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"Hello, and welcome to The Unbelievable Truth. The best panel show on Radio 4. About truth and lies. That I host."—David Mitchell
The format comprises four panellists (generally stand-up comedians or comedy writers), each of whom will present a short lecture on a given subject, ranging from Isaac Newton to pigeons. Each lecture is a tissue of lies ranging from the plausible to the obviously absurd, save for five true pieces of information that the panellist should attempt to smuggle past their opponents (although it is very common for panellists to accidentally include additional truths). Another player may buzz in if they believe they have spotted a truth; if they're correct, they win a point, but if they get it wrong they lose a point. At the end of their lecture, the panellist wins points depending on how many truths they have managed to smuggle past their opponents.
This show contains examples of:
- Bait and Switch Comparison: David Mitchell introducing Balhamite Arthur Smith with "After losing a bet to Tony Hawks, Arthur stood naked in Balham High Road and sang the national anthem of the People's Republic of Moldova. An impoverished region, the regular scene of civil unrest, Balham is in South London near Clapham."
- Biting the Hand Humor: Inevitably for a Radio 4 comedy panel show, there are many digs at Radio 4 and its stereotypical audience.
[following a debate about the British tradition of eating lamb with mint sauce, which originated when Queen Elizabeth I decreed that lamb must be consumed with bitter herbs to discourage people from eating sheep instead of harvesting their wool]
David Mitchell: People don't like things because they're nice, people like things because they're used to them! That's the whole principle behind Radio 4!
- Blatant Lies: The whole point of the show.
- Crossover: Sort of; the 2010 New Year special had panelists Stephen Fry, Alan Davies, Rob Brydon and John Lloyd, and even included the "obvious answer" klaxon. Stephen Fry set it off twice when challenging Alan, much to everyone's satisfaction.
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Referenced by David in Series 9, Episode 2 following Tom Wrigglesworth's lecture on smoking:
David: The UN's World Health Organization quotes a 1994 report which says, "Teens who smoke are three times more likely than non-smokers to use alcohol, eight times more likely to use marijuana, and twenty-two times more likely to use cocaine." Basically, that 1994 report might as well have just said, "Smoking is cool."
- Germanic Depressives: Henning Wehn tends to play up the "Germans have no sense of humor" stereotype.
- He's Just Hiding: Invoked following Marcus Bridgstocke's lecture on the Queen:
"Wasn't that just when the Queen Mother was still alive?"
"She is still alive. She's just hiding."
"In a grave."
- Long List: A common way of smuggling truths past is to bury them in one of these (such as Charlie Brooker's spiel of items invented by Thomas Edison).
- Loophole Abuse: A common way of scoring points on the "accidental" truths panellists have included.
Tony Hawks: More people than you think have false teeth...
Graeme Garden: I think three people have false teeth.
- Namesake Gag:
- Neil Malarkey's lecture on barcodes claimed that they were invented by Baron Felix von Barcode, a contemporary of Michael Electricity and Sir William Shaving-Foam.
- Tony Hawks's lecture on tennis claimed that the first recorded tennis court official was Sir William Umpire, who oversaw a match at Wimbledon in 1906 from a perch atop Captain Percival High-Chair.
- Not Making This Up Disclaimer: After Rufus Hound explained he was going to deliver his lecture in the medium of rap:
David Mitchell: For the listeners at home... yes, this is really happening.
- Off the Rails: As frequently as possible.
(discussing the fact that the Queen's milk is still delivered in monogrammed milk bottles, which had just been correctly guessed)
David Mitchell: The Queen is quoted as saying that the first time she realised she was Queen was when she saw milk bottles from the Royal Dairy with "E2R" written on them. (beat) That was the first time she realised she was Queen. Carry on--
Shappi Khorsandi: What did she think the crown was for?
David: The crown, the shouting, the death of her father... there were so many other pointers!
Rhod Gilbert: To be fair, though, the coronation didn't happen while she was asleep!
David: Do you think they didn't tell her about the death of her father, just slipped the milk bottle onto her breakfast tray? That was the way they broke the news to her? She turned it round, E2R -- "Daddy!"
- The Points Mean Nothing: Often panellists will be awarded points for trivial reasons - in one episode Henning Wehn accidentally read out a true fact twice and points were awarded each time somebody buzzed on it, and David Mitchell once awarded a point to Catherine Tate when she asked because "it's getting late", although she had a strong lead and would have won regardless of his judgement. As well, the time limit for buzzing in on a truth is, as David has said, "completely arbitrary".
- Refuge in Audacity: Marcus Brigstocke and David Mitchell justifying repeatedly claiming Tom Cruise was gay because they were saying it for comedy purposes. At the end:
Marcus: He's a creepy scientologist, though!
- Running Gag: Henning Wehn starting his lectures by saying that Jesus was the inventor of his chosen subject.
- In Series 7, Episode 5, he opened a lecture on furniture by saying "If you believe Mel Gibson, and there is no reason not to, furniture as we know it today was invented by Jesus." For once, this turned out to be one of his five truths, a reference to a scene in The Passion of the Christ which features a table made by Jesus in a more modern fashion.
- Schmuck Bait: Tony Hawks spent one episode of Series 4 buzzing in on any fact related to America, on the grounds that he was a "sucker" for facts about America, and he was always incorrect; he kept on buzzing-in on any fact about America, with the encouragement of Mitchell and the panel. On the final fact (that in Atlanta, it is illegal to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole), he refused to buzz in...
Tony: I'm not going for that!
Phill Jupitus: (buzz) I reckon that's true.
David Mitchell: Yeah, you're right, Phill!
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Tony Hawks following the above incident, although he returned before long.
- Arthur Smith also walked out in the last episode of series 7 after David Mitchell repeatedly refused to give him a point for spotting a fact too late.
- Spin-Off: The show is based on a game played on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (on which the show's co-creator and frequent panellist Graeme Garden is a regular) called Lies, All Lies (where the panellists had to give an improvised lecture on a given subject that was entirely false, and the other panellists had to buzz in if they accidentally said a truth).
- Sure Why Not: Scoring points from "accidental" truths and guessing in advance that the next thing somebody says is true are not official rules, but have been adopted over the years.
- The Tyson Zone: Rhod Gilbert, on the subject of soup, got as far as "Britney Spears once..." before Arthur Smith challenged, on the grounds that he would believe absolutely anything following that phrase. (He was wrong.)
- Trust Me, I'm an X: In a 2012 episode, Arthur Smith had the subject of Barbie, and made the claim that, if Barbie was a real person, she'd only have room in her body for half a liver and a few centimeters of intestine, and would therefore suffer from chronic diarrhea. Graeme Garden buzzed in, paused for a few moments, then said, in his most serious tone of voice, "As a medical man..."
- In another episode, Clive Anderson insisted that some people thought Jack The Ripper was a bicyclist, saying that some of his old colleagues used to say it, naming this trope outright with "Trust me, I'm a lawyer!"
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Panelists will occasionally play this for laughs by buzzing-in on a lecture and saying "Deviation!" (Or, on at least one occasion, "Repetition!")
- Xanatos Gambit / Kansas City Shuffle: Frequently appear as panellists attempt to decide what level of bluff is being run.
David Mitchell: I've lost count of the number of bluffs!
- ↑ Graeme studied to become a doctor, but got sidetracked by showbiz.