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"How QI was created" - an account by John Lloyd and Alan Davies of the original concept of "Smartarses v Dunderheads".
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“How QI was created” – an account by John Lloyd and Alan Davies of the original concept of “Smartarses v Dunderheads”.

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John Lloyd, the TV show ” creator and founding producer,

In 1978, Douglas Adams approached me for assistance in completing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio show while I was in the midst of writing my own science-fiction novel. However, fifteen years later at the age of 42, on Christmas Eve, I found myself completely lost and unsure of what direction to take in life. Despite receiving two lifetime awards, getting married, and having a child, I felt adrift and unfulfilled. My days were filled with directing commercials, traveling, and indulging in philosophical readings in the evenings. As I traveled to various places like Moscow, Arizona, and the Australian outback, I continued to read and found myself questioning the teachings of my schooling.

In 1999, I made the decision to complete my novel. As I sat at the kitchen table to begin writing, I was struck with an idea: QI, which stands for Quite Interesting and is the opposite of IQ. This concept revealed to me that everything in the universe, without exception, can be seen as interesting from a certain perspective. It was like a moment of enlightenment akin to a religious experience. I spent the morning eagerly jotting down all the possibilities of what QI could encompass: radio, TV, educational videos, intriguing stores, a GCSE course, a university chair, and even The Royal Quite Interesting Society. I was so enthralled by this idea that I feared someone would steal it, so I kept it to myself for two years. Eventually, I shared it with Alan Davies, who loved it.

The initial layout featured The Smartarses, which included individuals from prestigious universities such as Stephen Fry, John Sessions, and Clive Anderson, in competition against The Dunderheads, consisting of less esteemed individuals like Alan Davies, Sean Lock, and Lee Mack, with the neutral Michael Palin as the host. After being rejected by Palin, I convinced Stephen to take on the role instead. We produced a low-budget pilot in a plain studio decorated with QI logos. I believed it was the best pilot I had ever created, but when it was approved, many questioned the concept of earning points for being intriguing. We faced difficulties in securing guests.

Following the initial episode, my spouse remarked, “This is the most peculiar program I have ever watched.” I responded, “Are you referring to the oddest comedy show?” She clarified, “No, the most unusual show in general.” Currently, her preferred piece of information is that elephants are 22 million times larger than bees. That is the essence of QI – highlighting the remarkable aspects of our everyday world. Even a basic fact about elephants and bees can reveal our lack of attention towards our surroundings.

Alan Davies, panellist

I crossed paths with John Lloyd while working on commercials for Abbey National. By the end, the bank had been rebranded to Santander, suggesting that things didn’t go as smoothly as intended. John and I clicked and during a break in filming, he shared his concept for a panel show where being entertaining was more important than being correct. I agreed with the concept because, from my own observations, panel shows are most enjoyable when the discussion veers off course. He then invited me to participate in the pilot episode.

Stephen Fry was a coveted choice to host, as he was not heavily involved in television at the time. On the opposing team, Eddie Izzard was set to be a team captain alongside Bill Bailey and Kit Hesketh-Harvey from the duo Kit and the Widow.

Alan Davies.

John wrote the script and all the questions. The points were flying – Stephen gave out loads. After the pilot, I said: “If you get something wrong, there should a penalty.” So we cooked up the idea of the klaxon, which turned out to be the worst idea of my life as I’ve had more klaxons than hot dinners.

I was filled with excitement when the BBC approved the first series. John inquired about my regular participation, but not as a captain – just to sit next to Stephen as his mischievous sidekick. It took me a long time to understand that if you can’t identify the scapegoat in the room, it’s probably you. Around series D, I finally realized, “Wait a minute, I’m the one being foolish here.”

The show has an incredible staying power and has not lost its popularity. There were concerns when Stephen left after series M, but Sandi [Toksvig] seamlessly took over. We are currently on series U and I am anticipating someone to say “enough”. By the time we reach Z, I will be 62 years old. John has mentioned that after Z, we will move on to numbers. I don’t think he’s kidding.

I have not retained any knowledge. I cannot recall any of it. The only piece that sticks with me is the one about Vikings bringing ravens on their ships. If the bird spotted land, it would fly away. If not, it would return to the boat since it cannot land on water. This is my favorite fact.

Source: theguardian.com