Ipswich: Did you know Lord Tennyson’s favourite party trick was impersonating people going to the toilet? QI’s John Lloyd interviewed
- Credit: Andrew Crowley
In July 2013, more people in Britain believed in ghosts than supported the Labour party. The energy produced by leaves every day is six times the amount of energy the human race has used in its entire existence. Just some of the facts QI producer John Lloyd shared with entertainment writer Wayne Savage.
Did you know the treadmill was invented by an Ipswich man called William Cubitt in 1822 and was originally designed as an instrument of prison discipline? How about that in 1647, people in Ipswich rioted against Oliver Cromwell’s banning of Christmas and that one man, ironically named Mr Christmas, was killed?
“Thomas Edison used to say ‘we don’t know a millionth of one percent about anything’... so you might as well have the interesting stuff and there’s a lot less of that about,” says John Lloyd, founding producer of The News Quiz, To The Manor Born, Not The Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder, Spitting Image and QI.
He’s teamed up with head researcher John Mitchinson and senior researcher James Harkin to release 1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop including JK Rowling has no middle name, the Statue of Liberty wears size 879 shoes, only five percent of the world’s population has ever been on an aeroplane and after just four moves in a game of chess there are 318,979,564,000 possibilities for the layout of the board.
The facts are arranged so connections and patterns form as you read; as Aldous Huxley once said, facts are ventriloquist’s dummies - it’s what you get them to say that counts says Lloyd and co.
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“It’s the way we think everybody should be taught in schools. It shouldn’t be sitting down, ‘this is really boring, can’t see the point of it’. In every lesson, every subject, every teacher should begin with an amazing piece of information.
“There’re things in the book like a raw carrot is still alive when you eat it. Kids are going to go ‘what, how can that be, is it an animal’? Then you’ve got them, you can talk about carrots, what life means... a pint of milk in a supermarket can contain milk from more than 1,000 different cows. How does that work?
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“Every kid wants to learn, it’s just they don’t want to learn the boring stuff. One day there’ll be a string of QI schools all over the world and I think if you had that you’d produce a whole lot of geniuses,” says Lloyd.
With Stephen Fry as minister for education?
“Wouldn’t that be brilliant.”
The BBC TV show returned for its 11th series last year, along with a sixth series of sister radio show The Museum of Curiosity. There’s also new website www.qi.com, @qikipedia with its 500,000 Twitter followers and 12 books and 300 newspaper columns where you can learn more useful facts.
The secret of the TV series, says Lloyd, is it’s a show for ordinary people not intellectuals.
“I was in Hay on Wye doing a talk about the book with John and James and afterwards I met four 16-year-olds in the street, in hoodies and all that, and they went ‘John Lloyd, John Lloyd’. I went ‘how did you know who I am’ and they said they were huge fans of QI - that’s our core audience.”
The QI elves have already started work on the next series, being recorded in May and broadcast next autumn.
“We’re just starting on L now. Leaves is in there, London, Lord Tennyson... he was the longest serving poet laureate in history, 42 years, his hobby was entertaining guests with impersonations of people going to the lavatory. It’s just wonderful isn’t it. Suddenly he’s a human being, not just a Victorian in a beard.”
Lloyd also found time to team-up with novelist and screenwriter Jon Canter for Afterliff, a follow-up to The Meaning of Liff, the dictionary of definitions of “things there should be words for but aren’t” that Lloyd wrote with Douglas Adams in 1983. A 30th anniversary edition of the latter is also being published.
Suffolk examples include: Nedging, shuffling your suitcase along to close the gap in an airport queue; Wendling, ostentatiously sniffing and swirling wine in a glass; Debach, to disengage gracefully from a cello; Rishangles, the blackened parts in the corners of an otherwise gleaming silver roasting tin; Fritton, in a bag of chips, the one with the eye; Kirtling, Benign kettling, such as that required to keep a small child moving in the right direction; Poringland, that part of an Argos store where the catalogues are located; Framingham Pigot. a tap on the outside wall of a house that has never worked; Thurning, camply running around a dog show alongside a dog and
Letheringsett, an elderly German couple commencing their 15th week on a Lanzarote nudist beach.
1,339 QI Facts to Make Your Jaw Drop (Faber and Faber) and Afterliff (Faber and Faber) are both out now each priced at £9.99 hardback, £7.99 ebook.