I am John Lloyd, TV and Radio Producer (Blackadder, Spitting Image, QI etc...). AMA.
Hello, I am John Lloyd, the British TV and Radio producer behind Blackadder, Spitting Image, Not The Nine O'Clock News, The News Quiz, The Museum of Curiosity and QI. I am here with a couple of QI Elves to answer any questions.
Over the summer, aged 61, I made my stand-up debut at the Edinburgh Fringe performing my show Liff of QI to promote Afterliff, the new dictionary of things there should be words for but aren’t – sequel to The Meaning of Liff which I wrote with Douglas Adams in 1983.
The most recent QI book is 1,339 Facts to Make Your Jaw Drop
Everything related to QI here.
edit: Thanks for all the questions and incredibly nice comments. If you have any more 'technical' questions about QI, /u/TheQIElves will be back to answer anything else you have. I'm keeping the question about the chemical composition of a carrot to myself.
It has no straight lines.
Was Alan Davies supposed to be on every episode when you first started QI or did he just hang around due to popularity or availability?
When QI was being developed, the plan was actually to have both Stephen and Alan as regular team captains of the Clever Clogs and the Dunderheads teams, with Michael Palin hosting. When Mike didn't want to do it, Stephen stepped in 'just for the pilot' - and the BBC then made it a condition that he host the full series.
Wow. John Lloyd. From my point of view you've underpinned the culture of Britain and by extension the world. I don't have a question, just always been a huge fan. Well done.
Can you ask Stephen Fry to do an AMA, please?
Yes, I'll ask him tonight. Good idea.
Do you expect QI to get to series z?
Definitely. And then we're going to start on the numbers.
Can you talk about a segment on QI that went better than you'd expected? Perhaps a moment when the panelists reacted to the questions/facts in an unexpected way?
What is the most useless fact you know?
The Statue of Liberty wears size 879 shoes.
What was the reason behind the decision to change the tone of Blackadder from series to series?
When Ben Elton came onboard after the first series, he thought that the Middle Ages was a bit muddy and gloomy, and that Elizabethan England would be sexier and more upbeat. Once we'd made one shift, we felt we had to keep moving.
What happened to General Ignorance?
Elf here - Stephen still asks the Gen Ig questions, but we've started to spread them throughout the show because the panellists were getting wise to them, and nobody went near their buzzers when they heard Stephen say 'General Ignorance'.
Who is the one person you respect more than anything and why?
David Attenborough, because of his unshakable integrity.
Edit: After my wife, obviously.
Have you ever thought about having Ken Jennings (/u/WatsonsBitch) appear on QI? He's both knowledgeable and witty, and I think he'd be a great fit. He's mentioned that he's a fan of the show, too.
Elf here - thanks for the suggestion, I'll add his name to the list of possible panellists!
If you don't know the chemical composition of a carrot, how can we believe anything you say in this AMA?
Who says I don't know the chemical composition of a carrot?
What was your experience like working with Douglas Adams on The Meaning of Liff?
It was the best job either of us ever had - we mainly wrote it in Donna Summer's beach house in Malibu in the summer of 1982, sitting on the deck and looking out at the Pacific, and laughing ourselves silly.
What did the Queen say to you when you received your CBE?
The Queen: "You must have a very interesting job."
Me: "The best, Your Majesty. Apart from your own (bows)."
How is Stephen Fry to work with? I imagine him to be lots of fun off set too!
Stephen is almost exactly as you would expect him to be if you've seen him on television. One of the nicest things about him is that he has no "side" - he speaks to van drivers in the same way that he speaks to members of the royal family.
Do you have any idea why Phill Jupitus, more often than not, mentions kestrels when he is on QI?
Apparently this is nothing compared to how often kestrels mention Phill Jupitus.
Just like to say thank you for a fantastic speech at my sisters graduation a couple of years ago, it was hilarious!
p.s thank you for Blackadder as it well its glorious.
You're welcome! I would do anything for your sister.
Any chance of a fifth Blackadder series?
Were there any plans for a next series after Blackadder Goes Forth? If so, what historical time period would it have been set in?
I think it's very unlikely. There were various ideas for a fifth series that never came to anything - including The Blackadder Five, set in the sixties, about a rock band whose drummer was called Bald Rick, and Homo Blackadder, set in the remote past, in which Baldrick is King of the Apes until Blackadder comes along.
We also toyed with a WWII series which starts with the cast as members of the Home Guard (after all, they're getting on a bit now) who are kidnapped by a German submarine and taken to Colditz.
Do you need an elf stationed in Canada? No? ok. :(
Why are these quiz panel type shows so popular in the UK?
It's a great way to give stand-ups a chance to show what they do in an interesting context. We can't understand why they haven't caught on in North America.
Who is the most intimidatingly witty guy you've met?
Peter Cook. No question. Even John Cleese would say he's the funniest person any of us have ever met.
If Stephen was to step down as host of QI, who do you think would be the best person for the job?
I truly hope it doesn't happen, but in that event I think either Sandi Toksvig or David Mitchell would be brilliant. Of course, if neither of them are available, I'm willing to step up to the plate myself.
Are you, in fact, the little man who comes in Stephen's ear?
Occasionally I am, yes. But nowadays it's normally Piers Fletcher.
Elf here - the BBC are the ones who request a 45 minute version of the programme, so you'd have to ask them (though my guess is that it's nearly as cheap as a simple repeat, but with new material so better?)
I believe that you were a guest on the show at least once. How do you go about doing that? Do you try to take no part in the organizing process of the questions? Is it actually planned for you to be a guest or does it happen when another guest mysteriously drops out?
Thanks John Lloyd, from California. To put it eloquently, I learn a shitload from QI.
I was on for the 99th episode ('Hypothetical'). Piers Fletcher, the producer, thought it would be funny to see if "he can dish it out, but can he take it?". I had absolutely no advance knowledge of any of the questions, and the things that surprised me were:
- It was much more difficult than I expected.
- It was much friendlier than I expected.
- Getting a klaxon is really hurtful!
Having a go at it myself gave me even more respect for the regular panellists, who are much better than I ever will be, and also for Stephen, whose powers of concentration are incredible - especially as he is also so good at listening at the same time. Good fun though!
First, do you think of the first Blackadder series as a creative success? I've seen a number of interviews (and a couple documentaries) where people, including you, all seem to be very uncomfortable when discussing the first series, almost embarrassed, but still proud of where it lead, but I'm always curious of your actual opinions on the first series on its own merits.
Second, you've worked closely with some of Britain's most talented actors (Atkinson, Blessed, Laurie, Fry, etc.), are there any personal facts from these times that you simply cannot get your friends to believe when you tell them work stories?
Third, do you ever regret not taking the Have I Got News For You job?
Now, if you'll excuse me I must ride off. CHISWICK! FRESH HORSES!
1: I do consider the first series of Blackadder a success, after all it won an international Emmy. I have never been embarrassed about it, but it was too unwieldy to last.
2: Yes, but my lips are sealed.
3: No, I try not to regret anything. Except glueing my lips together.
What fact do you find most interesting from QI, out of memory?
That fatal heart attacks were unknown before 1900, and the first recorded one in Britain was in 1925. Amazingly, no-one really knows what causes them. Also, the graph of incidence of heart-attacks over time exhibits a similar pattern to that of a epidemic.
I think that the most important thing, as with anything else, is persistence. Keep pestering people.
giz a job
Elf here - thank you very much for your application. We'll keep your details on file and be in contact should any suitable positions arise.
I'm pretty excited to get Afterliff since I enjoyed The Meaning of Liff so much. So, I just want to say that that was awesome. Now the annoying question.
There is a persistent rumour online that Jeremy gets the QI questions in advance, because, unlike most of the others on the show, he is a writer, not a comedian, and requires a little time to become funny, after which he holds his own with the others. Is this true?
I believe this stems from another rumour that a regular on the show requires this, and it seems to fit Jeremy's personality.
Elf here (giving John a hand) - some panellists do see the questions in advance - if it's their first time, for example, or they're nervous - because QI is a very intimidating show. But since QI questions are incomprehensible and un-Google-able anyway, seeing them in advance doesn't really help!
However, no guests ever see any answers, or any of the General Ignorance questions, an I think it's safe to say that QI is the most improv-based panel show on TV at the moment.
What is your favorite phrase from The Meaning of Liff?
From The Meaning of Liff:
ELY (n.) The first, tiniest inkling that something, somewhere has gone terribly wrong.
...and from Afterliff:
BALERNO (n.) The spooky sensation that someone is about to explain deja-vu to you.
Who would be on your dream QI panel?
Socrates, Goethe, Aldous Huxley and Dorothy Parker.
Of all the amazing shows you have worked on, which has given you the most back, either in a good way or a bad way, and why?
Not The Nine O'Clock News because it was the most exciting, Spitting Image because it was the most influential, Blackadder because it is longest lasting and QI because it is so brilliant to still be learning new things at my advanced age.
Also, of all the shows I have ever worked on QI is the friendliest - well, apart from The Museum of Curiosity on Radio 4 which is made by the same team.
I see you're from Britain. What is your favorite TV show from America?
Breaking Bad, followed by The Wire.
I have simple tastes.
Favourite memory from the Blackadder days?
The time when the BBC agreed to give us a second chance after cancelling the show after the first series.
Have you unearthed any facts the the powers-that-be have vetoed for being too risque?
One of the funniest things I have ever seen on TV was back in C series, when the panel were told that 1 in 6 men in Idaho had had sex with a chicken, but the authorities did not agree.
Why is the schedule for qi so erratic?
Elf here - you'd have to ask the BBC, one we've handed over the programme it's largely up to them...
Hi John. I've heard you speak about the QI fact-finding process of going through books and literature looking for interesting nuggets of trivia. But can you tell me how you validate the source? Also; how many times have you got it wrong, and can you give some examples?
Can I second this?
Though there was a recent show where they went through some things they got wrong and awarded points based on it, I'd still like to know more details.
This was in the 'Knowledge' episode of Series K - this is known as the 'half-life of facts', and there's a bit of information about it on the QI website here (in the Stephen's Card section): [http://qi.com/series-k/episode-k07-knowledge/]
I realize I'm double-dipping, but in the Blackadder documentary Blackadder Rides Again Rowan says (in what's implied to be a car ride with you) that one of the initial goals in writing Blackadder was 'to not do anything that could in any sense be compared to Fawlty Towers or anything like it'. Do you think you succeeded, and how do you feel about Blackadder's comedic legacy to future generations?
It was in the middle of the third series that we suddenly had the alarming feeling that Blackadder is really just Fawlty Towers in tights. There are no new ideas in some ways, only new ways of doing the old ones.
- What do you think is the best moment in QI to this day?
- What is your favorite QI episode?
- What was the single, most interesting fact that either surprised, amused, or terrified you that you learned while doing research for the show?
When Stephen Fry and Rory McGrath argue about the Latin names for different types of cormorant, and Sean Lock gets dragged under the desk and claims to have discovered a portal to the underworld.
The unaired QI pilot, because after the edit it was obvious that we were doing something completely new and surprising - but which looked familiar and easy to watch. (The pilot is included on the Series A DVD for anyone interested.)
Kangaroos have three vaginas. Is that one fact or three?
Which late comedian would you liked to have had on QI?
Hi John. Thank you for your great work and the AMA.
What inspired you to create QI? Do you think you'll be able to continue all the way to season Z? Where do the elves stumble upon most their questions?
In my early 40s I had a midlife crisis where I couldn't see the point of anything anymore, so I set out quite deliberately to see if I could discover the meaning of life. I started with physics, about which I knew nothing at all, then maths (which you need to know about), and from there I discovered Pythagoras and hence philosophy. I read hundreds of books about absolutely everything and the more I read, the more I discovered that the interesting things don't seem to be taught at school.
As a television producer, I had the absurd idea that what interests me (because I am a rather ordinary person) would probably interest millions of other people. And that's QI. We write questions about things we have just found out that interest us.
Hi John, saw you recently at Wantage civic hall.
I do believe you're the first person to drop the c-bomb on stage in front of all the oldies. Very funny.
John as the direct result of your desert island discs show I read and loved Alan Watts' The Book. Have you got any other mind expanding book suggestions.
Much love, and have a very Merry Christmas.
The most embarrassing thing about Wantage was that Michael Portillo had been on earlier in the day, and told exactly the same anecdote as I did. Until this was explained to me later, I couldn't understand why some of the oldies in the front row seemed to be mouthing along to my words.
Very glad you liked the book - I think if you read, learn and inwardly digest it, you probably don't need to read another one.
Hi John, do you have a favourite branch of science?
Hi John! Absolutely love QI over here in Canada! I think I've read that you've taken QI over to Australia before. Would you ever consider bringing it to Canada? I think that would complete my life. :)
We are actually talking to a top Canadian producer at this very moment. QI is huge in Australia, probably even bigger than in Britain - although the authorities didn't think it would work there to begin with. I'm sure if it was given a chance in Canada it would be equally popular.
How is Rowan Atkinson to work with? Is he like the Edmund Blackadder in person?
Rowan and I have always had an exceptional working relationship, whether on Not The Nine O'Clock News, Blackadder, or the Barclaycard commercials. In fact I don't think we've ever had a cross word.
He's nothing like Blackadder in person, or Mr Bean for that matter. He's a very thoughtful, polite Geordie engineer and one of the reasons we get on so well is that we both make each other laugh so much.
What advice would you give to someone starting to produce?
A producer needs to know very little technically but above all you need to know what you like, and if what you like is what lots of other people like, then you are in with a chance. I think my main skill is knowing when other people are good, and when they are doing their best.
The most important thing is to try to make shows that you would like to watch. Your own honest opinion, believe it or not, is more accurate than any number of focus groups.
It's a common criticism of panel shows that they are very 'male heavy', with the number of female guests almost always in the minority. Is this a phenomenon you are consciously aware of when inviting panelists onto QI? Have you found that women are less inclined to appear on the show?
Dolcelatte, since you ask.
Will you be appearing as a panelist on any more episodes of QI?
That depends upon whether the producer Piers Fletcher asks me or not.
The show I'd really like to be on is Have I Got News For You. I was actually the host of the pilot, when it was called John Lloyd's Newsround. I didn't think I was very good, but I think I'm ready for it now...
Why has no one ever licensed QI for US tv? Rights issues? I would think, at the very least, BBCA would show it, if possible.
I believe someone associated with the show previously mentioned somewhere it's the rights to all the photos in the background which are the big minefield.
What's your favourite 'liff' definition? I remember one about the times when your pee-streem splits in two!
This one's from Afterliff, the sequel to the Meaning of Liff:
FACCOMBE (vb.) To decide against helping those less fortunate than yourself.
Hey JL! Spitting Image was one of my favourite shows as a kid, I couldn't differentiate between John Major The Grey and John Major the Puppet.
Do you think that Spitting Image would be as successful now?
Yes I think it would be just as successful now, question is, is there a television company in the country that has the guts to spend the money it needs to make it happen and then the resolve to back it up when the shit hits the fan.
HOw many people work on qi?
Elf here - this many
What is your favourite book?
The Oxford English Dictionary. I never tire of reading it.
When you heard that QI would move to BBC2 from BBC4, what was your reaction?
It was always on BBC2 from the beginning, but technically it premiered on BBC4 to give the new channel a boost and then repeated the following day on BBC2.
What is your favourite exhibit to have been brought to the Museum of Curiosity?
What made Douglas Adams laugh the most?
P. G. Wodehouse.
what's the future of British comedy? is the best behind us?
If British comedy is ever going to reach the heights it did in the past, something needs to be done about the commissioning system, and reduce the distance between creative people and their audience.
Hi huge fan of the show. Stephen Fry is clearly very, very intelligent. But how intelligent is he? How much help is he getting through his ear/on his screen during the recording?
Thanks in advanced!
I am ploughing through the Perennial Philosophy after your recommendation. Lordy! What a tough, deep, intractable and wonderfully rewarding book. Thank you for that.
And thank you for the invisible talk and black adder and all that other jibber jabber.
I met four people recently who said they had bought the book I had recommended on Desert Island Discs: Alan Watts' "The Book on The Taboo Against Being Who You Are." Two of them said they couldn't understand a single word of it, and the other two said it had saved their lives. Quite literally.
If you are ready for these things, they will speak to you. If you don't need them, that's cool too.
How do you choose the non-comedians who is to appear on QI?
We like nice people, open-minded people, comedians or otherwise. Virtually every intelligent person has a sense of humour, as we think is amply demonstrated on The Museum of Curiosity - which is QI's sister show on BBC Radio 4.
Why has Hugh Laurie not returned to QI since the first episode?
He has been a bit busy I gather.
Hi John. What do they say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is?
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