Stephen Fry asks unanswerable questions about history. With Sandi Toksvig, David Mitchell, Rob Brydon and Alan Davies.
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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Welcome, welcome, and thrice welcome
to the home of highbrow know-how that we call QI.
Tonight, we'll be groping down the back of the great sofa of history
to find those tasty morsels that other historians have so carelessly discarded there.
And to accompany me on my quest, I have the postmodern Rob Brydon.
THUNDEROUS CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
The pre-classical David Mitchell.
MORE CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
The Pleistocene Sandi Toksvig.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
And our very own bowl of primordial soup, Alan Davies.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Each panellist is equipped with a suitably historic buzzer.
-MELLOW NAUTICAL MELODY
-AMERICAN-STYLE MILITARY FANFARE
-And Alan goes...
So, as we stroll off into the mists of time,
let's start with something nice and easy - name a henge.
Now, look, come on...
-There is a Seahenge, but it's not a henge.
It's a word with the word "henge" in it,
as "spigot" has got the word "pig" in it, but it isn't a pig. You see?
So, the word "henge" in it, that's wrong?
I think you're wary enough, for good reasons.
-Yeah, you didn't get me there.
-A henge is a specific thing.
What is a henge?
You have two of them on the side of a door, or on the top of a window.
-WEST COUNTRY ACCENT:
-I'll do you a nice henge, sir, yes.
A hedge bent on revenge, that's what it is.
-It's a very old form of economic investment - a henge fund.
Wahey! It's not that either. It's one of those archaeological words.
There's a specific meaning, an embanked area outside
with ditches on the inside, right?
And Stonehenge is the other way round, so it's not a henge.
Even though the name henge comes from Stonehenge.
A henge is a word for something that's like Stonehenge,
but not including Stonehenge?
-It was just Stonehenge.
-Was the word "stone" named after Stonehenge?
Yes, you're safe with the stone.
Maybe Stonehenge was just a noise they came up with for Stonehenge,
which luckily gave them a word for two common sorts of things.
Probably the noise when they put those top ones up.
GROANS AND SQUEALS
People right up until the 20th century were quarrying it. They would actually set fires
on the lintels, the top bits, to crack the stone and take it off and build things with them.
-Nowadays it's cordoned off.
-Yes, it is, rather, isn't it?
-Except the Druids.
-They can do what they want.
-How long have Druids been celebrating religious services there?
The beginning of the 20th century. There's no evidence
that Druids had anything to do with Stonehenge.
So why did they get all these concessions of access to Stonehenge?
In 1905, when they started doing it, Stonehenge was private property.
It didn't belong to anybody except the owner of it,
and then Chubb in 1915, who worked in a lunatic asylum nearby, bought it in 1915...
-For his wife.
-You're quite right.
-Yes, he bought it for his wife at auction.
-Yeah, and three years later she gifted it to the nation.
-Well, it must have been hell to clean. Those top bits.
So, the Druids have access to it, so presumably, I mean, they can't all have parked miles away.
They must have little stickers in their windows with a little Druid sign on it,
which also gets them into Klu Klux Klan meetings.
Yes, they've just got to straighten up their headdresses.
There was a mention you made there of Seahenge. What is Seahenge?
-So that's not a proper henge either?
-Seahenge, isn't it some bits of old and knackered wood
that occasionally become visible when the tide is out.
That's it, 55 bit of old oak in Holme-Next-The-Sea in Norfolk coast
which was only discovered quite recently.
Carhenge, does that mean anything to you?
-Yes, I do know what that is.
-Well, I'll guess.
It's that... AUDIENCE TITTERS
You started really confident,
then it just slid away from you there.
It's probably not right, I'll give it a go. I think I know what it is.
It was featured on the inner liner notes of Bruce Springsteen's album
The River, in particular reference to the song Cadillac Ranch,
it's all these Cadillacs that have been... It's not, is it?
-Yes, it is.
-It is, it is!
All these cars have been stuck in the ground.
And sprayed with grey paint.
-Yes, it's in Nebraska.
-It's interesting, though.
That obviously looks quite a lot like Stonehenge,
considering it's made of cars, but you can't help feeling
he could have made it look more like Stonehenge
if he'd used something else to make it with.
-It was a memorial to his father.
-Was he killed in a car accident?
Does the name Alfred Watkins mean anything to you?
He wrote a book called the Old Straight Track
in the 1920s, and he posited something that he called leys.
They're spiritual lines...
Yes, people, apparently wrongly, call them ley lines.
They're wrong to do that. Whereas people who allege they exist aren't wrong to do that.
But we can show you some ley lines which may make you think again.
If each one of these letters represented a stone circle or a henge of some kind,
it would be quite a coincidence, because you would need to get
above the ground to get them that shape, but actually,
this map was drawn by someone who was deliberately poking fun at ley lines,
because this is nothing less than a representation of Woolworths stores in Britain.
As he says, you can't rule out the possibility that Woolworths
used aliens to get so exact and perfect a geometrical shape.
-It does look like if you folded it one more time you'd get a frog.
-It looks quite origami.
-Surely there are more, or were.
There are 800.
So he's been very selective in his choice of Woolworths stores.
Whereas people who believe in ley lines aren't?
According to archaeologists, Stonehenge isn't really a henge at all.
Here's a very famous image, so you can bank a few points.
How was it made, what is it?
-It's not a tapestry.
-You've learnt. Firstly, it wasn't made in Bayeux.
Bayeux is in France, this was probably in Kent. Do we know who by?
The Normans commissioned it, but sort of Saxon embroiderer ladies did it.
Yes, absolutely right.
It's one example of why women's history has completely disappeared,
because women tended to make things like this phenomenal piece of work,
but they didn't sign it. So we don't know the names.
We know the name of the man who commissioned it, but we don't know the names of the women who made it.
The lack of signature is one of the reasons why women's history has disappeared.
It's remarkable. You're right to say it's an embroidery, It's absolutely not a tapestry.
A tapestry is all one material with the different colours woven in at the weaving stage.
This is a woven piece of cloth that is then embroidered.
-It's so typical. The women do all this embroidery and the man goes, "Nice tapestry."
-It's very absurd.
-"Couldn't make us a cup of tea, could you?"
"My hands are raw."
Is the word "tapestry" named after the Bayeux tapestry but they decided to make it mean something...
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
Can you tell the British from the French in that picture?
Are the British the four-legged ones at the top?
I should say English rather than British.
The English would be the ones not on horses.
That's pretty much true. The other giveaway is moustaches.
Some English fighters were on horses. But the British...
The English - I'm allowed to say English, I'm unused to
saying English - had the moustaches.
plus they tended to have battle-axes rather than the lances and things.
-Great comedy hats.
-They're rather extraordinary.
They're like party hats, they've got a bit of elastic under the chin.
-It was done by the same person that did Mr Benn. It's a very similar style, isn't it?
-"Suddenly the shopkeeper appeared."
-I wonder if they are specific blokes
that the women doing the embroidery knew.
"Who you doing?" "I'm doing Reg."
"Look at the way he held his axe. He was lovely before they cut him to bits."
Their mail, their suits of reinforced defensive clothing,
Harald Hardrada had a long one which apparently
couldn't be penetrated by a spear and was known as Emma.
Was that based on a particularly aloof woman who couldn't be penetrated?
One's bound to wonder.
I didn't know until someone told me this recently
that quite a lot of the names that we use,
or Christian names, we call them,
came from the Normans and that invasion. They completely changed the country.
Yes, including William, and the first few kings.
-Robert, lots of them.
Is it not when we start to change the language completely, is it not when we get beef instead of cow?
Because we had two words each time, exactly. We could use the English
word for the animal, cow, and the French word, boeuf, for the food.
The British word sheep, and mouton, mutton, can become what you eat.
You eat the mouton, you eat the beef, but the animal is the cow.
-The Saxons herded them and knew them as animals,
and the Normans just feasted and ate them because they were
the upper class, so would use their word for it.
The only time they saw a cow was when it was on a plate in front of them.
Quite a lot of what we know about the Bayeux Tapestry,
we don't know, because it's not from Bayeux and it isn't a tapestry.
But how can you tell which one Harold is in the Bayeux tapestry
that's not a tapestry or from Bayeux?
Isn't there a bit of a dispute about whether he's the one with the arrow in his eye, or someone else?
Is it like on Facebook, when you run the cursor over it, you get tagged.
And it says, "You are also in this photo,"
and it'll have the other people.
It's not dissimilar.
There are three tags, all meaning him.
"Harold Rex interfectus est," which means Harold the King is killed.
They tell the story narratively from left to right.
They could all be Harold, or only one of them could be Harold.
It's impossible to tell. We don't know that he'd an arrow in his eye.
It's a much later story.
So is it like a cartoon? Like one of those books you used to flick.
-Although not successful in embroidery, I think.
It's a cross between that and Where's Wally?
-Yes, there's a hint...
-A hint of Where's Wally?
So the one with the blue shield, he's got an arrow in his eye...
He has. People have always ASSUMED that was Harold.
So if it's a journey, it's, "Got an arrow in my eye, I'll just get on this horse for a rest..."
-Continuity! "Where's my shield?"
-..and then the horse has disappeared! "I'm dying."
-And they've cut his head off on the right...
I can't see the arrow in the eye.
It's not come out very well. I blame bad embroidery.
You can see him holding the end of it...
He can't have been that ill though, because he seems to have had time to change his socks.
-It probably is...
-"I'm dying, get the death socks!"
Stephen, can I point out... Can I give the seal of approval to his wonderfully LONG socks?
-Oh, dear... They are long.
Yes - it's probable that it's NOT the same person repeated.
The other theory is that he's only one of those
and maybe he's the last one - under the horse, almost,
cos that's where "interfectus est" - "is killed"... The point is, we just don't know.
That's good. So we know how we spot the Englishmen, by their moustaches,
the Bayeux Tapestry isn't a tapestry - isn't from Bayeux -
and you shouldn't believe anyone who tells you they know how Harold died.
However, you can spot the Englishmen by their moustaches.
On the subject of English gentlemen with moustaches,
could you give us your impression of the average World War II British...
Oh, dear. ..the average British World War II fighter pilot?
You look hilarious on the end!
That is a character...
Someone has got to write a sitcom around David Mitchell's character.
You look like you're posing with a very successful team of kind of...novelty Air Force -
you've just agreed to have your photograph taken with them, for your birthday.
I know you're not, but if they'd invented gaydar instead of radar...
..I'm sorry to say that would mark high.
"I'm ordering these helmets for my wife's birthday..."
I think in this war film, I think I die about two-thirds of the way through.
It breaks the heart of the audience, and inspires the hero.
Everyone goes and kills a load of Germans as revenge for my death.
And I'm the old First World War hero with a gammy leg who runs and watches them come back, and cries...
-I don't think Alan dies. I think you make it through. I think
You think I'm going to live, and then right near the end, I die.
Like Von Ryan's Express - as I'm running towards the train, I get shot at the end.
I'm the plucky woman who was just supposed to do the radio, who's been forced to fly one of the planes.
You look as if you could, with your sergeant stripes.
-I look rather fine.
-But how did the pilot talk? That's the thing.
HE HOLDS HIS NOSE AND MAKES DISTORTED WORDS
..we've got a lovely team today who will be furnishing you with the easyKiosk...
"Clean up in aisle three." Yes.
-But what sort of people?
-What sort of people?
I think you'll find you're wrong. LAUGHTER
That's the odd thing - they so weren't.
Only 30% of all British fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain went to public school.
And of that 30%, they were mostly minor public schools,
and of the Eton, Harrow, Winchester or the top 13, there was only 8%.
-Just the actors that played them were posh, then?
-That's the point!
In the war films during and after the war -
your Kenneth Mores and your David Nivens and so on - they spoke like that.
Did the Germans know we were sending up the lower classes(?)
-"Here comes someone who has got no manners vatsoever!"
LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE
But there's your Richard Todd on the left, who's playing...
-Your actual Richard Todd.
-..Guy Gibson I think,
and there's David Niven from A Matter Of Life And Death, by the look of it.
And that's how people thought of them, with the moustache and...
I mean, 30% of them having gone to public school
is more than the percentage of the population.
-Yes, you're absolutely right...
-So they're a bit posher than...
But "posh" is the first word that comes to mind,
when 70% were state-educated, not privately educated.
But they didn't speak like Jordan or something, did they?
-No, nobody did then. No.
ROB MIMICS JORDAN "There's no way we're gonna drop the bombs
"over that lot!" LAUGHTER
"It's a real bloody mess dahn there!"
LAUGHTER "Right, let 'em go...
"Look at that!"
20% of all the pilots were in fact not even British...
-Quite a few were Polish and Czechoslovakian, but also from
the Dominions, the Empire and the Commonwealth.
Canada and New Zealand and Australia particularly of course. And South Africa also.
There's one sitting on the plane at the end there, he's obviously hoping for a ride.
"Is this right...?
-"Is this where you go?"
"I find you get a better view from here..."
What about modern pilots? Is it any advantage for THEM to posh up their accents?
-Yes - isn't it something that it's more reassuring for people?
The classic British Airways pilot is...
CLIPPED, POSH VOICE: "Welcome aboard..."
Nowadays, you've got your Virgin, Buzz and Go,
-and those guys sound like they're on Radio Top Shop...
DJ VOICE: "Good morning to you, ladies,
"gonna get this little baby airborne soon as I can...
"First of all, check out Lily Allen." LAUGHTER
And they tell you the Christian names of the other...
Why?! You don't need to know that.
I was on a British Airways flight about six weeks after 9/11,
and everybody was a little bit tense about flying out of New York -
and tragically, the plane directly in front of us took off and crashed.
I don't know if you remember, it was a flight going to the Dominican Republic.
Anyway, we all deplaned...and after about 12 hours we were allowed back
on to the flight. Anyway, the pilot came on and he said,
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, this is the delayed flight to London.
"I know many of you are seasoned travellers
"and probably don't watch the safety briefing, but perhaps today..."
Usually Australians get it right -
I was on an Ansett flight from Perth to Adelaide, and he started off by saying,
"We're on our way to Adelaide. If Adelaide is not your
"final destination, now would be an ideal time to deplane."
He started talking about the safety, then "But that's enough yakkety-yak from me.
"It's time to push some service down the aisles and some scenery past the window."
I thought that was very good. Australians are good at that kind of thing.
Now, accents... You're right, people do like
what they consider to be an authoritative and reassuring voice from a pilot.
72% of people interviewed felt at ease if a pilot had a what accent?
-People like Scottish accents...
-Right. Edinburgh in particular.
-HE TALKS LIKE BILLY CONNOLLY
-"I don't think that would be very good..."
But a nice, respectable Edinburgh would make you feel...
-Miss Jean Brodie.
-That's right. That would be fine.
You could sit down on the plane, hear "Ding-dong..."
HE MIMICS RONNIE CORBETT "Ha-ha... This is not the one about the aeroplane..."
"..that crashes in the river, it's not that one..."
What about a Geordie accent?
65% of people said a Geordie accent would make them feel more or less comfortable?
He can serve the drinks.
"He can serve the drinks"?! Ooh...
-I don't want him flying the plane.
-Well, funnily enough...
Very friendly... But they're likely to be chatting too much and then they'll just crash into Earth.
..65% said they don't mind a Geordie, they'd like a Geordie.
Very popular for a call centre.
-What about Brummie? 76% said they would or wouldn't...
-ROB: Oh, no.
I'm afraid to say that they would not like...
It's easy to sort of think, "Sounds like a victim..." You know.
"Doesn't sound incompetent - sounds unfortunate."
-And I think...
-I don't want a skilled pilot, I want a lucky pilot(!)
Exactly! The posh voice... Could be an idiot, but he's lucked his way through life.
Bet he screws all the stewardesses, and his wife never finds out...
Yeah, I want him flying. LAUGHTER
And 83% of men and women polled said they'd be more likely to trust a male or a female pilot?
-Oh, male. Must be.
I'm afraid so. Yeah. I'm sorry to say.
There we are. So that's your flying done for the moment.
Despite the stereotype of the Battle of Britain pilots being posh young chaps
fresh from the better public schools and varsities,
the great majority were in fact state-educated.
Now, what might you use these for?
-Oh, those are fantastic.
-Aren't they great?
If they're mobile, they look like giant tubas...
-Tubas is the word that was used, they were called war tubas...
-Sirens? Air raid warnings?
Is it an over-large hearing aid?
-Was it for hearing enemy aircraft?
-It's like an ear trumpet.
You can hear enemy aircraft coming towards you. And by setting the angles,
they could determine not just the distance but the direction.
-Wheel it down to Dover, you can hear 'em in France.
-That's the idea - like sound mirrors.
They had sound mirrors as well, which were not made of metal but usually of concrete.
These are Japanese, as it happens. The Japanese used them to detect aircraft coming in.
We had nothing quite as enormous as that,
but there have been yokes you put on your shoulders... Look at that.
And it's extraordinary how much they did give you a slight advantage.
Well, it looks silly, but I find myself more and more, as I enter my 30s now...
And it makes a hell of a difference. ..Take them away, David.
-Now - hello, Da... Not yet!
Hello, David, it's lovely to see you. Now try them.
Sorry, what...? LAUGHTER
-Put them there.
-You see? Practical proof.
-He's misunderstanding for comic effect, but it's...it's true.
-Hello, David, lovely to see you...
-It does quite genuinely work.
-It makes it sound different.
-ROB: It sounds much better.
-If you do it... Now, that's very disorienting.
That's quite nice. And when you talk to yourself with them, you almost fall over.
-So don't talk to yourself like this. Also, you look like an idiot.
-I feel like I'm in front of myself.
I think what's nice is it also has a nice warming effect on the ears.
It's really a win-win-win-win-win, isn't it?
Yes, I find it very comforting.
And also it means you can't hear all the horrible things people behind me are saying.
You'd have to reverse it, like that...
Shut up, shut up, shut up! LAUGHTER
Miaow! Get back in the knife drawer, Mrs Sharp!
Perhaps the really clever thing is the fact that you can
get the range and elevation from the slight difference in time, like what we were saying about clocks.
Our own ears receive the same sound,
but at slightly different times, cos one is nearer than the other.
I mean, it's minuscule. It's enough for the brain to process it
and know that the sound is coming from there, not there.
Some animals, like the barn owl, have this to an extraordinary degree.
Their ears are actually inside a kind of sound dish - that's what the round shape is in the owl's face -
and they've got one high, looking down, and one low, looking up,
and they're able therefore to tell with extraordinary precision
something they hear, exactly where it is.
So nature, as always, gets there first.
So - yes, Japanese war tubas were mobile acoustic locators
that helped to find enemy aircraft in the days before radar.
And so time's winged chariot glides us gracefully towards the crack of doom that is General Ignorance,
or in this case Generals Ignorant - let's see what we really know
about some of the greatest military leaders from history. Fingers on buzzers.
What animals did the Carthaginian general Hannibal use to defeat King Eumenes of Pergamon in 184BC...
-MELLOW NAUTICAL MELODY
-..did he use to defeat who?
-King Eumenes of Pergamon.
-Him, there he is.
-Is he defeated(?)
Tigers, lions, leopards, mice...
Snakes... I don't think of that as an animal, really.
He put them in earthenware pots, threw them at the enemy and onto their ships.
-Really? What a great idea.
-Snakes On A Plane, almost the first example of it.
How did Snakes On A Plane come about...? Do you know?
-ROB: Snakes On A Plane?
-Yes, the film.
People had more money than sense, and er...
Supposedly a group of scriptwriters were trying to think up the stupidest names - like a pub game -
and someone said, "Snakes On A Plane!" and they said, "Do you know, that's so crap, it's good."
It would be scary to be on a plane with lots of snakes, though.
-I liked the film...
-Is it good?
The key would be whether the plot that leads to the snakes
being on the plane is believable or not.
Well, they get out of a thing in the hold.
-Oh, well, that sounds all right to me.
-And they're snakes, so they can get through tiny cracks.
-They come up the loo!
-Ooh... Anyway. Yes...
Hannibal defeated the Pergamese by bombing them with pots full of snakes.
Now, who succeeded Harold as King of England in 1066?
-Is there a trick to it?
-No - it's just you need to name the person who succeeded Harold
-as King in 1066....
-DAVID: Don't trust him!
-The trick is to know the answer.
-I don't trust you. At all.
Is it the bastard, then?
Who's the bastard? Oh, dear...
-See? You see?!
-It wasn't a trick.
-Did England cease to exist in some way, or was it changed in name?
There was another Saxon claimant who was nominally king for 45 seconds, or something...
Well, for a few months, yes. Yes.
And er, he was 15 years old. But Saxon kings were...
-How did you become a king if you were a Saxon?
-Did you have to be nominated?
You had to be from one of the five or six families... and then you'd be elected.
-By what, by votes? They would vote for you?
Edgar the Aetheling. 15 years old. But of course William had won the battle,
and so he came after him and he tried to fight - he couldn't raise an army, he went abroad...
-He didn't live a very successful life.
-He was 15, so he wouldn't have been able to do anything.
Edgar the Aetheling was proclaimed king after the death of Harold,
and reigned for two months before William was crowned.
Why did Julius Caesar wear a laurel wreath?
GRANDIOSE FANFARE Was it because he was bald?
Yes, is the right answer! Absolutely right. He was very vain.
According to Suetonius, his baldness was a disfigurement of which he was deeply ashamed,
and so he chose the laurel wreath as one of the things he had a right to wear, and wore it all the time.
"The laurel wreath is going to do wonders for you, Julius...
"What it's going to do is take attention away from your baldness.
"Now, they come in a variety of colours and styles -
"we're going to start you off with a very simple, traditional one."
He was also supposed to have invented the comb-over, cos Suetonius...
He invented the comb-over?! LAUGHTER
I shall quote you Suetonius in translation. "He used to comb forward the scanty locks
"from the crown of his head, and of all the honours voted for him
"by the Senate and people, none did he receive more gladly
"than the privilege of wearing a laurel wreath at all times."
He must have looked like a '60s footballer who'd come through a hedge!
It would be like leaving your Christmas cracker hat on all year.
So, with that display of general incompetence, we reach the end of recorded history.
All that remains to see is who has learnt its lessons,
and who is condemned to repeat its mistakes endlessly...on Dave.
And taking their place in history tonight
with a magnificent plus 2 points
-is Rob Brydon!
-CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Happily dancing to the music of time in second place with minus 4,
-it's David Mitchell!
-CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Hanging grimly on to past glories with minus 27
-is Sandi Toksvig!
-CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
And finally, sadly no more than a forgotten obscure footnote...
-with minus 29, Alan Davies!
-CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Well! That's all from this historic edition of QI,
so it's goodnight from Sandi, Rob, David, Alan and me.
I leave you with Winston Churchill's remark to Stanley Baldwin in the House of Commons.
"History will say that the right honourable gentleman was wrong",
he remarked. "I know it will - because I shall write the history."
APPLAUSE AND WHISTLING
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