the best, but this is a bet.

Sean

Is it balloons?  Like in the film Up, you just tie loads of balloons and your house goes [mimes house lifting off]

Stephen

Oh, that would be sweet, that would be. This was a bet that took place in 1810, between Samuel Beazley and Theodore Hook, uh, that Hook couldn’t make any house he chose the most famous residence in London, in one week. He had a week in which to do it, but in fact he sort of, he prepared over the week but it all happened in one day.

Alan

I’ve heard of this.

Stephen

Yeah?

Alan

He started ordering goods, all kinds of different goods, from all kinds of…

Stephen

4000 different tradesmen and services in all the commercial directories all over London, he started ordering chimneysweeps, so first thing in the morning there were 12 chimneysweeps, all arriving like that and then more and more and more and more arrived I mean it became absolutely gigantic.

Viewscreens: A painting depicting the Berners Street Hoax

.

12 coal carts, cake makers, doctors, apothecaries, surgeons, lawyers, priests for dead bodies…

Danny

We’ve all done this haven’t we?

Stephen

… undergraduates, hat makers, haberdashers, boot makers, fish mongers, butchers boys, a dozen pianos arrived, um, and before long the governor of the Bank of England had turned up to see what the fuss was about, it was in Berners Street, just north of Oxford Street. And, uh, there it is.

Viewscreens: Photo of sign reading Berners Street hanging on a wall.

 

Danny

Ah.

Alan

That sign doesn’t fit that bit of wall at all.

Stephen

It doesn’t really, does it. I suppose if they put it the way it would, you’d have to read it in portrait rather than landscape.

Alan

They just needed to go back to the drawing board with that one, they’ve got it all wrong.

Stephen

I thing you’re right.

Sean

Or just chill out about the whole thing.

Alan

They could have folded it round, maybe.

Sean

Folded it…

Stephen [laughs]

Sean

Is it a bit like, so the equivalent is like going on the internet and ordering the lot. I’ll have everything.

Stephen

Yes, exactly. Exactly, basically. And the poor woman whose name was Mrs Tottenham was just besieged.

Sean

[looking at Stephen, agape]

Stephen

It wasn’t his house.

Sean

He didn’t live there?

Stephen

Nooo. He chose it. No, no. He just chose this house, that was the point of the bet. I can make that house, 54 Berners Street, the most famous house in London.

Danny

They used to have great bets, didn’t they in the 19th century.

Stephen

Yeah. People don’t make bets like that anymore, I mean in the Regency period when this happened, the early 19th century, and particularly in the clubs, Brooks's and White’s club in St James’s, staggering bets. £3000 bet between Lord Alvanley and a friend of his on which raindrop would get to the bottom of the… [mimes raindrop sliding down a window pane] £3000 in those days was, I mean it’s almost impossible to imagine, you could have a servant for £10 a year. So I mean, £3000 is an estate, a country house with thousands of acres. It’s just…

David

This is how bored people were before television.

Stephen

Basically.

Theodore Hook betted a man called Beazley that he could make 54 Berners Street the most famous house in London. What conclusion did the great biologist Stephen Jay Gould draw from a lifetime study of fish?

Viewscreens: Photo of a man holding a fish.

Sean

Oh. They haven’t got any legs.

Alan [points to viewscreen]

That…is that his lifetime study?

Stephen

Well, no it wasn’t his lifetime study of a fish.

David

After a while they smell.

Stephen [laughs]

Sean

He’s a bit thick and he just stared at them and went “They haven’t got any legs.”

Danny

Starfish don’t have brains. It’s the kind of Louis Walsh of the aquatic world. Really, they don’t have brains, starfish.

Stephen

And they’re not really fish, are they, starfish, to be honest.

Danny

Well the word fish is in there which kind of uh…

Stephen

I know…

Danny

…qualifies them, I think.

Stephen

But is a starfish a fish, is a jellyfish a fish, is a cuttlefish a fish…

David

Is a seahorse a horse?

Danny

Yes, but the starfish is…

Stephen

A crayfish is a lobster.

David

There’s a division isn’t there, in the world, whether it should be down to, sort of, experts in biology whether a things a fish, or whether it should be down to menus.

Stephen

Yes.

David

Earlier, for example, a crayfish comes under fish in a menu…

Sean [points to viewscreen]

He looks like he’s reading the sell-by date on that.

Stephen

He does.

Sean

Small print.

Stephen

Stephen Jay Gould was a very great…

Sean [points to viewscreen]

Is that him?

Stephen

He’s dead now, he was very great, he won a Nobel prize, he was a palaeontologist and an extraordinary biologist and he came to a conclusion, which is?

David

They can feel no love.

Stephen

No, that they… [laughs] No, that there is no such thing as a fish. Fish has no biological meaning. There is just…

David

So I am absolutely right, go with menus.

Stephen

On a menu is does, but in a menu a fish is not the same as shellfish, or seafood is it.

David

It often comes in the same bit, and separate from puddings.

Stephen

Well, things that live in the sea.

David

 A fish and a pudding are different.

Sean

How can something not be something? Something can’t be not be not something, can it. If you’ve created a something, then something has to be that something, otherwise you haven’t created a something. So, it has to be a fish, if there is the idea of a fish in the first place.

David

I swear there’s a philosophy in there somewhere.

Danny

Slow down, Plato.

Stephen [unconvinced]

Yeah… there’s some sort of ontological argument going there, and of course to us, we use the word fish, but biologically speaking a salmon is more related to, say, a camel, than it is to a hagfish.

Viewscreens: Diagram of an evolutionary tree of fish.

Like there are lots of thing that fly, like a bumblebee flies, a vulture flies, and there are flying lizards. They’re not all birds.

Danny

No, so…

Stephen

But we call things that swim in the sea ‘fish’ and actually, biologically, evolutionarily they have absolutely nothing to do with each other at all. As a matter they’re more closely related…

Danny

So his life’s work…

Stephen

They’re more closely related to us than to each other.

David

A friend of mine claims to be allergic to all seafood and fish.

Stephen

Right, yeah.

David

Is that possible?

Stephen

Freshwater as well as seawater?

David

Yeah, so everything from a prawn, via plankton, to a trout is a no-go area, he says, and I think he’s just fussy.

Stephen

Yeah.

Alan

Some people say, “Oh no, I’m terribly allergic to shellfish”, and then they order scallops ‘cause they don’t know it’s shellfish. They eat it and they’re fine.

David

Nobody ever says they’re allergic to starters, do they.

Stephen [laughs]

Sean [points to viewscreen]

What do elasmobranchs taste like?

Stephen

It’s basically sharks and things like that are elasmobranchs. And rays, manta rays and things like that are elasmobranchs. Rays can be very tasty…

Sean

Oh yeah. Skate?

Stephen

Skate’s lovely, ooh, skate-wate with black butter and capers. Oh! Stop it at once. Lovely.

After a lifetime study of fish biologist Stephen Jay Gould concluded that there’s no such thing as a fish, and while we’re at it and under the sea, how many fish are there in this photograph?

Viewscreens: Photo of fish, shells and rocks.

 

 

Sean [growling]

Oh, well it’s going to be a trick question by the way you set that up.

Stephen [growling, muttering]

Ay ay ay.

Alan

Well, given that there’s’ no such thing as fish…

Stephen

Yeah [laughs]

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words "THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FISH".

Stephen

That’s so unfair.

Alan [to the skies]

Stephen Gould, where are you when I need you?

Stephen

Deeply unfair. Well, you see that shell on the right?

David

Yes.

Stephen

Along the top of it is a long fishlike thing with an eye. That’s actually part of the shell. This mussel actually makes a thing thah looks like a fish so that another fish comes along, and its own parasitic larvae sort of explode into the fish and live in its gills, and are sent away and dispersed and grow. We’ve got some film of it.

Viewscreens: Video of the mussel, with its decoy ‘fish’ atop its shell, lying in wait for a fish. A fish bites at the decoy, and the mussel releases its larvae.

This is it, the two eyes of this thing, that looks like a fish, and this puff of larvae go off. To a fish that looks like it might be a tasty morsel, but it’s just bits of flesh that have grown up on the top of the…

Danny

That’s clever.

Stephen

It’s very clever isn’t it.

That was just one fish, the other example was of animal mimicry deployed by the broken-rays mussel. And so from one skilled hoaxer to another, what did Nostradamus get right?

Viewscreens: Picture portrait of Nostradamus surrounded by question marks.

Sean

The hat, the hat. He got the hat right, the hat was good. The beard, big mistake. The green coat with the brown hat, he’s crazy. The hat looks cool.

David

Who is he?

Stephen

Have you not heard of Nostradamus?

David

I’ve heard of him but I’ve just heard of him. I have no idea where he lived…

Stephen

His name was Michel de Nostredame, he lived from 1503 to 1566, he was a Provençal apothecary and he did many things, but including writing these hundreds of quatrains, these four line verses.

Danny

Were these deliberately obtuse though? I’m like David, I’m aware of the headlines on it, but why were they so obscure?

Stephen

Well, he was a mystic and I suppose he, I mean, maybe, who knows, he got drugged up and he just wrote down a four line verse of whatever he saw.

Sean

He was a chemist, wasn’t he?

Stephen

Well he was an apothecary, a chemist.

Sean

So he’d have access to all kinds of crazy hooch.

Stephen

Pharmacists, exactly.

David  

Yeah, so he published a book of essentially gibberish…

Stephen

Yes. And a lot of idiots…

Danny [laughs]

David

'Cause even the people now who sort of said “Oh, that predicts the… Hitler.” or “That predicts 9/11.” Even people would think, well actually if you bought that in 1530, that’s not good value for money because all the things it’s predicting won’t happen for ages, and so what it is then is nonsense. But in fact it’s only ever any use to predict something just after the thing’s happened.

Stephen

Yes. Because then people go “Wow.” Yeah. But one thing he did do that is genuinely, and this was the question, is he did a fantastic recipe for cherry jam.

Viewscreens: Photo of jars of jam.

Danny [laughs]

Stephen

Because he wrote other books and one of the books he wrote about was about jams. And his cherry jam recipe, we’re assured today, is still as good as it ever was. So that is a thing Nostradamus did that is provably, demonstrably and repeatably true. He also made an aphrodisiac jams, made of sparrows brains and all that sort of thing.

Viewscreens: A piece of bread with jam in the shape of a heart.

 

But generally speaking, his cherry jam…

Danny

His triumph.

Stephen

…is something he did, something he got right.

Sean

I might make some jam.

Stephen

Yeah. Why not?

Alan

You know what you need? Fruit and sugar.

Stephen

Fruit, sugar, pectin.

Sean

No, I’m not going to make nice jam.

Stephen

Oh! I see, fair enough. What sort of jam are you going to make?

Sean

Horrible jam.

Stephen

Oh. There could be a market in that.

Alan

Cinnamon sticks.

Sean

Yeah. ‘Sean’s Horrible Jam’

Stephen

‘Sean’s Horrible Jam’

Sean

You don’t know what I put in this stuff. It’s up to you. It’s lottery jam, I call it. Bingo. ‘Sean’s Bingo Jam.’ One jar in every hundred is amazing. The rest of the time it’s instant vomit soon as you open it.

Stephen

Anyway, yes, when Nostradamus wasn’t predicting stuff he was very busy compiling a rather excellent collection of jam recipes.

Who is the most famous person to have been beaten at chess by a…

Alan

Now… um?

Stephen [to Alan]

Wha… hello. What now?

Alan [to the audience]

Do you think, that’s a… a massive hoax?

[Audience agrees]

Sean

Yeah. Hoax.

Alan [holds up his joker card]

Sean [holds up his joker card]

Joker Forfeit: Instead of Klaxons, organ music and maniacal giggling. Viewscreens show a picture of a joker.

Stephen

Ohh! You’re wrong

Alan

Oh.

Sean [slams his card down on the desk, then whacks Alan with it]

Stephen

It was entirely true. David’s… got yours left

[to Danny] You’ve spent?

Danny

No, I did mine.

Stephen

No. Oh well. Anyway,

Alan

Anyway, it’s too late the question had finished.

Stephen

Nooo, no no no no. You stopped me.

Alan

I was much too late.

Stephen

No. So, who was the most famous person to have been beaten by a machine at chess? You get double points if you can mention the name of the machine.

Viewscreens: Picture of a robot hand moving a piece on a chess board.

Sean

Me.

Stephen

Are you the most famous person?

Sean

Yeah, I got beaten by a hoover.

Stephen

Is that right?

Sean

Yeah. Somebody just left it on and it moved the pieces around, and it still beat me. That’s how bad I am at chess.

Stephen [laughs]

David

The key thing is the question is not most famous chess Grandmaster, is it. So it could be Marilyn Monroe.

Sean

It’s not a famous chess player then.

Stephen

No. [to David] That’s very well worked out. I mean there is, Garry Kasparov, the great…

Sean

Yeah, he lost to the ice…

Stephen

Deep Blue.

Sean [disappointed]

Deep Blue.

Stephen

Yeah, but that wasn’t…

 David

The Queen is the most famous person in the world probably, did she lose to a ZX80?

Stephen

This was someone who was more famous than the Queen in his day. And was bigger than a queen, as it were. More, had a higher rank than queen.

Alan

Jesus.

Stephen

No, Jesus isn’t really a rank.

Sean

“It is so.” said Jesus. “I am Jesus.”

Stephen

“I outrank you!”

Alan

He’s more famous than the Queen, though. I’ll tell you that. 

Sean

“You can’t handle the truth!”

Danny

‘Jesus plays chess’ sounds like an indie band already. It will be, it will be.

David

Napoleon?

Stephen

Napoleon is the right answer. And do you know what the machine might have been? It was a famous machine in its day.

David

It’d be some sort of kind of clever wind up automaton thing.

Stephen

It was an automaton, and it was unbelievably clever. It was called the Mechanical Turk.

Viewscreens: Illustration of the Mechanical Turk.

And the Turk itself was made of machinery, and you would open the doors, rather like a magician giving a, showing a trick, to show that it was empty, though in fact there would be a man inside who was a chess Master, he would manipulate the machinery such as to make the Turk actually pick up and move the pieces. So it was a genuinely astonishing piece of machinery that unfortunately burned in a fire in 1854. But Napoleon, who rather fancied himself at chess, and of course being emperor I dare say nobody ever rather dared beat him, so he was extremely annoyed to be beaten in 19 moves by this machine.

Sean

Right.

Stephen

So, yeah. And many others were beaten, you might like know. Benjamin Franklin, who was in Paris at the time, as Ambassador to the newly formed United States, he lost as well.

Danny

What was the deal with it, they were unaware that there was a Grandmaster inside?

Stephen

Yep.

Danny

Oh, OK.

Stephen

They genuinely thought it was a machine, Charles Babbage also played, didn’t he, and he was beaten by it, and he’s the father of computing to many people, he invented the difference engine and this kind of calculator machine.

David

Maybe if he’d known there was a man inside he would never have invented the difference engine.

Stephen

Exactly. But it was, it was the sensation of the age. It was a really remarkable thing, and in about 1989 a magician rebuilt it and sort of redid it, cost him a $120000 to build a version of it that worked as well. The name of the man who invented it was Wolfgang von Kempelen, who lived from 1734 to 1804, and he did it to impress the Empress Maria Theresa. And it sure did, it impressed everybody. It was rather wonderful. A Mechanical Turk, a manned automaton that beat Napoleon at chess, amongst other people.

Now, what’s the best way to give a squad of American soldiers the screaming heebie-jeebies in a plane?

Viewscreens: A group of skydivers about to jump out of a plane.

Alan

Snakes.

Stephen

Snakes might do it. It’s a pretty good way. The point is, suppose you want to research people panicking.

David

Is this a cash prize, is that it?

Stephen

N… it could be. Develop?

David

Well, cause I, when they were trying to test, you know, how can we test the evacuation procedure, so they’d get people in a plane and turn the lights off and do some fake smoke but it’s obviously not crashing, and so now everyone evacuates and it happens in a very orderly way. When this actually happens under, you know, situation of real jeopardy, it’s a massive fight and loads of people die. Um, so in order to properly, you know, fake the conditions of jeopardy…

Stephen

Right.

David

…They offered this, they say “OK, the first one that gets out gets $20000” and then suddenly everyone’s panicking and screaming and it’s like there’s a real…

Stephen

Actually, that would work, really, but because they’re soldiers you don’t have to do that. Because they’re soldiers basically you can just do what you like with them.

Viewscreens: Photo of soldiers in training.

What you do is you hoax them, you put them up in a plane, and you get the pilot to shut off one of the engines and act, very well, going into a hell of a panic, um, so that the soldiers genuinely think they’re going to die. And then you give them forms to fill in, 'cause what you’re interested in is how human beings respond under extreme stress. The forms are basically, who do you want to leave your money to, fill in these forms, you know you’ve got like, sort of 20 seconds.  And you might be surprised to learn that people are crap under those conditions. And they just write drivel and they’re no use at all.

Sean

What was the point of doing this? I don’t see that anyone’s learnt anything from that experiment. It just seems to be unnecessarily cruel.

Stephen

You learn how people respond under genuine stress. I know you may say…

Sean

Yeah, you know, they panic. And they shit themselves.

Stephen

Yeah… but, you…yeah.

David

I’m going to play my joker about that [holds up his card]

Joker Forfeit: Instead of Klaxons, organ music and maniacal giggling. Viewscreens show a picture of a joker.

Stephen

Oh! I’m so sorry.

Alan

Nostradamus’s jam was a better bet than that.

Stephen

I don’t know why, experiments remind me of, you know elbow licking? Humans licking their elbows?

David

Yeah.

Stephen

Can a human lick their own elbow?

Danny

No. Can’t be done. Can’t be done.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words “IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO LICK YOUR ELBOW”

Stephen

Oh, hello. That’s interesting.

Danny

OK.

Stephen

Because you got some points a few times ago when you were here, saying…

Danny

On the very first show.

Stephen

It was actually the very first show. Did you know that it is impossible for a human being to lick their elbow. We have someone in the audience, would you like to put your hand up?

Danny

Oh!

Stephen

Who can lick their elbow.

[Shot of the audience, one of whom raises a hand]

Stephen

Put your hand up if you can lick your elbow. There you are.

[Shot of the audience member]

Now, what’s your name?

Audience member

Celina.

Stephen

Celina.

Alan

Celina the elbow licker.

Stephen

Celina is now going to, I’m afraid, have some points deducted from you, Danny Baker, by licking an elbow.

Danny

I said a human being, not some kind of freak.

[Shot of Celina, laughing.]

Stephen [laughs]

She is, as you can see, she’s a charming human being.

Danny

Surely you can’t do it?

Stephen

Let’s have a look.

[Celina raises her left arm and licks her elbow]

Stephen

That is a woman licking an elbow. Did you see that ladies and gentlemen?

Danny [raises his own elbow in a vain attempt to lick it]

That’s brilliantly done. Is there a reason for this?

Sean

Can you do both together like that? [raises both elbows and waggles his tongue between them]

Danny

Is there a reason for it? Have you always been able to do it?

Celina

I think so.

Danny

Or you were dropped as a child?

Celina [laughs]

Danny

You can just do it?

Celina

Yeah.

Danny

I’d have it looked into, it’s not right.

Alan

Do it again?

Celina

Shall I do the other one?

[raises her right arm and licks her elbow]

Stephen [to Danny]

It does mean that will have to deduct some points from you.

Danny

Well on the repeats I look forward to that, on Dave. Before it starts, “The following program has an erroneous score.”

Stephen

Well we like to get these things right.

In 1962 the US Army devised a series of experiments that put the fear of god into soldiers to test their form filling skills under stress. But enough hoaxes, it’s time for some real General Ignorance.

So, fingers on buzzers if you please. How can you tell…

Sean

Are there hoaxes in the General Ignorance?

Stephen

No.

Sean

There’s no, the joker’s gone?

Stephen

No, not one ever.

David

We’ve missed the hoax, haven’t we.

Alan

We’ve missed the hoax?

Sean

We’ve missed it?

Stephen

Ah, you will find out.

How can you tell if someone is lying?

Viewscreens: Photo of a woman kneeling before a jury in court.

Alan [presses buzzer, which calls “Hello dear!” ]

Uh, sweaty palms, their pulse starts racing, they get, heart beat goes faster, their sphincter if you clench up your sphincter, it works.

Stephen

Let’s just suppose that you haven’t got a finger on their sphincter and that you aren’t holding their hand.

Sean [presses buzzer, which makes a mating call]

What they’ve said turns out not to be true.

Alan

Yes.

Stephen [laughs]

Yay!

Sean

That’d work.

Stephen

That’s how you can tell they have lied.

David

That doesn’t work either, it might be that they thought it was true and they were just idiots.

Stephen

Yeah. It only tells you they have lied, it doesn’t tell you they are lying.

Danny

How about if they begin the sentence with “The liberal democrats have a lot in common with us.”

Stephen [laughs]

Very good.

Alan [presses buzzer, which calls “Hello dear!”

Danny [laughs]

Alan

They work for estate agents.

Stephen [laughs]

Oh. Is there a bitterness behind that?

Alan

No, it’s just an observation.

Danny

Is it something physical?

Stephen

It is, but tactile.

David

Is it the thing, and I fear klaxons, but is it  there’s something about whether they, when they’re just about to think about it they look up left instead of up right, or up right instead of up left or something with their eyes?

 Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words “IT’S IN THE EYES”

David [pumps his fist in the air]

Yes!

Danny

You were right to fear klaxons.

David

Yeah, I was.

Alan

Embrace the klaxon.

David

I’m trying to.

Sean

I think I know what it is. Is it just before they deliver the crucial detail they go “Yeah, well it’s about… ooh ah la la la la la la lala… ah cha cha cha cha cha… about ten. About ten I reckon.” I mean…

Stephen

Sean, you are more right than David by a long way. The point is it’s very hard to see if someone’s lying. There’s nothing in the body language, nothing in the face, nothing in the eyes, nothing in the nose touches, all those things that people think are to do with it, it’s all to do with what they’re saying and how they’re speaking. It appears to be.

David

Is this why it’s easier, they say it’s easier to tell if someone’s lying on the phone than face to face?

Stephen

Yes, exactly so. They’ve tested over 20 000 subjects, showing them videos of people telling the truth and lying, they found that people performed no better than chance. Not only that, so called experts, polygraph operators, police investigators, judges and psychiatrists returned the same result.

Viewscreens: Photo of a man hooked up to an early polygraph machine, being watched over by an armed guard.

But if you do it just on sound alone people are much more accurate, about 73 per cent accuracy listening to lies. So the thing to do is shut your eyes.

Alan [to viewscreens]

Is that man going to shoot him?

Stephen

That’s a very early polygraph, it does look rather bizarre, doesn’t it. I guess it’s a murder suspect.

Alan

“Right, name?” “John.” “Wrong” [mimes firing gun]

David

Presumably that means it’s easier to dupe the deaf than the blind.

Stephen [laughs]

I guess.

David

Which isn’t what you’d think.

Stephen

No it isn’t. That’s true. Having said all of that, there is a Dr Ekman who is a leading researcher who claims that 50 out of 20000 people do have a natural ability to detect lies by actually looking at expressions, it is a very very few people. He named them the truth wizards and they are apparently able to read micro-expressions that last milliseconds in ways that others aren’t.

So there you are, the truth is most people can’t tell if you’re lying but have a better chance if they focus on your speech rather than your body language.

What’s the one thing you know for sure about oranges?

Viewscreens: Photo of oranges on a tree.

Alan

They’re orange.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words “THEY’RE ORANGE”

Stephen

They’re orange. Oh. That was the problem. Most of them aren’t orange in fact.

Alan [silently]

What?

Stephen

I know, they are, most of the ones in the supermarket are but they have to make them orange a lot of the time. In the south east in warm countries oranges are actually green.

Viewscreen: picture of a green orange cut in half.

Stephen

And there you can see.

Danny

Brilliant. Lovely.

Stephen

There you are, the interior part is orange and juicy and lovely. But supermarkets tend to use an ethyl gas to ‘degreen’ as they call it.

Danny

Oh.

Stephen

To take the chlorophyll out, because we prefer, we shoppers, prefer to see an orange skin.

Danny

No, I’m a sucker for when they have variations in them.

Stephen

No I’m, me too, I like it but most punters it seems would like their oranges to be…

Sean

I’ve worked in orange groves and they were orange.

Stephen

Where were you?

Sean

It was in Israel…

Stephen

In Israel.

Sean

In a kibbutz, and I worked in the orange groves, got the sack, um, fell asleep when I was meant to be mending irrigation pipes. That’s not the story. And they were orange.

Stephen

Yes.

Sean

The little blighters were orange. All of them. There wasn’t one little green bugger amongst the lot.

Stephen

They do grow orange, but in the really hot humid countries they’re green, and yeah, and in desert, and in places made up, like the kibbutz.

Alan

I’ll tell you something about oranges.

Stephen

What is it?

Alan

They’re not the only fruit.

Stephen

They’re not the only fruit. Good literary remark there. And do you know where the word comes from, what the original word was? It’s naranja.

Alan

Naranja. Naranja. It’s the Spanish for it.

Stephen

And originally naranja is Sanskrit and what happened is, it does as words do, it loses the ‘n’ so you get an orange: a norange. And we think oh, that must be an orange, but in fact it was a norange. It was originally like a nadder was a snake.

Sean

The French say “a l'orange”, don’t they. It should be called “an anorange”.

Stephen

Just a norange would do. A norange.

Sean

A norange? Norange juice?

Stephen

Norange juice, yeah. That would do it. Well done.

Sean

So is an apple should be called a “napple”?

Stephen

No it doesn’t work with apple. It works with some, a napron for example, it was a napron.

Sean

A “nmpear”?

Stephen

No, that’s just silly. But, uh… It works with a nadder. A nadder has now become an adder, but it was originally a nǣdre.

Sean

A nadder. Right.

Stephen

And an ekename, your ekename, a nickname, it became a nickname.

Sean

Ekename.

Stephen

It was originally an ekename.

Sean

What’s an ekename.

Stephen [sternly]

It became a nickname. A nickname is a name you give someone that isn’t their real name, Sean.

Sean

What was the old, what was it called before?

Stephen

Ekename!

Sean

What does that mean, ekename? Where does that come from?

Stephen [Hunches over, laughing]

Sean

That’s not a fruit.

Stephen

No! Argh!

[All laugh]

Stephen

Heaven help us all. Oranges are not necessarily orange, and there’s a good case for saying that they started out as greens.

What do swimming pools smell of?

Viewscreens: Video of a swimmer in a lap pool.

 

 Alan

Children.

Danny [laughs]

Stephen

Probably true.

Alan

Well the answer I suspect you’re looking for…

[presses buzzer, which calls “Hello dear!” ]

Is chlorine.

Forfeit: Klaxons sound. Viewscreens flash the words “CHLORINE”

Stephen

Ow!

Alan

Which they will do if you put chlorine in them.

Stephen

No, you don’t smell the chlorine. In fact if there is that smell that we don’t like, the way to get rid of it t is to add chlorine.

Alan

It’s the chlorine reacting with the child’s urine.

Stephen

Yeah. The fact is there are Chloramines are formed by sweat and urine and faecal matter…

Danny

Oh!

Stephen

And all kinds of other horrible things in swimming pools, added to chlorine. And the way to get rid of them is to add chlorine. 

So before I get to the business of making up your scores, I should tell you that not one of you managed correctly to identify the hoax, because the idea of the hoax was itself a hoax, there was no hoax.

[All groan]

Alan [crossly]

You’re joking!

[Alan frisbees his joker card across the stage, Sean does the same]

Danny

This is an outrage. This is like the end of Lost.        

Stephen

It’s endearing how much it matters to them. So everything you heard was as true as trousers.

Alan

So what’s the bloody….

Stephen

So the winner tonight, wow. Aha! The winner tonight with an impressive minus one is Sean Lock!

Sean

I won? [throws his fists in the air in victory]

Danny

You won! You won this discredited show.

Stephen

Second with an improbable minus 13 is David Mitchell.

Sean

I won!

Stephen

Third with a… doing pretty good minus 14 Danny Baker.

Danny [points to Celina in the audience]

Grassed me up! Grassed up by the elbow licker!

Stephen

And last with a surprisingly convincing minus 38 Alan Davies.

So, my thanks to David, Danny, Sean and Alan and I leave you with this observation from Will Rogers: “The trouble with practical jokes is that very often they get elected.”

Thank you and good night.