Survey Shows 20% of UK Teens Think Churchill is Fictional

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A survey commissioned by British television channel Gold uncovered 20 percent of the teen population in Britain believing former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill to be a fictional character. On the contrary, many teens accepted imaginary characters such as Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur and Eleanor Rigby as real people in history.

The survey, which was carried out with around 3,000 British people below 20 years old, concluded that a large number of British teens possessed an astounding lack of basic historical knowledge – knowledge which was well embraced by older generations, writes Aislinn Simpson of The Telegraph.

It further showed a large variation in the media by which teenagers acquired their historical knowledge in the modern world. Over three-quarters (77 percent) of the group questioned conceded to have never browsed history books and a high 61 percent admitted to preferring channels other than ones showing historical programs on television.

The questioned group also branded 12th-century crusading English king Richard the Lionheart as a fictitious character, and revolutionary Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale was labeled as imaginary by 27 percent of the teenagers questioned.

However, certain fictional characters, who have been familiarized with the population via British films and literature over the past few centuries, were granted real life existences. Characters such as King Arthur, the knights of Camelot, Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest and The Beatles-inspired Eleanor Rigby were etched in a significant proportion of teenagers’ minds as real historical figures. Sherlock Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novels was considered (by 58% of the target group) to have actually lived at 221B Baker Street.

UKTV Gold channel head Paul Moreton expressed his disappointment at the historical knowledge gap in modern teenagers revealed in the poll and accused the influence of good films in altering the youth perception of mythical characters.

“Stories like Robin Hood are so inspiring that it’s not surprising people like to believe these characters truly existed.”

The survey’s results come at a time when Britain is seeking to boost its pupils’ resilience and character. During a conference hosted by UK think tank Demos, announcing a £5m fund injection to aid schools, British Labour Party politician Tristram Hunt quoted Winston Churchill while explaining that success was built by overcoming failure. He labeled the ability to return to quality as a British trait, writes Judith Burns of BBC News.

Mr. Hunt stressed the urgency of educational enhancement, especially in a modern time of high global competition, and asked schools to aid their students in developing the “British spirit” to tackle future adversities and work pressures.

“The great British spirit comes from our ability to overcome adversity and setbacks. Character, resilience and the ability to bounce back: it’s what makes us British. As our young people face growing rivalry for jobs, high-status apprenticeships and the best university places, it becomes more and more important for schools to coach pupils about character. Because we learn best from the knockbacks that we receive, that is the message that schools must send to pupils. I want to see the great British spirit in all our classrooms,”

The Labour Party also voiced their agreement to boost education efforts in the country if they were elected, through party politician Ed Miliband. Miliband stated that he aimed to persuade as many young people as the number already going to university, to take up vocational education and apprenticeships.

“We see this problem throughout our economy: well paid jobs, gone wanting, for people who have the necessary education and training to fill them. So we will have a revolution in vocational education, so that as many young people leave school to do an apprenticeship as currently go to university.”