Britons, it appears, are letting their own history slip through their fingers. Or go in one ear and out the other.
23 per cent of respondents to a recent survey thought Winston Churchill was a fictional character while 58 per cent thought Sherlock Holmes had been a real person.Jeebus. British TV must have gotten a whole lot better than it used to be if people aren't watching the historical programs. That, or a whole lot worse.
The survey, commissioned by British cable channel UKTV Gold, polled 3,000 adults and came up with some surprising results on the nation's perception of its past.
Forty-seven per cent of Britons thought the 12th-century Crusader king, Richard the Lionheart, was a mythical figure – exactly the same percentage who thought Eleanor Rigby of the eponymous Beatles song was a flesh-and-blood person.
The study noted a marked change in how people acquire their historical knowledge. Fully 77 per cent admitted to no longer reading history books. Three out of five people said they never watched historical programs on television and 15 per cent said they rely solely on the history they learned at school.
Which meant a lot of them weren't paying attention when they were being taught about the Crimean War, because 23 per cent thought nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale was a figment of some writer's imagination. And in an odd twist, 3 per cent thought one of Britain's greatest writers of fiction – Charles Dickens – was fictional himself.
Asking those same questions in North America might produce some surprizing results too. Of course, we would have to include a harp-playing chicken, living in a bag in a castle in any such survey.