Who are the QI Elves? They’re in the great pantheon of TV characters you hear about, but never see – like the wives of Arthur Daley, Norm Peterson and Niles Crane. As a long-time QI fan, whenever these enigmatic “Elves” were referred to on the programme, I would ask (like Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, watching the cloaked horse-riders on the horizon): “Who are those guys?”
That’s why I’m so excited that the Elves have broken cover, bringing a team to compete in Only Connect’s first series for BBC2.
The first time I appeared on QI, I mentioned during the recording that I’d had an anxiety dream in which I was asked, “Why was the March Hare important to the Aztecs?” Somewhere, from a distant production gallery, an invisible Elf whispered to Stephen Fry that the Aztecs worshipped giant rabbit deities. I’d never heard that before. It was a totally random dream. Like Paul Newman, repeating to himself frustratedly as the horsemen ride onwards, my brain screamed, “Really, who are those guys?”
After all, Stephen Fry is probably the cleverest person on television. Can you imagine being his fact-supplier? It’s like being Frank Sinatra’s vocal coach.
There’s a lot of crossover between the viewers of Only Connect and QI. These are shows for people who are interested in everything from clouds to submarines, from Mozart to Mary Berry. The biggest link between our audiences is not their ability to answer questions (since even the cleverest people can struggle with quizzes against the clock), but their intellectual curiosity.
Having suffered anxiety dreams before doing QI, I know the Elves were nervous about OC. If people already think you’re smart, it feels as if you can only prove them wrong. I salute their bravery for giving it a go and we’ll see how they do over the series. But I don’t think it’s revealing too much to say that, in the episodes recorded so far, they have demonstrated the dazzling range of knowledge I would have expected from people who can tell you about Aztecs and rabbits at a moment’s notice.
Quite apart from that, they are utterly charming. Really quite remarkable social skills for creatures who live in a cave.
Only Connect is on BBC2 tonight at 8:30pm