Sir Winston Churchill Fictional?

Winston Churchill, responding to British teenagers who say he never existed

Three thousand British teenagers were polled about their knowledge of history and a fifth of them came back saying that Sir Winston Churchill was a fictional character, according to the Telegraph. (Sir Winston’s response to these teens is notated in the photo shown.)

Also staggeringly off-base are the following findings:

  • Richard the Lionheart thought fictional by 47%
  • Florence Nightingale thought fictional by 27%
  • King Arthur thought real by 65%
  • Sherlock Holmes thought real by 58%
  • Robin Hood thought real by 51%
  • Eleanor Rigby thought real by 47%

While it is a bit wild to think Sir Winston and other real people are thought fictional (did they think World War II was a BBC miniseries…?), I can almost go along with the idea that somebody could believe King Arthur and Sherlock Holmes were real. Because they, along with Robin Hood, are absolutely pervasive in fiction. Hell, King Arthur has a brand of flour named after him. Anyway, they’re inescapable; even the people who have never read their stories or flat out don’t read at all can tell you the basic premise behind the characters.

But Eleanor Rigby?! She was in a song by The Beatles! She came out of Paul McCartney’s head! Don’t get me wrong, the song is absofreaking brilliant and I love it to bits, but thinking she was real? Oh come on.

Incredulity aside, I’m sure if you did that same poll over here in the States you’d find most kids thought Benjamin Franklin was fictional, Charlie Brown was real, and that Maggie’s Farm was the place where they made the sausages for McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. So.


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By | 2017-09-24T23:22:04+00:00 February 4th, 2008|Stimuli|8 Comments


  1. nomore namesleft May 3, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    King Arthur doesn’t have a brand of flour named after him, it’s Robin Hood flour.

  2. Widge May 3, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Whatever you say, chief, but you might want to break the news to these guys gently.

  3. Pete May 22, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    Can’t be faulted for thinking Eleanor Rigby might be real, after all, she’s one of the “lonely people” (where do they all come from?). I always figured hers was a name pulled out of a newspaper clipping, but maybe we were both wrong:

    “In June 1990, McCartney donated a document dating from 1911 which had been signed by the 16-year-old Eleanor Rigby to Sunbeams Music Trust [1], instantly attracted significant international interest from collectors because of the significance and provenance of the document.[22] The nearly 100-year-old document was sold at auction in November 2008 for 115,000 pounds.[23] The Daily Telegraph reported that the uncovered document “is a 97-year-old salary register from Liverpool City Hospital.” The name E. Rigby is printed on the register, and she is identified as a scullery maid.”

  4. Widge May 23, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Pete: I’ve heard a couple of different stories as to how the character from the song was based on a real person, but I have a feeling whatever the case, the students surveyed didn’t have that in mind when they thought she was real. So.

  5. Bill May 31, 2009 at 12:28 am

    Or maybe, being British, and TEENAGERS, they didn’t answer the poll truthfully.

    Also there is some basis behind both Arthur and Robin Hood being factual figures.

  6. Widge May 31, 2009 at 5:10 am

    Bill: So the fact they are British means they’re more likely to be liars…?

  7. Arianne June 10, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Actually there is now historical evidence that King Arthur did exist. So they aren’t actually wrong.

  8. James June 13, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    None of this really surprises me. Although the Robin Hood one is shocking.

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