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The panel from a Series 11 recording. Left to right: Richard Osman, David Mitchell, John Finnemore, Lucy Beaumont, Rhod Gilbert.

"Hello, and welcome to The Unbelievable Truth. The best panel show on Radio 4. About truth and lies. That I host."
David Mitchell

BBC Radio 4 Panel Game based around truth and lies, hosted by David Mitchell. Its pilot episode was made in 2006 and the first series broadcast in 2007. Two series each of six episodes are made in a year with Series 26 airing in the early autumn of 2021.

The format comprises four panellists,note  generally stand-up comedians or comedy writers; there are no permanent panellists, but some of the more frequent ones include Susan Calman, John Finnemore, Graeme Gardennote , Tony Hawks, Lloyd Langford, Richard Osman, Lucy Porter, Arthur Smith, Holly Walsh and Henning Wehn.

Each of the guests 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 opponentsnote . 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:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Lou's lecture on Channel (the perfume makers) starts with her pronouncing it as "channel" several times until a confused David buzzes in. She apparently hadn't noticed.
  • Actor Allusion: In Graeme Garden's lecture on Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous story that Doyle's teacher Dr Bell was the model for Doyle's most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, is misrepresented as a claim that Doyle's teacher Dr House was the model for his most famous creation, Bertie Wooster.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Holly Walsh's lecture on ducks begins with "all ducks are evil bastards".
  • Ambiguous Syntax: When David mentions that kangaroos and polar bears are often seen kissing, Alan Davies chimes in that this is an odd thing given kangaroos and polar bears live on separate continents, and it's a long way to travel for a snog.
  • Author Appeal: Examples of panellists giving lectures on their own areas of expertise include Sandi Toksvig on Denmark, Tony Hawks on tennis and pianos, Clive Anderson on baldness and prisons, Johnny Vaughan on football, Adam Hills on kangaroos, Catherine Tate on the colour red, Armando Iannucci on Joseph Stalin, Charlie Brooker on television, Charlie Higson on James Bond, Katherine Ryan on Canada, Lloyd Langford on Wales, Ed Byrne on Ireland, Henning Wehn on Germany (twice), David O'Doherty on bicycles, Richard Osman on chocolate, Luisa Omielan on Beyoncé, Frankie Boyle on Scotland (and later Glasgow), Sally Phillips on Finland and Ria Linanote  on germs.
  • Awful Wedded Life: David and Victoria Coren Mitchell are Happily Married in real life, but David does sometimes play this trope for laughs, especially if Victoria is also on the panel.
    David: First up is Victoria Coren Mitchell. Victoria regularly stays out until six in the morning, smoking, drinking, and gambling. Could there be something about her home life that drives her to this? No, there couldn't.
    • On another occasion, the panellist began by stating that marriage was a wonderful institution. Victoria promptly buzzed in to say that was true, and if David disagreed they would be having words later. Though it wasn't one of the pre-planned truths, she was awarded a point.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: In series 22, episode 6, David and Henning say there are words they can't say on Radio 4. Henning claims he was going to say "Brexit". David informs him he can't say that either.
  • 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."
    • In series 4 episode 6, Graeme Garden is introduced with, "Graeme was one of the original writers on the hit ITV sitcom, Doctor in the House, which featured the exploits of trainee doctors. It seems incredible, doesn't it, a hit ITV sitcom."
    • David talks about how the Duchess Richmond having a parrot buried in Westminster Abbey: "Reputedly the oldest stuffed bird in existence, she was married to the Duke of Richmond."
    • Once, when David introduces Tony Hawks, he mentions that Tony is often mistaken with Tony Hawk, though one wears a helmet at work while the other is a world skateboard champion.
    • And in series 9 episode 5, David introduces John Finnemore with, "You may recognize John's voice from the hit Radio 4 comedy Cabin Pressure, in which he plays airline steward Arthur Shappey. A nervy, unreliable, but ultimately loveable idiot, John also writes the show."
    • In season 10 episode 5, David mentions that Simon Cowell's favourite dessert is butterscotch angel delight. "Utterly artificial, devoid of goodness and liable to make you sick, Simon Cowell lives in Los Angeles."
    • Graeme Garden's lecture on gardens in Series 14, Episode 6 included a poke at QI and its presenter, Stephen Fry:
      Graeme: As fans of Stephen Fry's light-hearted TV quiz QI will know, Europe's largest producer of bananas is Iceland. Fed by subterranean rumblings and emitting blasts of hot air, Stephen has hosted the show since 2001.note 
    • In season 11 episode 1, David wrapped up Graeme's lecture on Jeremy Clarkson by saying "Jeremy Clarkson was a passenger on the last ever flight taken by Concorde. Initially seen as superfast and cutting edge, but now just a noisy relic of the seventies, Jeremy Clarkson sat in row K."
    • In Series 24, Episode 6, David introduced Lucy Porter with "During lockdown, Lucy took part in an alternative Eurovision Song Contest, representing San Marino. Tiny and often ignored, Lucy's a very successful comedian."
  • Beggar with a Signboard: In Henning's lecture on beer, he claims that at one point Winston Churchill was reduced to sitting on the pavement with a sign saying "Will create a coalition government for money".
  • Berserk Button: While it's definitely a mild example, David is always exasperated by pedantry related to food categories, in the "tomatoes are actually fruit" vein. When Richard Osman has a lecture on nuts which leans heavily on "a peanut is a nut" fake facts, he warns David that he's really not going to like it. Sure enough, every time David has to say that something we all call a nut isn't a nut (because Holly Walsh challenges every time) he becomes increasingly irritated by the whole thing.
    • Similarly, he gets frustrated about animal classification as well, lashing out at scientists for classifying Panda Bears as members of the raccoon family.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Sarah Millican's series 15 joke about Adolf Hitler monogramming handkerchiefs for toilet use with an A and nose blowing with an N works in English (Arse/Nose) and German (Arsch/Nase).
  • Bioluminescence Is Cool: One episode gets slightly derailed by a conversation about making glow in the dark rabbits, followed by glow in the dark foxes, and glow in the dark tories...
  • 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, but it can escalate to hilariously absurd levels. Henning Wehn's statement "Britain is the envy of Europe in traffic management infrastructure" was so unbelievable that it earned a laugh from the audience and entire panel.
    • David's introduction for John Finnemore
    David: John has written for That Mitchell and Webb Look, David Mitchell's Soapbox, That Mitchell and Webb Sound, and for David Mitchell on Ten O'clock Live. Beat. Never heard of him.
  • Breaking Old Trends: Series 25 episodes 3 and 6 featured three comedy couples — Sarah Millican and Gary Delaney; Marcus Brigstocke and Rachel Parris; and Justin Edwards and Lucy Porter — instead of the usual four contestants. The couples played as teams, and they gave joint lectures.
  • Brick Joke:
    • In Series 3, episode 3, first speaker Graeme Garden ended his speech on China with "The great wall of China is the only landmark on Earth where you can see the Moon", and last speaker Clive Anderson ended his speech on The Moon with "the proof that we've been to the moon is that three golf balls left behind are visible on the surface, which can only be seen from the Great Wall of China".
    • In the first of his two series 13 recordings, Lloyd Langford's subject is Whales, which David Mitchell differentiates from the phonetically identical Wales in his introduction. In the second recording his subject is Wales, with David giving the same introduction from the first recording with the definitions of Whales and Wales reversed.
    • In David O'Doherty's lecture on bicycles, he states scientists don't study them too hard in case it "would make the magic go nay-nay". Later on, while talking about the Tour de France and how someone apparently tried to disguise a horse as a bicycle, Richard Osman quips "they literally made the magic go neigh-neigh".
    • Similarly, David claims that scientists simply believed bikes were sorcery. When David Mitchell compares bikes momentum to how a plate can roll on its side, Richard chimes in with how that literally is "saucery".
    • A series 17 episode has an explanation on the side-effects of Viagra including, among other things, temporary colour-blindness. Later on in the episode, during Zoe Lyons' lecture, she's buzzed in and David mistakenly calls Zoe as a challenger, leading Richard Osman to ask if he's gone and taken some Viagra.
    • During one of his lectures, Henning gets buzzed by Sally Phillips not because she's spotted a truth, she just claims that she can't understand him with his accent. As revenge, during her lecture, guess what Henning does first chance he gets.
    • Holly Walsh gets tetchy at David repeating a list she'd given, saying this allows the challengers to change their minds, which David gets tetchy back at her. Later on in the episode, he starts reciting another list, but stops to ask Holly if it's okay for him to do so.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Henning attempts a Geordie accent when David claims, after a comment from Lou Sanders, that he's just putting on the German accent because his natural Geordie accent is more incomprehensible (Henning really is German).
  • Buffy Speak:
    • Henning refers to car air fresheners as "Hanging lemony-scented smelly Christmas tree thingies".
    • David calls the Clock Tower housing Big Ben "the tower with the clock in that makes the bongy noise".
    • After three failed attempts to say "squirrel", Henning just gives up and calls them "them things".
  • Call-Back: In Series 24, episode 5, David gets set off on a rant about fruit classification, much to the concern of Lou Sanders. He compares it to the nut rant from series 21.
  • Captain Obvious: Graeme Garden once used the story of Isaac Newton seeing an apple falling out of a tree as one of his five facts. When it was immediately buzzed on, he clarified it was a "pathetic attempt at a double-bluff".
  • Catchphrase: David Mitchell frequently reveals the winner using the phrase "in first place with an unassailable [X] points...". Averted in one series 6 episode where David jokingly promised Chris Addison that he would be awarded an extra point if a made-up fact he buzzed on became true between recording and transmission, only for Chris to end up one point behind the episode's winner; on that occasion, the winner was described as having won "a very much assailable" 5 points.
  • Cheating with the Milkman: Referenced in Rhod Gilbert's lecture on milk, in which he claims that milkmen have fathered more children than any other profession.
  • Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: When one lecture claims a dog caused a fifteen day war involving France, Henning (who is German) quips that it can't have really happened because the French would've surrendered long before that.
  • The Chosen Many: Holly Walsh's lecture on Delia Smith claims she is not one person, but a lineage of Delias, born unto every generation and trained in the art of cooking.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Henning's lecture on windows has him state Joseph had some of these behind the stables in Bethlehem, what with the whole "virgin wife about to give birth in a stable" business.
  • Christmas Episode: There have been two standalone Christmas episodes in 2008 and 2009, plus one broadcast as part of the regular series in 2011. The episode broadcast on 24 December 2018 had David Mitchell acknowledge it happened to be going out on Christmas Eve in his opening monologue, but nothing else in the episode mentioned it.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Henning and Susan Calman especially. Susan at one point buzzes out of paranoid fear because no-one else has buzzed, and in another is confused by the rules, which David explains at the beginning of every episode.
  • Collective Groan:
    • Greeting Jeremy Hardy's line on the subject of the clergy:
      Jeremy Hardy: Most clerics have had to find lucrative side lines to make ends meet. [...] In early Christian Rome, clergy would make extra cash by leaving little baskets of dried flowers in lavatories, a practice known as 'popery'.
      Audience: (groan)
      Jeremy: Oh, shut up.
    • Also some of Ed Byrne's puns, see below.
  • Confusing Multiple Negatives: Occasionally used as a multiple-bluff.
    John Finnemore: It is a myth that it is a myth that crocodiles cry crocodile tears, so it would be wrong to say that they don't.
  • Crossover: Sort of; the 2010 New Year special had panellists Stephen Fry, Alan Davies, Rob Brydon and John Lloyd, began with a subversion of QI's buzzer gag, and even included the "obvious answer" klaxon. Stephen Fry set it off twice when challenging Alan, much to everyone's satisfaction.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: How the guests are usually introduced, often combined with Bait-and-Switch Comparison.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Referenced In-Universe 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."
  • Don't Explain the Joke: In a fourth series episode, during a round about sausages, Henning Wehn talks about the sausage tree, found in tropical Africa. Then:
    David Mitchell: Yes, it's... it's... Because of its suggestive shape, it's often been used as an aphrodisiac. [Beat] Um, saying sausages are like penises.
    Fi Glover: Thanks for the explanation. Don't know if you got it.
  • Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend: Parodied when Victoria Coren Mitchell appeared in Series 12 shortly after her marriage to David, and David assured listeners he would "be giving her no preferential treatment at any stage of her victory." When she fell for several lies, she claimed that David had told her she should appear on a panel with Henning Wehn, as he never wins.note 
  • Epic Fail: In one Series 23 episode, Henning Wehn not only failed to smuggle any of his given truths past, he also included three accidental truths, one of which was not even part of his lecture but just a comment he happened to make in passing. He ended the show on minus 9 points.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: On the Australian version, Shane Jacobson was giving a lecture on Vikings when Sam Simmons claimed that he's always thought Vikings were mythical.
  • Everyone Has Standards: A discussion on Frankie Boyle deciding not to comment on David Bowie's death has the other panellists speculate whether he's just started to develop a filter.
  • Exact Words: A common way of scoring points on the "accidental" truths panellists have included.
    • Graeme Garden is a particular fan of this approach:
      Tony Hawks: More people than you think have false teeth...
      Graeme Garden: I think three people have false teeth.
    • As is Alex Horne:
      Alex Horne: Is it too late to say that Martha and Myrtle were the inspiration for M&Ms? The names.
      David Mitchell: It isn't too late to say that, and it is incorrect.
      Alex Horne: Yeah. No. I was just wondering if it was too late to say it or not.
      David: "Live by pedantry, die by pedantry. That's my motto."
  • Feghoot: Panellists frequently end a false statement with one (they're a good way to work in a detailed and thus plausible-sounding anecdote, but still keep it funny).
    • For example, this from Ed Byrne on the subject of bees:
      Ed Byrne: So great is the heat generated by bees that the Romans used to encourage bees to build hives in the walls of their homes, forming a rudimentary form of central heating. The practice is remembered today when someone walks into a room with the heating turned up too high and remarks, "Swarm in here."
      (audience groans)
      Ed Byrne: Thank you, thank you.
    • Graeme Garden managed to sneak in a truth by disguising it as the punchline to one of these, with a story about Florence Nightingale working as a caterer and trying to accurately calculate how many pastries she would need to feed the troops, and thereby inventing the pie chart.
  • Felony Misdemeanour: Miles Jupp loses a thousand points for buzzing in on a lecture about men and being wrong, after Frankie Boyle notes that a man not losing a point in a lecture about men when he's wrong clearly sends the wrong message. Or as David Mitchell puts it, "for being such a monster".
  • Fictional Holiday: When recounting the old tradition of killing chickens on Pancake Tuesday, David Mitchell brings up how people also used to eat pancakes on Smash a Chicken to Death Day.
  • Foreign Remake: An Australian version of The Unbelievable Truth, developed by The Chaser, which was much the same except with Australian comedians, and on television. (Australia does not have Britain's long tradition of radio panel games, but has had several successful TV panel games, such as Spicks and Specks. But not The Unbelievable Truth, which only lasted 10 episodes.) Series co-creator and regular panellist Graeme Garden appeared in the second episode and won by a large margin, with the host pointing out that it would have been quite embarrassing if he hadn't.
  • Freakier Than Fiction: The easiest facts to slip through are, naturally, the ones that any sane person would think was made up.
  • Friendly Rivalry: With QI. As both shows trade in little-known, counter-intuitive facts and thus are vulnerable to getting them wrong, they have each taken delight in pouncing on mistakes made by the other. Stephen Fry seems to delight in making the point during David's QI appearances of flagging up mistakes. David has started to respond with gleeful vitriol, making QI mistakes obvious if the same subject comes up on The Unbelievable Truth.
  • Game-Breaker:
    • Parodied in-universe in the last episode of Series 21. Henning Wehn goes first, manages to get a large number of truths past everyone else, and then realises that a great tactic to ensure victory is to simply not say anything else for the rest of the episode.
      David: And in first place with an unassailable 4 points, it's the winner of the last ever episode of The Unbelievable Truth, Henning Wehn!
    • Henning does it again in Series 28, Episode 2, with David announcing he's won with "an unassailable but format-ruining two points".
  • Germanic Depressives: Henning Wehn tends to play up the "Germans have no sense of humor" stereotype.
  • Godwin's Law: In series 28, episode 1, during Tony Hawk's lecture on candles, discussing turns to rhubarb and gooseberries. David compares the two items to Stalin and Hitler, respectively, prompting much snarking at him.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: In Series 12, Episode 6, Graeme Garden's lecture on beetles includes the fact that certain sweets are coated with the anal secretions of the lack beetle. Jeremy Hardy buzzes in and says he's going for "the beetles' arse juice sweeties", adding that they're an indie band he saw recently.
  • Grammar Nazi: In Episode 5 of Series 8, David Mitchell says "would never've" and Mark Watson corrects/clarifies with "would never have".
    David Mitchell: Did I s-... If you're accusing me of saying "would of", that's a duelling issue!
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • Invoked and discussed In-Universe on one of Graeme Garden's appearances, mentioning an episode of The Goodies that features Rolf Harris in captivity.
    • David Mitchell even jokes the whole show has become this at the beginning of one episode, thanks to the rise in populist governments in more recent years.
      David Mitchell: Lying used to be fun. Now it's become deeply dark and totalitarian.
  • Heh Heh, You Said "X":
    • David Mitchell does this to himself when describing how Viagra effects the rods in the eyes, only to start chortling about it.
    • And again when talking about how vampire finches feed on boobies (as in the bird), he chortles again, before admitting it's childish. Doesn't stop him corpsing when he tries to keep going.
  • He's Just Hiding: Invoked following Marcus Brigstocke's lecture on the Queen:
    [on learning the Queen takes a black outfit with her wherever she goes in case she needs to mourn a deceased family member]
    Frankie Boyle: Wasn't that just while the Queen Mother was still alive?
    Neil Mullarkey: She is still alive. She's just hiding.
    David Mitchell: In a grave.
  • House Rules: Over many series, David has established precedent in his rulings regarding various uncommon strategies, and there are two "unofficial" rules: panellists are allowed to declare that the next statement will be true before it's given (which David warns tends not to pay off),note  and that panellists can win points from truths that were accidentally included by the speaker in addition to the five they're meant to smuggle.
  • Hurricane of Puns:
    • In series 8 episode 2, Mark Watson buys Ed Byrne's statement about bees having a universal language.
    Ed Byrne: My favorite fact was the fact that bees internationally don't quite understand each other.
    Mark Watson: I could see that from the evil gleam in your eye.
    Ed Byrne: You fell into my honey trap.
    Mark Watson: I wish I hadn't buzzed.
    Ed Byrne: You've been stung by me.
    • Henning finished off his lecture on windows with many painful ones.
    Henning: Well, that's enough about windows. I hope I was clear, it wasn't too much of a pane, and you haven't glazed over. Glass dismissed!
  • Hypocritical Humour:
    • During Milton Jones' lecture on golf, Chris McCausland jokes that women weren't allowed to join St Andrews golf club until 2014 because they were such bad drivers. Lou Sanders points out that Chris, who is blind, isn't a great driver himself.
    • David introduces Susan Calman by saying she'd been recognized as a person of the year, and dismisses this as not important, before faux-haughtily mentioning his BAFTA.
  • I Am Not Shazam: invokedDiscussed regarding Big Ben (often mistaken to be the name of the Clock Tower, rather than just its bell). On a discussion about hearing it on the hour on the radio before hearing the bell itself, due to radio waves travelling faster than sound:
    David Mitchell: You're standing at the bottom of Big Be- you know what I mean by "Big Ben" and everyone will write in saying it's not called "Big Ben" - the tower with the clock in that makes the bongy noise.
  • Inherently Funny Words: One of Henning's lectures is about squirrels. A word which, thanks to his accent, Henning has some difficulty with. He gamely tries anyway.
  • Insubstantial Ingredients: When it turns out cows can feel shame, the panellists ask whether this adds anything to a steak.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Henning Wehn once buzzed in on a statement, insisting it was true, and continued to insist it was even after David had said it wasn't. Then when David started saying what was actually true, he insisted that wasn't true.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: Henning once claimed he has no difficulty saying "squirrel". Which comes out as "sqvirrel."
  • Japanese Ranguage: In Lee Mack's lecture on fleas, he claimed that in China fleas are very expensive, except when they are on special offer: Buy One, Get One Flea.
  • 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!
    • After appearing in the show a few times, in a series 8 episode Tony Hawks is able to double bluff the other panellists by saying "fingers on buzzers" before giving a true statement.
  • Lame Pun Reaction: The results of the panellists' puns often make everyone else groan, although sometimes they quietly chuckle.
  • Little Known Facts: Because of the game's objective, all lies are read as true facts, even the most absurd.
  • 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). Panelists are getting savvier about this, as David put it in series 9 "It's a list. We all know how this goes, everybody pick something." (This was indeed followed by all three of the other panellists guessing which one was true and David announcing who was right.) And panelists are now getting savvy about that, with Richard Osman in particular having realised that a great way to prompt incorrect challenges is to have a list with no truths in it.
  • Loophole Abuse / Rule of Funny: In general, the "accidental" truths that panellists score points on tend to be very trivial things rather than actual facts, such as Phill Jupitus getting buzzed for opening his lecture on Vikings with the sentence "There have been many great civilisations in history."
    • In Series 15 episode 3, Henning Wehn mentions in passing that Ernest Hemingway was afraid of telephones, when it's not even his lecture. Lloyd Langford buzzes and is duly awarded a point.
  • Namesake Gag:
    • Neil Mullarkey'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' 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.
    • Graeme Garden's lecture on telephones claimed that Alexander Graham Bell was most famous for his namesake invention, the bell.
    • Tony Hawks' lecture on toast claimed it was invented by Jeff Toast.
    • Chris Addison's lecture on Henry Ford claimed he was most famous for his namesake invention: the Henry Hoover.
    • Bill Gates naming the BeeGees goes unbuzzed. It is true... just that it's not that Bill Gates.
  • National Stereotypes: In John Finnemore's lecture on police, he claims Germany's favourite police show is a buddy-cop show where one cop is a By-the-Book Cop and his partner... is also a By the Book Cop. The crimes are solved in the first five minutes of the show and the rest is simply them filing the proper paperwork.
    Henning: As it should be!
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: After Rufus Hound explained he was going to deliver his lecture in the medium of rap:
    David Mitchell: For those listening at home... yes, this is really happening.
  • N-Word Privileges: Neal Delamere states that as an Irishman, he can get away with making jokes about Irish political figures counting down.
  • 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!"
  • Only in America: "American Loony Laws" are always a popular kind of fact, as telling the difference between the real ones and the made-up ones is practically impossible.
    "Regular listeners will know that the silly and unenforceable laws of various states of America have been a boon to this programme."
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: Aside from the quotation on top of the page, David Mitchell has also introduced the programme with, "It's the show with more lying than any other show. That I work on. Apart from Would I Lie to You?. And The Bubble."
  • Overly Preprepared Gag: Henning Wehn claims that instead of "vroom vroom", the German onomatopoeia for the sound car engines make is "ya ya ya ya". When John Finnemore buzzes and asks if they really say "ya-ya-ya-ya-ya", Henning answers, "Nein-nein-nein-nein-nein".
  • Patriotic Fervor: Frankie Boyle claims that during WW2, the Queen Mother's hat served as a hidden transmitter broadcasting secrets to the Germans. Miles Jupp buzzes in to claim this must be true even thought it blatantly isn't. David says even if it was, he would never accept it.
  • 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" (although he will generally not give someone the point if they buzz in a long time after the fact), and he once gave someone the point because he forgot what part of the sentence they claimed was true.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure:
    • When a discussion about the Flintstones and Barney the Dinosaur comes up, David doesn't know what Barney is.
    • In series 26, episode 5, Ria Lina buzzes successfully on a fact about mushrooms, citing knowledge from watching Star Trek: Discovery. David Mitchell has no idea what she's talking about.
  • Pretentious Pronunciation: Thanks to Henning having difficulty pronouncing "Flintstones" (he says it "Flint-stuns") in series 19 episode 3, everyone else jokes that it sounds like a tremendously posh version of the family. The joke continues with asking whether Barney Rubble's name would therefore be "Rue-bleh".
  • Rage Quit:
    • Tony Hawks following the incident detailed under Schmuck Bait, although he returned before long.
    • Arthur Smith 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. Had he remained, he would have learned that he had won the episode anyway.
    • Susan Calman tries doing this at one point. She doesn't last very long.
  • Raised by Wolves: Winston Churchill, according to Henning Wehn.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: On Henning Wehn's first appearance, he got through an entire page of his lecture without anyone challenging, then said "page two", which Clive Anderson promptly buzzed and got a point for, as it was true he had just turned onto a new page (and also because David was trying to encourage more challenges). Henning later remarked "Anyone in need of a point?" before remarking "page three".
  • Refuge in Audacity: Occasionally employed as a tactic.
    • Rufus Hound's lecture/rap on Presents doesn't actually contain any direct lies, relying instead on the flashily rapped presentation to distract the panelists from buzzing. He manages to smuggle two of his truths this way.
    • Also, to a lesser extent, in Clive Anderson's lecture on Money he puts all five of his truths into a single paragraph in the middle of his lecture. He also manages to hide two truths.
    • Henning correctly guesses that a story about an Indian man marrying an animal must be true, because no-one would say something like that otherwise.
  • Rule of Three: A common tactic is to give a list of three (or more) related "facts", one of which is true. A sneakier tactic that has arisen from this is to have either more or less than one truth in the list.
  • Rules Spiel: Parodied when Susan Calman, after appearing on the show several times, expressed surprise that you lose points for buzzing incorrectly:
    Susan Calman: D'you know, it's never been clearly explained to me.
    David Mitchell: I explain it very clearly, every time! I've read it out so many times that in the coming decades, when I'm sitting in a home, all I'll be muttering is "the rules are as follows: each panellist will present a short lecture that should be entirely false..." and people won't know what I'm talking about!
  • 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.
      • In Series 12 Episode 6, he opens his lecture on Britons with "Contrary to popular belief, Britain was not invented by Jesus."
      • And in Series 18, Episode 2, his lecture on Germany opens by claiming they invented Jesus.
      • Series 20, Episode 1 has him saying everything run aground and got a job at a nearby hotel, which he claims has not been refurbished.
      • Series 20 Episode 4 saw him subvert the trope by claiming vegetarianism was invented by Satan.
      • In series 23 he claimed "rules" were invented by Jesus... who passed them down to Moses, 4000 years Before Himself.
      • Guns, however, were not invented by Jesus... it's just that the NRA thinks they were.
    • Henning also has a running joke of name-checking Angela Merkel in his lectures.
    • In Series 8, Episode 2, there was a running gag about bees' inability to spin webs, and in episode 4, there were repeated jokes about barbecues and tenses.
    • In Series 22, episode 6, Henning's lecture mentions that scientists cannot quantify time itself, which becomes a gag for the rest of the episode.
    • Graeme Garden's lecture on Isaac Newton has a running joke about all his discoveries being the result of seeing something fall out of a tree.
    • Arthur Smith has a penchant for buzzing in and claiming that he knows a statement is true from personal experience even though it relates to something that happened before he was born. During a single lecture he used this on claims about Queen Anne and Theda Bara, and furthermore claimed to have dated both women... simultaneously.
    • In Season 29, episode 6, Richard Osman's lecture on Norway had a running gag of "In Norway, there is a term for [people who do something on the coast]. That term is Fjord [punning name of a Ford car]". In addition, after wrongly challenging on Norway being the coldest country in the world, Ria Lina justified many of her subsequent challenges on the basis that "IT'S COLD!"
  • Sarcastic Confession: Panelists may successfully smuggle a truth if the statement itself is silly enough, though some have managed inflections that make it seem like it's definitely untrue. Also, lecturers often try to smuggle truths by giving two or more ridiculous statements/facts in a sentence, one of which is true, and hope that the others will assume it's entirely false.
    • Rhod Gilbert once managed to very deftly smuggle the truth that a group of moles is called a company by including it as part of a nonsensical story about a group of moles setting up a business together.
  • 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 David 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!
    • In one episode of Series 14, Arthur Smith, on the subject of Death, said "Over 2,000 years ago, a man called Jesus died and came back to life three days later." After a longish pause where no-one buzzed he said "All right, have it your way." (David later clarified that Jesus was crucified less than 2,000 years ago, "so we are not required to discuss the issue of whether or not he came back to life".)
    • Lou Sanders claims ignorance on the definition of "teabagging", mainly in the hope of getting David to explain it. He doesn't fall for it.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • Fred MacAulay: [People with] small-ratio brains shout as a way of compensating for their small brains.
      Jeremy Hardy: [buzzes] THAT'S TRUE!
    • Lee Mack correctly identifies a statement about a clown who was hired to perform for chimpanzees as true. He claims he knows that because he's the clown.
    • During Henning's lecture on submarines, he claims during a mock battle three British submarines ran aground despite not even being involved. John buzzes in on the grounds of "yep, that sounds like us." And he's right.
    • When David zings Henning for living in Britain during 2020, which David states is like "booking the last ticket aboard the Titanic", mutual shots ensue at Britain's nightmarishly disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
    • At the beginning of series 28 episode 2, David introduces Henning by saying he's German, or "that country in Europe everyone hated until [the English] came along!"
  • Shaped Like Itself:
    • When the idea that Incans measured time by how long it took to cook a potato comes up, David notes this must've made cookery books interesting. "Cook the potato for as long as it takes to cook a potato."
    • Mark Steel begins a lecture on robots by saying it's Hungarian. And the Hungarian word for robot is "robot"... meaning "robot".
  • Signing-Off Catchphrase: "All that remains is for me to thank our guests. They were all truly unbelievable, and that's the unbelievable truth. Goodnight!" Later replaced with "that's about it for this week. Goodbye!"
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: Used during Richard Osman's lecture on Kanye West. Apparently whatever word he used, BBC Radio 4 is only allowed to use three times a day, and in the process of explaining this, David manages to use them up as well.
    David Mitchell: That's Book at Bedtime screwed.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation: As mentioned above, the Australian version.
    David Mitchell: See, it works on television. And yet here we are, in a tent in Edinburgh again.
  • Spin-Off: The Unbelievable Truth is itself a spin-off from I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (Graeme Garden is a regular on ISIHAC, and the other co-creator, Jon Naismith, is its producer). Specifically, it's based on a game 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.
  • Take That!:
    • In a 2012 lecture on beards, Henning Wehn recited a joke about Richard Sheridan, "the best paid comedian of the day", paying just two shillings in beard tax due to a "convoluted Jersey-based avoidance scheme", which he later described as "an error of judgement". This was a dig at the then-current tabloid scandal over comedian Jimmy Carr's tax avoidance.
    • In one episode, introducing Jeremy Hardy, David Mitchell claims that he is best known as the other half of a duo with Stan Laurel, and adds, "Thanks, Wikipedia!"
    • Several guests love making fun of real-life Gonk Adrian Chiles, often sarcastically calling him a "teenage heartthrob" in episodes recorded during his tenure at ITV (and after leaving the BBC).
    • In a 2018 lecture on Google, Richard Osman said that there were different Googles for different groups, leading to the punchline that the Google for people who don't understand computers is called Bing.
    • In his lecture on time, Henning states that scientists cannot prove time exists, in any measurable sense. "Just like Brexit." He gets a round of applause.
    • John Finnemore's lecture on Donald Trump consists of showering the man with praise. Given the premise of the show...
    • In one lecture, Tony Hawks states that the definition of "farting about endlessly with no conclusion" is "Brexit".
    • Henning concludes a lecture on planes by noting windowless planes were better because you couldn't see Stanstead Airport.
  • That Came Out Wrong:
    • At one point David asks Holly Walsh what type of shoes she's wearing (since the episode was recorded remotely). She starts having a giggling breakdown at this, noting it sounds like a "weird Radio 4 sex line".
    Holly: It's a really weird world when you're sitting in your spare room, and David Mitchell's asking you what you're wearing!
    • In series 28, episode 2, David makes a joke about a Russian crocodile killing people (as a Mercy Kill), noting that he doesn't want his saying "finish me off!" to be taken out of context.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: When the subject of Ed Byrne's lecture is David Mitchell himself:
    David: Your subject, Ed—which I should point out here and now is entirely of Ed's own choosing and not one that I have in any way recommended or endorsed—is... me.
  • Token Minority: Parodied in the first episode of Series 13. Following a 2014 BBC directive that all Panel Shows were required to include at least one female panellist (due to increasing criticism of the dearth of female panellists on such programmes), David Mitchell introduced comedienne Lucy Beaumont as the panel's token... Northerner.note 
  • Tongue Twister: John Finnemore caps off his lecture about bees with one about Bee A, Bee B, and Bee C, which he manages to get through successfully.
  • 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..."note 
    • 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!"
  • 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.)
    • Tony Hawks decided that absolutely any statement which started with "In America..." was true.
    • David acknowledged that any statement that includes Mormons prohibiting something is usually true
    • If the subject of a lecture is a living person, then often just David announcing the subject will be enough to get a laugh. Examples include John Finnemore's lecture on Boris Johnson, Arthur Smith's on Simon Cowell, Graeme Garden's on Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Osman's on Kanye West and, most memorably of all, Ed Byrne's on David Mitchell himself.
  • The Unintelligible: When Henning is buzzed by Sally Philips because she can't understand his accent, David states that incomprehensibility is a key aspect of Henning's approach to the game.
  • The Unpronouncable: Henning successfully claims a point when Holly talks about an underwater city, saying it must be true because otherwise she wouldn't be having difficulty saying the name.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Panellists will occasionally play this for laughs by buzzing-in on a lecture and saying "Deviation!" (Or, on at least one occasion, "Repetition!")