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Anorak | Reality Check

Reality Check

by | 5th, April 2004

‘IF, as they say, ignorance truly is bliss, then most of Britain must live in a state of permanent ecstasy, judging by reports in today’s papers.

Adolf Hitler, as he might have looked if he really existed

Tony Blair may have been elected chanting the mantra, ‘Education, education, education’, but most British adults would it seems not know how to spell it.

[The answer, as any six-year-old child knows, is I-T.]

In fact, there are some people who probably think Blair is a figment of our collective imagination, just as, for instance, 11% of the British population apparently believes that Adolf Hitler never existed.

Worse still, 9% of the population apparently believe that Sir Winston Churchill (named recently in a BBC poll as the Greatest Briton) is a made-up character.

Those are just some of the results of a survey of 2,069 people aged 16 or over, commissioned by Blenheim Palace to mark the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Blenheim.

According to the poll (and making the admittedly rather large assumption that respondents gave honest answers to the questions), a third of people believe the Cold War never took place, while 3% believe the Battle of Helms Deep (from Lord Of The Rings) was a real conflict.

One in 20 believes that Conan The Barbarian was a bona fide figure from early Nordic history, more than a quarter believe in the existence of Robin Hood (as depicted in film) and more than a half believe that King Arthur is a genuine historical figure.

By contrast, almost two-thirds of us deny the existence of Ethelred The Unready, 42% think William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) was a product of Mel Gibson’s imagination and 40% don’t know that Benjamin Disraeli was a 19th Century Prime Minister and founder of the modern Tory party.

And there is more – nearly one in five people think that Harold Wilson was Prime Minister during the Second World War, more than a quarter couldn’t say which century the First World War had taken place and more than half think that British troops at the Battle of Waterloo were led by Lord Nelson.

It is, as Lord Janner tells the Independent, ‘a terrible indictment of the level of knowledge of the general population’.

‘Hitler was a monster,’ he says, ‘and now we find a significant number of people think he was somehow invented.’

Other blame Hollywood for the blurring of fact and fiction, the Indy quoting the example of the film U-571, which told how US servicemen altered the course of World War II by capturing an Enigma code machine from a German U-boat when in fact it had been British and Canadian sailors who had done so.

Historian Michael Wood said: ‘Hollywood distorts history the whole time and once you get that far down the line, it’s not history.’

Such is the power of Hollywood on the public imagiantion that there are even people who believe that bodybuilder and serial groper Arnold Schwarzenegger is Governor of California…’



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