Sandi Toksvig looks into occupations and offices with Deirdre O'Kane, Richard Osman, David Mitchell and Alan Davies.
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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Good evening and welcome to the QI office party.
Joining me around the photocopier for a show all about
offices and occupations are Vice President of Stapler Affairs,
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Senior Partner in Charge of Biscuits, Richard Osman.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Regional Branch Biro Lid Replacement Manager, David Mitchell.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
And, on the 15th year of his two-week internship, Alan Davies.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Let's hear their noises office.
-What is it?
-Thanks for the help! Thank you.
-There must be a historian in.
But genuinely, kids at home are going, "Oh, thank you.
"Yeah, couldn't know that." They wouldn't have.
And Richard goes...
BROADBAND DIAL-UP BLEEPING
That's a laugh from a certain section
of the audience who got that.
And David goes...
WATER POURING, WATER COOLER BUBBLING
Diarrhoea, we're all aware of that.
And Alan goes...
-FEMALE VOICE ON ANSWER MACHINE:
-The office is now closed.
Please leave a message for...
-..after the tone.
Right. What's the worst thing you can catch in the office?
Well, I mean...
Can you imagine how many days off people had during the plague?
People who were perfectly all right.
"Yeah. Oh, God, plague, yeah.
"Yeah, pretty bad."
What, were they just talking to their hands, they were just...?
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Well, in fact it's bad manners.
Bad manners is the thing you are most likely to catch in an office.
They did a study in 2015, and acts of rudeness
apparently spread around an organisation a bit like a cold.
And when rudeness starts, it tends to get worse over the course
of a working day. It is the thing you're...
Oh, bugger off!
-You can't actually catch bad manners.
-Well, apparently what
happens is, if somebody is rude to you, you're more likely
to be rude back. So it's one of the things you're most...
Hence the Nazis, and things like that.
-That started in an office...
-..with someone being a little bit impolite...
-..over some filing.
-And suddenly they're in Poland.
The next thing you know...
There is lots of bacteria as well.
I mean, they did a study of 33 keyboards in an average office
and one of them had five times as many germs
as the office toilet seat.
But I'm always a bit worried about those numbers of germs things.
-Because they say the average kitchen worktop has more germs on it
than the average loo seat.
To which the obvious response is,
-well, that's obviously broadly fine then...
..because we're not all dying, we don't go to the kitchen
and have one meal and immediately vomit and vomit and vomit.
But toilets are actually quite clean,
because they are actually cleaned with bleach, which is...
Do you not think bleach is the perfect product of all time?
Because people go to the shops, they buy it, they pour
it down the toilet, they flush it away and they go and buy some more.
Whoever invented it thought, "This is going to make us a fortune."
So, Deirdre, what do you reckon,
if you had an all-male office and an all-female office,
which one would have more bacteria?
-Oh, the male office.
Because they're mankier than us.
So maybe that is the scientific answer.
They're dirtier and bigger, so they give off more bacteria.
But are men dirtier per kilogram?
Oh, that's a good question.
Deirdre, how dirty are you, and then we'll work it out?
I know that men don't wash their hands after they've
been in the toilet.
There you go.
In fact, I was once at Wembley Stadium,
and I went to wash my hands, and when I got to the sink there
were three penises urinating into the sink.
On their own?
I don't really know how it works.
They couldn't be bothered to queue for the urinals,
they just used the sink where I was trying to wash my hands.
And they're here tonight.
Did you ever play the old Comedy Store in Leicester Square?
Yes, I played the old Comedy Store, and the first time
I went in the dressing room, Arthur Smith and Paul Merton were in there.
And they introduced themselves and they said,
-"The toilet's over there," and it was the sink.
So there was just a basin in the corner of the room,
and they weren't really expecting girls.
I was just going to say, not much good for us.
No, well, Josie Lawrence used to lift me up, to be able...
So, I have four occupations for you.
Deirdre, you are a Sewage Diver.
Richard, you are the Queen's Bagpiper.
David, you're an Ornamental Hermit.
And, Alan, you're Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds.
Which of you has got a real job?
The Chiltern Hundreds is a real place.
Yes, but is the job a real job?
It's an anti-job. It's what you get when you resign as an MP,
-you join the Chiltern Hundreds.
-Yeah. So it's not really a real job.
So 1624, and they passed a law saying that nobody
can leave Parliament, and it stems from the time
when people were elected against their will.
So sometimes local gentry were made to join Parliament,
they didn't really want to.
And the law says, technically, you have to die or you have to be
voted out or you have to go and work for the Queen or something.
So if you want to retire, you apply for a fictional Crown Office
called the Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds.
And here are some people who have, in their time, been Stewards.
Look at Tony Blair pretending to drink wine.
He brought an empty glass to his lips
and now he's filled it with his special liquid.
Then he passes it to the person next to him,
they drink it and then they like him.
So let's go back to the Sewage Diver, what do you reckon,
-Deirdre, real job?
-Well, it's a shit job, isn't it?
-It is, look at that, it is a real thing. So they have a...
-wading they do, than diving, isn't it?
-There you go, yeah.
But that's not a way to resign if you're an MP.
You know, I think that would be quite popular as...
That would be a good way.
"I wish to leave politics, so now I will immerse myself in excrement."
-But who would do this job?
-I used to be a sewage diver.
It was just going through the motions.
Well, there are sewage farms and they have sort of moving parts,
and when things get stuck, they're fitted with air pipelines,
they have to dive in and climb down to fix them.
-"They're fitted with air pipelines." I would hope so!
Yes, I know.
Just take a deep breath and go for it!
I would have thought the worst job is the person who has to
clean the suit when they get out.
I don't know.
I think I'd go... Presented with that terrible career choice,
I think I'd go for cleaning the suit.
What about Queen's Bagpiper, Richard, is that a real job?
Well, she's got everything, hasn't she, the Queen?
So, yeah, gosh, I'd imagine so.
She is really keen on bagpipers, isn't she?
Well, she inherited it.
Queen Victoria was terribly keen. I mean, mad keen, on them.
-Mad for the bagpipes.
-Mad for the bagpipes.
There was no telly then, so, you know, fair enough.
I have to say, it was much easier in the days
-when all you had to be better than was a bagpiper.
Nine o'clock every morning, he plays for 15 minutes
underneath her window.
-Oh, no, he doesn't?
-Well, he's been told it's her window.
I have no... Who knows whether it is or not?
They play 15 minutes every day at Buckingham Palace,
Windsor Castle, Balmoral or Holyroodhouse.
They don't play at Sandringham. Anybody know why?
Because she needs a break.
-That's the Christmas one, isn't it, Sandringham?
Well, apparently it's because there isn't enough accommodation.
-I'm so sorry, we just don't have the room for the bagpiper.
One of the things they say...
It's kind of anti the Christmas story, isn't it?
Go in the stable!
No room for the bagpipers.
And when he's not bagpiping, he's a Page of Presence.
But I have no idea what that is.
-A page of presents is Santa's list, isn't it?
I'm going to give you an extra point,
because that's the cutest answer anybody's ever given.
What about the Ornamental Hermit, David? What do you reckon?
I think... Didn't the sort of very rich man, aristocrat that built
follies might think a folly would be even more fun if it was permanently
inhabited by someone employed to sort of be there and be a hermit?
Yeah, you're absolutely right. It was very fashionable
in the 18th century. They liked people to sort of dress-up
as Druids, and they lived in caves.
If the land owner couldn't afford a hermit,
because, you know, they're pricey, they saved money by having
just the hermitage and telling everybody the hermit was out.
Which famously, hermits never are.
Yeah, I'd have gone with,
"Don't bother the hermit, he's a bit of a loner." You know?
That's more plausible, isn't it?
Well, there are still several towns in Europe that have
professional hermits. So, early 2017, the Austrian town
of Saalfelden advertised for one.
There's no salary, but you get your own house and chapel, which is
very nice. There's no TV, no running water, no internet,
and you need to be sociable.
You need to be sociable?
-Yeah, because people turn up.
-You wouldn't expect that.
If you'd finally made it as a professional hermit and then
they say, "Of course the main thing is you've got to be sociable."
Now, why shouldn't you give a teenage boy your phone?
Just plain hygiene.
Don't want to give a teenage boy anything, do you?
Actually, we are going back to the 19th century.
It's the very first telephone systems.
Bell telephone, 1878.
If a call came in,
they actually had to put a plug into the hole that the call was
being received, and then run a wire to where the call wanted to go.
And when they first set-up this system, they hired messenger boys,
because it was assumed that it was a physically demanding job,
and the boys would be fantastic at it, they'd be really fit.
Instead, they drank beer and wrestled each other,
swore at the customers and connected strangers together as a prank.
-Well, that's like the first social network.
Yes, it is, exactly.
I was going to say, what if this is what the internet is?
We think it's this whizzy thing, but it's actually just
a series of teenage boys in a little bunker, kind of connecting people.
-I know, dressed like that.
-It would explain a lot about the internet
-if it was.
-Yeah. And so the boys were very quickly replaced by women.
By the end of the 1880s, almost all phone operators were women,
and they could always remember who they were speaking to.
They had to say "number please" about a thousand times a day.
They were polite and they managed to knit at the same time.
This is the original multi-tasking.
And yet the toilet was still a sink.
Anyway, another O occupation now.
How would an Onion Johnny bring tears to your eyes?
Is he wearing one there?
No, it's not a thing.
-It's not a thing?
-So it's an emotion?
-Oh, what is the emotion of Onion Johnny?
It's a sad emotion, obviously, it brings tears to your eyes.
Yeah, because it's making you cry. An ennui, maybe.
-You are heading in the right direction.
-In that we've managed to get a cod French accent in.
-Oh, all right.
-So it's French.
-French, heading towards France.
-French, but it's not a thing.
-It's a person.
Is it a person selling onions?
It's a person selling onions.
Absolutely right, Deirdre, very well done.
So they were French onion sellers, who travelled door to door.
The 1920s and '30s, there were up to 1,500 of them
who travelled to the UK for several months of the year,
mostly on bicycles.
And they were called Johnnies because were Jean,
many of them were called Jean, so they were Onion Johnnies.
And it's where we get the origin of the French stereotype,
the beret and the stripy jumper.
But in fact they were Breton, they were from Brittany.
So most French people are baffled by the fact that we think this is
what a Frenchman looks like, because most of the Johnnies didn't speak
French at all, they spoke Bretonese, which is a bit like Welsh.
2008 reported only 15 Onion Johnnies remaining.
Does anybody know the myth that
if you put half an onion in your sock, within half an hour
you'll be able to taste it, as the chemicals run through your body?
But why would you eat your sock?
No, you don't need to eat the sock.
You put the onion inside the sock, to keep it in place,
and then the chemicals seep up through your body.
-Nonsense, I don't believe it.
-It is nonsense.
One of the elves tried this and it doesn't work,
and what worries me is that they tried it.
They are very thorough researchers.
They do very thorough research.
Sometimes they make you cry and sometimes they don't, don't they?
-Yes. And there are all sorts of...
-And there's a reason for that.
I think it's the way in which you cut them.
Something to do with that,
and also whether your partner's just left you.
There's no point in putting a spoon in your mouth then, is there?
-I do that. Put a silver...
-Do you put a teaspoon in your mouth?
You're meant to put a spoon in your mouth.
When you're chopping the onion, you put a spoon in your mouth
and then you won't cry. But it doesn't work.
-A teaspoon or a great big spoon, like a ladle?
-No, like a...
Let's say a dessert spoon.
-Soup spoon sized.
-So you can't cry.
And do you have it curvy bit up or down?
I'd have the curly bit up in the shape of the palate.
-Don't ask Deirdre, it doesn't work for her.
Have you ever played the spoon game?
What's the spoon game?
The spoon game is, you put a spoon in your mouth, a bit like that...
-Put your head down, put your head down, it won't hurt.
-Put my what?
-Head down, right.
And you go like that.
Right? Then, David, you can get up now.
Then David will put the spoon in his mouth and I'll put my head down.
-And then a third person behind me will hit me
with incredible force with another spoon.
-And it really, really hurts.
So when you come up, you're enraged!
And then you put the spoon back in your mouth
and you really, really try as hard as you can.
And then they say, "Right," and then the third person,
and it took me three goes...
..before I thought, "Hang on a minute,
"you're not doing that with a spoon in your mouth!"
What worried me is how compliant David was.
You had no idea.
I was just trying to look fun.
-I've known you a long time, David, it's a new look.
Right, moving on.
A double-O occupation - can you name the longest-lasting Soviet spy
to work in the UK?
My friend, Steve.
-I shouldn't say that, actually.
But it is him.
It was a secretary called Melita Norwood, and she had
a job in a metals firm in London that was heavily involved...
You just have to look at her!
I know, you can tell straight away.
To be fair to her, she spent a while in Slade, as well.
Doesn't she look a bit like Richard, though?
Like a little Richard.
She worked in a metals firm that was heavily involved in
Britain's atomic project, and every night she used to open her
boss' safe and she used to photograph the contents,
and thanks to her the Soviet Union were able to test their
nuclear weapons much sooner.
And she was discovered as a spy in 1999, when she was 87 years old.
And the authorities decided there was no point in prosecuting her.
One of the least effective spies, Britain's Michael Bettaney,
hired by MI5 in 1982.
He once tried to dodge a ticket on a train while drunk, and when a guard
chased him, he shouted, "You can't arrest me, I'm a spy."
-It's so easy to over-estimate the efficacy...
-..of the double bluff, isn't it?
Well, he later tried to get in touch with the KGB to sell them
some documents, and the KGB thought they were being set-up,
and they informed MI5 of his treachery.
So he was just rubbish.
Look, that is the worst bunny rabbit you've ever seen.
Probably the worst spying operation happened in 1940,
and this is one of my favourites - a dozen German spies
landed in Britain and they were all caught almost immediately.
One walked into a pub and asked for a pint of cider soon
after nine o'clock in the morning,
and they weren't allowed to serve alcohol before lunch.
"Half a litre of cider."
"straight away, please."
Another couple were stopped while cycling through Scotland
on the wrong side of the road, and when they looked in their bags,
they were found to contain German sausages and Nivea hand cream.
-What a combination that is!
"It's nine o'clock in the morning, Rolf!"
"I've had a cider, Hans."
I think it was because no British soldier would have hand cream,
but it turns out Nivea's German, I didn't know that.
-Did you know that? It is German.
And one of them spoke no English at all, but the one who spoke
English the best said his mission was to find out
"how the people is living, how many soldiers there are
"and all the things."
It really is... 'Allo 'Allo! was a documentary, basically, wasn't it?
There are some people who think they were deliberately sent
by senior German officers to sabotage the plot,
because they didn't want to invade Britain, but...
That's the Germans for you.
-At the time.
-Come the time.
A lot of them have mended their ways since.
No, a lot of them have.
It's a wonderful country.
For our friends in Berlin, Richard's address is...
Now, what is this man about to post?
-Took a bullet there, everyone.
Is he about to post a Movember selfie on Facebook?
No, it is a most extraordinary thing, he is about to post himself.
-Yeah. His name is Willie Reginald Bray.
He was also known as the human letter,
he was an eccentric gentleman, who spent his entire life pushing
the British Post Office to their absolute limits.
And he started by sending unwrapped stamped objects to himself,
to see how that would go.
So he sent a shirt collar and a half smoked cigar.
That's him actually posting onions on the right there.
And almost all of it got through without any trouble at all.
So he began to experiment.
He wrote to "Any Resident of London", there it is.
"Any Resident of London."
Sadly, that was rejected "insufficiently addressed."
But he did get his mother to crochet the address and that was accepted.
And he also wrote the address in mirror writing
and that was also accepted.
And then, finally he sent himself through the post.
He shipped himself to his father,
and there's his rather irritated father receiving him.
Then he decided to build the world's largest collection of autographs.
He wrote to the Reichstag in Germany so many times.
There's a letter back from Adolf Hitler's office -
"Please can you stop sending letters, the Fuhrer's quite busy."
-What if that finally pushed Hitler over the edge?
As I say, a lot of them these days, very different,
-a very different country.
Just keep digging that hole there, Richard, it's...
It's not a hole, it's a trench.
I'm just saying keep an eye on them, that's all I'm saying.
Right, moving on.
Now it's time for Alan's occupational hazard,
the round that we all call General Ignorance.
Fingers on buzzers, please.
Who do you go and see to get your eyes tested?
No. Why not?
Yes. So the optician dispenses the glasses
and the optometrist is the person who actually tests your eyes.
You can be trained as both, so you might have an optician who is
also an optometrist, that is possible.
An optician who is also an optometrist,
that's a TV show I'd like to watch.
Crazy maverick optician who does optometry as a sideline.
Why might poor eyesight make a good impression?
Do you seem aloof and therefore people respect you?
When you can't see them, you don't rear back at their hideousness.
-Or try and jump them because of their beauty.
So either way your response is muted.
-It's not that.
I have very bad eyesight, even with glasses,
so I can see virtually nothing.
But it does mean, you know in all the Hollywood movies
when they used to sort of...
Yeah, I see that. Can I say, thank you very much.
So everyone looks like they're shot through a filter.
OK, so it isn't about that, it's to do with impressions.
-Oh, oh, is it because Monet and Manet had bad eyesight
and that's why they painted in the way they did?
It's absolutely to do with...
Many of the Impressionists suffered from very poor eyesight.
That explains a lot.
I've, yeah, I'm very short-sighted.
Without glasses or contact lenses,
things look a bit like an impressionist painting.
-I was walking, I was in a hotel in New York recently,
and I was walking down a long corridor.
At the end of the corridor I saw this painting which I thought,
this, that is beautiful.
Like a big... It was abstract, it was red and white
and all kinds of stuff.
And I thought when I get to the end of the corridor, I'm going
to see what that is. And it was a fire hose.
It was very nice. It was beautiful.
That would be a thoroughly irresponsible painting to
-hang in a hotel corridor.
-It would be.
Well, Monet's unusual colours may be down to his cataracts.
And he's not the only one.
Degas probably had maculopathy, so it's a retinal disease,
it affects your central vision.
And that explains the increasing blurriness in his paintings.
And it is thought that Van Gogh suffered from lead poisoning,
and that can make your retinas swell, and you start to see
light in circles, so very like the Starry Night.
And Van Gogh also treated, of course,
with digitalis for his epilepsy,
and that drug can cause you to see in yellow or yellow-green, and
that could explain his increasing use of yellow in later works.
Now, if your surname is Farmer, what did your ancestors do for a living?
Good thing, good! Excellent.
Pharmacists is very good. Very good. Pharmacists, no?
In the Middle Ages, a fermier was a tax collector.
So early fermiers collected taxes for the Crown,
and they would pick applicants to work on tenanted lands. In time,
they made money out of this, they began to buy land, they began
to grow crops on it, and eventually they became what we know as farmers.
The very first-ever farmers, in our sense of the word,
was a man called William Le Fermer, recorded in 1238.
So farmers are actually tax collectors.
Well, let's have a look at some other occupational surnames.
Anybody know any of these? Osman?
-Oh, that's a good one.
If you go back a couple of generations,
we were all charcoal burners in the New Forest.
OK, but it's anybody who worked with bones,
so it could be a rag and bone man.
Oh, that's fun.
Yeah, so it was an Osman.
It's somebody who hits bulls on the head to stun them
before they get slaughtered.
-With a spoon.
-And they do it with a huge spoon, yeah.
Yeah, a massive spoon.
What about a Warner?
Is that a sort of health and safety inspector?
-Is it someone who makes yellow cards?
-That's a football joke.
-A football joke, OK.
Hang on two seconds.
It's somebody who looks after royal rabbit warrens.
What about a Dickman, what do you reckon?
It's somebody who digs ditches, a Dickman.
And a Kellogg?
-It is, it's a killer of hogs, it's a butcher.
If your surname is Farmer, your ancestors were tax collectors.
Name the greatest Wimbledon champion of all time?
I think I would have said Sampras. Sorry.
Great Uncle Bulgaria.
Is it... Is it a croquet player?
Yes! It is a croquet player.
Professor Bernard Neal is the greatest Wimbledon
champion of all time, he won the croquet championships 38 times.
So if you think about it,
Navratilova won Wimbledon singles nine times, he won 38 times.
He only took the sport up at the age of 40.
Between 1963 and 2002, he won 37 titles out of a possible 40.
Smacks of a drug cheat, that.
What do you have to press on the red button to get coverage of the croquet?
-I've got a bit of croquet here. So.
Alan, what colour do you want to be?
Do you want to be red, or blue, or...?
-Black, here we go.
-Can I be the iron?
Which way are you going to go? Are you going to go right?
I don't know why that's pleased me so much.
It went miles, it went miles, viewer.
That'll be under someone's feet.
Croquet, it was an Olympic sport.
And it should be still.
It was dropped after 1900,
because only one person turned up to watch, so...
But the reason it's interesting is because the very first women to
take part in the Olympics took part as part of the French croquet team.
So there were seven men and three women.
And it was thought to be rather racy,
because it was a game where men and women played on equal footing.
There's a wonderful quote from the American Christian Review,
in 1878, said, "Croquet would lead to moral decline in American women,
"and consequences would include absence from church,
"immoral conduct and eventually ruin."
-That's a very pessimistic view, isn't it, really?
I love that. But I love that.
Anybody know the connection between croquet and Pall Mall,
the great street in London?
They played croquet upon it?
Yes, they did. It is, in fact, where croquet comes from.
An Italian game, 17th century game called Palle-Malle.
And both Pall Mall
and the Mall were designed specifically to play this game.
They whacked the ball up the course,
and then they had to shoot a ball through a suspended hoop
at the end, and that's where we begin to get croquet from.
Can I have my things back, please?
I've lost the black, I'm sorry, it's gone.
And at the end of all that, it is time for the scores.
In first place, our employee of the week, with minus two, is David.
Performing adequately, with minus five, it's Richard.
On a final warning, with minus seven, Deirdre.
And clearing their desk, with minus 49 points...
And of course we have a prize for our winner.
This week's objectionable object is this lovely Queen Victoria milk jug.
That's for you, David, because you can't have a show without prizes.
It only remains for me to thank Deirdre, Richard, David and Alan.
Thank you and goodnight.
Sandi Toksvig looks into occupations and offices with Deirdre O'Kane, Richard Osman, David Mitchell and Alan Davies.