Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/02/04/uktv_history/

Brits can't distinguish history from the TV listings

Historical figures only real if named after a pub

By Joe Fay

Posted in Bootnotes, 4th February 2008 14:10 GMT

Chronologically-challenged Brits think that Robin Hood, Biggles and Sherlock Holmes were real people while questioning whether the likes of Winston Churchill, Montgomery of Alamein and Mahatma Gandhi ever walked this Earth.

The shocking findings were uncovered by British TV station UKTV Gold, which is funny, as anyone who watches the channel knows that it broadcasts little else but "historical" material.

Over two thirds of Brits reckoned King Arthur was an actual real person, as opposed to a confection of half-remembered Celtic mythology embroidered by medieval writers. Almost as many – 58 per cent – reckoned that Sherlock Holmes was a real personage, apparently oblivious to the fact that his "biography" is found in the fiction section of the local library. (Er, what's a library?)

Robin Hood was described as authentic by 51 per cent of respondents – presumably because he's got an airport named after him - while 47 per cent seemed to think Eleanor Rigby was actually the fifth Beatle.

When it came to real historical figures, Richard the Lionheart was described as a myth by 47 per cent – which is bizarre as he is about the only real character in the Robin Hood myth. Winston Churchill was doubted by 23 per cent, with a similar number thinking Florence Nightingale is nothing but a figment of a scriptwriter's fevered imagination.

UKTV rejects the suggestion that UK citizens' inability to distinguish fact from fiction bodes badly for the country. Rather, it chose to claim that the figures are a simply a "fascinating insight" into the role that crap popular TV, film and fiction has had in this country over the last 50 years.

UKTV itself runs a channel devoted to history, which uses large chunks of its broadcast time to reruns, particularly of Sharpe, a saga set in the Napoleonic era detailing the exploits of fictional officer Richard Sharpe. Perhaps it is thanks to this that a mere four per cent of the population think the Duke of Wellington is a fictional construct.

NB: UKTV Gold found that 34 per cent of the British public thought that Dick Turpin was real, making him number six in the chart of fictional characters. The only problem being he was real, although he has been the subject of a number of TV series and a cracking Carry On movie. ®