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Meet the elves working behind the scenes at one of Britain’s national treasures, ‘QI’

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In case you weren't aware, the research team behind the hit BBC quiz show QI (known lovingly as the “QI elves”) have their own podcast - and it's full of as much fact-filled hilarity as the series they work on.

For every episode of the podcast, called No Such Thing as a Fish, each elf brings along the most fascinating fact they’ve found that week. The next 40 minutes are always a joy to witness, full of fact-based humour and banter to fill your morning commute. With topics varying from the perfect aesthetic shape of an egg to the type of chair Margaret Thatcher sat upon in 10 Downing street, you’re sure to find something quite interesting to wow your friends with.

In addition to recording podcast episodes each week, the No Such Thing As A Fish crew are currently touring with their live show and are releasing a book, humbly titled ‘The Book of the Year’, which comes out on November 2nd.

I chatted with Andrew Hunter Murray and Anna Ptaszynski to find out more about their process.

Did you ever expect that working as researchers for a TV show could lead to being well known in your own right?

Anna: No, it's not what you have in mind when you apply for a research job. It happened entirely by accident, and without any of us really noticing. Although I think it's more that the podcast is well known (within a pretty niche group) rather than us as individuals, which suits us. We really just want to make our favourite weird facts famous; without them, we have very little to offer that would interest the public - except Dan, who does a strong line in dubious Yeti theories.

Andrew: I, on the other hand, have dreamed of this from the cradle, and have been plotting it ever since then.

 

What is the best opportunity you've been given due to the podcast?

Anna: I got to face the famously relentless, adversarial questioning of John Humphries on the Today Programme. Although in this instance he basically just asked me to tell him an interesting fact and then moved swiftly on. Still, it's the stuff of dreams.

Andrew: We got to do a live show in a massive model of an atom in Brussels, to an audience of not-completely-English-speakers, which was very weird and great fun, even if I had been billed as ‘Andy Murray’ and I think there were some disappointed tennis fans in the crowd.

 

Who would you most like to have on as a guest?

Anna: If it doesn't have to be a living person, it's got to be Benjamin Franklin. He almost founded a swimming school on the banks of the Thames but ended up founding America instead; and as well as making some of the most important discoveries and inventions in history, he also came up with a contraption for locking the bedroom door while remaining in bed, and went by the pseudonym Celia Shortface. He was clearly a lot of fun. And for a living person, I'd say Barack Obama, once he's done attending everyone else's fantasy dinner parties.

Andrew: Of the dead, I’d say Mad Jack Mytton, an eccentric 18th-century nobleman who once set himself on fire to cure his hiccups. Of the living, it’s absolutely got to be Sting.

 

Which areas of life do you find contain the most interesting facts?

Anna: Sorry to be non-committal, but: all of them! I have a soft spots for eccentric historical characters, and the ingenuity of birds and plants. But genuinely the interestingness is everywhere.

Andrew: While the interestingness is technically everywhere, I have a very soft spot for leeches, which are the most gross and amazing animals ever. Case in point: the world’s largest leech, the Amazon Giant, is 18 inches long and feeds via a hypodermic tube.

 

What steps did you take in your careers to end up where you are now? (And do you have any advice for young people looking to follow your example?)

Anna: I didn't follow the set career path I'd expected to, I experimented with various things. So my advice would be not to decide what you think you want to do and never stray from that route. Instead, apply for anything that sounds interesting, and say yes to every opportunity (within reason) that comes up.

Andrew: Anna’s aced this one. Can’t improve on it a bit.

 

What's your favourite fact from the new book?

Anna: The King of the Netherlands has been secretly moonlighting as an airline pilot. He only ever pilots short haul flights so that he can return home quickly if he's suddenly needed as king.

Andrew: Mine is that 160 people in a Spanish restaurant avoided paying the bill by all dancing the conga in a huge line until they were all out.

 

No Such Thing As A Fish is on tour. Visit http://www.mickperrin.com/tours/thing-fish-2017/ for more information and tickets. 'The Book of the Year' can be pre-ordered from Amazon or your local bookshop.

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