QI: The Figures Behind the Facts
Iceland imports icebergs.
Most fish food is made of fish.
Netflix’s biggest competitor is sleep.
These are the sorts of facts you would hear flying through the air if you were to drop by the QI office in Covent Garden.
We're always on the hunt for interesting facts and one of the most intriguing parts of the job is that you never know when or where you’ll come across one. We all have our favourite haunts – Anna likes to trawl through the British Newspaper Archive while James has set up elaborate RSS feeds to try and read the entire internet before breakfast – but you can also find them in surprising places. I found my very first QI fact on the wall of Sensation, Dundee’s science centre – that a vulture can safely swallow enough botulinum toxin to kill 300,000 guinea pigs.
We’ve found facts in online articles – there’s a Starbucks inside the CIA’s headquarters but they don’t write people’s names on the cups – on greetings cards while in the queue at the Post Office – the word ‘stressed’ is ‘desserts’ backwards’ - and in library books that haven’t been opened in so long that they let out a cloud of dust when you turn the page.
QI, the company, is best known as the team behind BBC2’s flagship panel show QI. We have also just published our sixth fact book 1,423 QI Facts To Bowl You Over with Faber and Faber, make a weekly podcast No Such Thing As A Fish which has had over 100 million fact-filled downloads, and we also make QI’s sister show BBC Radio 4’s The Museum of Curiosity.
Each series of QI is themed around a letter of the alphabet. Series O is currently being broadcast on Friday nights on BBC 2 and my favourite question of the whole series recently aired in the ‘Oceans’ episode. That fact was found by my colleague Edward Brooke-Hitching who discovered that publisher Peter Bentley originally turned down Herman Melville’s Moby Dick because he didn’t like the whale. Bentley wrote:
“First, we must ask, does it have to be a whale? While this is a rather delightful, if somewhat esoteric, plot device, we recommend an antagonist with a more popular visage among the younger readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous maidens?"
Luckily for Moby Dick, Melville argued the case and the whale stayed. But that’s a fantastic fact. Also, did you know that blue whales can only see in black and white, which means they don’t know that they’re blue?