Wednesday, 1 December 2010

So there, QI!

I am a great fan of QI. There's nothing better to liven up a boring evening on TV. I have even been known to search it out on Dave when all else fails. But it's hard not to get irritated sometimes by the smug inevitability (and who can do smug better than Stephen Fry?) of some of their 'general ignorance' answers - and hard also not to be rather pleased when they get it wrong.

The most glaring QI error I know is they've twice (in my hearing) called Galileo the inventor of the telescope, which is indisputably factually incorrect. But another example demonstrates the meanness of some of their answers. I can't remember the exact wording, but someone (probably poor old Alan Davies) got the dreaded noise when suggesting that UK secret service field operatives are called agents. The QI team came up with some guff that agents were office-bound workers, not field people.

However in the last fortnight, both the head of MI6 and several people from MI5 have very clearly called field operatives 'agents'. Now it may well be that according to some jobsworth job title they aren't agents, but this is obviously what they are called. So, sorry QI, you got it wrong again - and Alan D. deserves his points back.

Image from Wikipedia


  1. Dear Stephen,

    During last weeks programme during the course of a certain topic you referred I believe to people born in England as "British Subjects". You obviously have not looked in your RED passport recently, as from 1984 (when the old BLUE passports were done away with) you became I would suggest a "Britsh Citizen" (Take a look). We were not asked, or consulted I think you will find...but as usual, it just happened. I believe you will find that to remain a British Subject (of the Queen God Bless Her) you would have needed to have been born in Malta, Gibraltar, or the like.
    It is also interesting in passing, that if one wishes to travel to the United States these days, if you hold a new red passport stating that you are a BRITISH CITIZEN, you can travel there using the Visa Waver Programme.....but if you were classed as a BRITISH SUBJECT you wound require a formal visa from the US Embassy (in London or wherever).


    Mr Nev Cooper

    (Ex British Subject, now an unapplied for British Citizen)

  2. Thanks for your comment, Mr Cooper, but this isn't actually Stephen Fry's site - I was merely commenting on QI.

    You can find Stephen Fry's site here:

  3. During this evening's episode, it was said that the nearest bit of American soil was in Surrey at the JFK memorial. This isn't correct: the plinth of the George Washington monument in Trafalgar Square is full of soil from virginia after Washington exclaimed he would never set foot on British soil!

  4. To be fair, Michael, it depends where you are. If you're in Surrey, then the JFK memorial soil is the nearest. In fact it's probably nearest to anyone west of London in the UK.

  5. I just saw a clip online of the age of consent episode - Stephen said the lowest was Vatican (12) because they set it at Italy's level when the Lateran Treaty was established. Has anyone looked into this? I read about it in a history class and remember that the Vatican law code copies current Italian law, so the age of consent would be whatever Italy's is now.

  6. Just as a followup - take a look at Section 2, Subsection E

  7. In QI Hocus Pocus, the rule relating to I before E is discussed.

    It seems some people have forgotten the entire rule.

    The entire rule (as taught to me in the 60s) is "I before E except after C in syllables rhyming with B".

    There are very few exceptions to this rule, however when you hobble rule you end up with more exceptions.

  8. i before e except after c, when the sounding is e...its still taught in schools

  9. 'I before E except after C, when the sound is E' is a perfectly sound rule.

    The only exceptions to the rule are proper nouns, such as 'Keith'.

  10. suicide solution is an Ozzy Osbourne track not as Phil Jupitus claimed a Judas Preist one. The JP track from the trial was "Better By You, Better Than Me"


  11. Anonymous said:
    suicide solution is an Ozzy Osbourne track not as Phil Jupitus claimed a Judas Preist one. The JP track from the trial was "Better By You, Better Than Me"
    Confirmed! The track was Better By You, Better Than Me, a JP cover of a Spooky Tooth song from 1969. JP never covered "Suicide Solution", which is an Ozzy Osbourne song.
    By the way, 'Solution' is meant in a chemical way, as in 'several components mixed together' not as 'a way to deal with a problem'.
    Also: not both young men were killed, the second one was severely wounded and later testified during the trial.

  12. Stephen Fry was wrong for once when he said that the Finns beat the Soviets in the 1940 Winter War.

    Certainly the Finns gave a good account for themselves and surprised almost everyone by their ability against the Soviets. But sadly they did lose and had to give up 11% of their territory as a result of the Moscow Peace Treaty (12 March 1940).

  13. On an question asking when in this picture has the sun set. Stephen Fry talked about the effect of the Earth's gravity on the bending of light. But he didn't mention that the time it took light to reach the earth from the Sun is around 8 minutes. Doesn't this effect the answer more?

  14. Ed S - that's an interesting one! Just to clear up one point, the bending is due to refraction in the air, not due to Earth's gravity which would have a tiny effect.

    Because sunset is caused by the rotation of the Earth, it is arguable that the image of the sun it is concerned with is the image at the Earth, not that at the sun itself. But it is true that the light takes 8 minutes to reach us, so at the point in time that you see the sun set, you are seeing light that left it eight minutes ago.

  15. Having listened to you talking about the Natural History Museum, I was reminded that my daughter took my Grandson, age 4 to see the dinosaurs. They walked in, he looked around and said,"Well, I wasn't expecting to only see bones, don't they even move?"

  16. i saw on a a recent episode of IQ a "fact" about the human body being a max. of 8 to 10 years old.

    can someone provide more information on this.


    neill Terry

  17. Hello Neill. This reflects the fact that the cells in the body are constantly being replaced, some relatively quickly (skin cells, for instance), others over a longer timescale. But with around 10 years you would expect ever cell to have been replaced and so, in essence, it is not the same body as you had 10 years previously.

  18. Nice to meet you.
    google is used to convert the Japanese to English translation.
    There may be a meaningless expression, please forgive me.

    BBC QI I was searching for, I found this page.

    (´Д`)I think it is more unlucky me.

    This is a joke.
    But now, with a bitter smile.

    It seems there was unlucky to be broadcast by the double Atomic bomb survivors. For it seems there was also a formal apology.

    Somehow. This is a somehow.

    TV in Japan, I saw the message of the survivors. I think people have already died.

    (´Д`)One for all, All for one.

    Such messages.

    QI in the broadcast, if there can touch this story, the survivors, what a good message.

    QI can not even contact the participants, I will write you a comment.

    (´Д`)"THE KING'S SPEECH" movieeee.

    It is not related to this story.

    Writing here, in what may be no adequate, Hope you remember that there were stories like this.

    ... "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" now read chapter 9. What is some kind parcel? What will the Philosopher's Stone was related to stone at the entrance? A little is fun.




  19. Last week I watched QI and found that the topic veered off to the subject of the Battle of Culloden, about which many people have misconceptions. The main misconception is that it was an English versus Scots event. That was satisfactorily dismissed, I was pleased to note. However, there was one very big irritant in that none of them seemed to know how to pronounce the name of the event in question. Oddly enough, Culloden is pronounced as it is spelled. It is NOT Culluden, as Stephen Fry seems to believe. We have heard this pronunciation on odd occasions from people who should check with Scots as to how we pronounce it. London may be pronounced as if it is spelled "Lundun". Culloden ain't.


    Andrew HN Gray

  20. in the 'green' episode stephen fry said that we use the time sequence that we do because the babylonians count in a base 12 number. this is untrue as they actually count in base 60 as it has so many divisible factors so there Qi

  21. Please tell Stephen Fry that a stripe is vertical and a hoop horizontal.
    David Cleary

  22. There have been two blatant errors in QI in the past years in my opinion. Very early on they said that there wasn't a welsh word for blue (there is glas), and in one of the more recent series Stephen Fry claimed there was no muscles in the hand, I actually make there out to be 14 muscles in the hand, grouped into thenar muscles, hypothenar muscles and lumbricals. However, I only know these facts because I’m a welsh medic...

  23. On last night's QI, 'Adwaitya' was claimed to have been the longest lived Giant Tortoise. Adwaitya is claimed to have been the pet of Clive of India and died at the age of 255. So far as I am aware, the claim that Adwaitya was Clive's pet cannot be verified and the record, according to the Guinness Book of Records, still belongs to Tu'i Malila the giant Aldabra presented to the Tongan Royal Family by Capt. Cook in 1777. Tu'i Malila died in 1965 at the age of 188.

    I must admit, I stand to be corrected on this point.

  24. As far as the opening comment is concerned - this is from the MI5 website:

    "Although our members of staff are often erroneously described as "agents", we refer to them as officers."

    the point being that "officers" are on the staff, whereas "agents" are their sources.

    To declare an interest, I'm involved with the show.

  25. Thanks, PF (though isn't it MI6 we usually think of having James Bond style agents, not MI5) - but in the end who is most like to be right, a website or the head of MI6? I know which I'd go with!

  26. The website wasn't our original source, though - I really just offered it so as to chuck a bit of easy-to-link evidence into this discussion. The main point is that you misheard what we said: "The QI team came up with some guff that agents were office-bound workers, not field people" is nearly the opposite of what we asserted.

    As the Security Service site says: "An agent is a person who works for us as a "Covert Human Intelligence Sources" - i.e. someone who provides secret intelligence to us. They are one of our most important sources of intelligence. Agents are not members of the Security Service and are not on our staff."

  27. Fair enough - but it doesn't really change the position. The head of MI6 was refering to people in the classic role that we would call agents (i.e. James Bond types) as... AGENTS.

  28. BTW can you explain why I have twice heard it said on QI that Galileo invented the telescope? That is unbelievably wrong!

  29. If you'd like to point me at the actual quotation from the head of the SIS then I'd be happy to figure out where the confusion arises. It's possible that the s/he was addressing her/his audience in terms that they would relate to, perhaps? If, by "James Bond types", you mean people who are on the staff of the Intelligence Services, then they are certainly referred to as "Officers" within the services (and not "agents"); but if the context was a speech to a lay audience then I suppose Sawers or whoever might well have found it simpler to conform to their expectations than to make a point of being accurate.

    Incidentally, the MI6 website also confirms the usage (

    As to Galileo, if you remind me which episodes contained the statements, I'll check what we said and why. It is sometimes the case that statements which are made "off script" slip through the net, so maybe that's what happened here. Galileo was a pioneer in the development of the telescope from the very earliest days, of course.

  30. Sorry PF - we're talking about something I heard on the radio in December 2010 when the original post was made - I can't tell you where it was heard.

    Similarly re Galileo - but I can tell you definitely that Stephen Fry has twice said that Galileo invented the telescope with no 'if's or 'but's.

    Galileo was certainly part of the early wave, but the telescope was in use in the Netherlands some years earlier, and there is reasonable evidence that the Digges father & son team had an operational telescope in the previous century. (There are also suggestions Roger Bacon may have constructed something in the 13th century, though that is more speculative.)

  31. There have been a few corrections mentioned in the show itself, but never was the atrocious German vocab/usage question been corrected. Admittedly, most native speakers have to make do with feeds and DVDs but surely there are enough around to write in and ask was zum Teufel Stephen said there, because it sure wasn't any German dialect or word. In fact it was so strange I cannot remember either of them, nor would I know how to transcribe the sounds. Where is the language elf to complain to!

  32. On IQ episode 9(i)03, Steven stated that only the boa constrictor is named both scientifically and commonly as such. I'd like to point out that this attribute also applies for the Mola Mola, although sunfish might be a more commonly known alternative

    regards from the Netherlands

  33. I was watching an episode on Dave the other night in which the question was asked "How old are you?" 3 of the 4 contestants were docked 10 points for giving thier age (Not Alan Davies). Steven then explained that all your cells are replaced about every 10 years. I then watched a documentary on one of the documentary channels saying that the only cells that stay with you for life are your "Pacemaker cells" in the heart. Is this true and can the 3 contestants have thier points back? It was Darah and Graham Norton and A N Other. (can't remember)
    Liam in Barnsley

  34. Hi Liam - I think neurons, once formed stay with you for life as well (some do go/are produced new, but not all of them). It wouldn't surprise me if what you say about the 'pacemaker' cells is true. However, sadly, this isn't a blog directly connected to QI, so I can't give them their points - but I'm sure they can have them virtually.

  35. To be fair, my understanding is that (at least when it comes to MI6) the people who would commonly reffered to as agents by the public are actually called 'Case Officers' whereas 'Agents' are the people case officers liase with to obtain information. Check the MI6 website, it says so on there.

  36. During the magical Christmas edition Daniel Radcliffe says that by when you catch the snitch in quidditch you win the game, but all that happens is that the games end and the team receives 250 points, granted, this does lead to most winning, however it isn't automatic. It has just been on Dave and I felt the need to correct harry potter :-)