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David Emery

More than Half of Brits Believe Sherlock Holmes Was Real, Poll Says

By February 4, 2008

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Almost a quarter of Britons, on the other hand, think two-time prime minister Winston Churchill is a myth.

Such are the results of a survey conducted by UKTV Gold in connection with its new television series, Robin Hood. Questions were posed to 3,000 ordinary Britons to test their historical acumen. "The results provide a fascinating insight into the influence that popular TV, film and fiction has had on the nation's perception of history over the last 50 years," notes the UKTV Gold website.

One gathers that influence has been less than beneficial.

Top 5 fictional characters Britons think are real:
1. King Arthur – 65%
2. Sherlock Holmes – 58%
3. Robin Hood – 51%
4. Eleanor Rigby – 47%
5. Mona Lisa - 35%

Top 5 historical figures Britons think are myths:
1. Richard the Lionheart – 47%
2. Winston Churchill – 23%
3. Florence Nightingale – 23%
4. Bernard Montgomery – 6%
5. Boudica - 5%

Source: Is Robin Real? - UKTV Gold

Read more about it:
Winston Churchill Didn't Really Exist, Say Teens - The Telegraph
Britons Think Winston Churchill & Florence Nightingale Are Myths - The Mirror

Related stuff:
Winston Churchill, Farmer Fleming, and Penicillin - Netlore Archive
Churchill's Foulmouthed Parrot - Urban Legends Blog


February 4, 2008 at 6:21 pm
(1) Mark says:

I would hope that an Urban Legends site would help debunk or confirm such things, not just propogate them on ;) Some of those links say this was a survey of teens, whilst others (along with your article) claim this is true of all Britons. Which is it, I wonder?

It’s also pretty useless without knowing the actual text of the questions asked.

February 4, 2008 at 9:28 pm
(2) sansbw says:

As this program has rightfully revealed the lack of education or retention for commonly known historic figures, both real and myth, I hope the producers of UKTV Gold will realize their own “facts” can often be flawed. This is the case with the recent acknowledgment of the sitter for the painting of the Mona Lisa as corraborated to be Lisa de Giocondo, the wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, a real person, not fictional.

February 5, 2008 at 9:41 pm
(3) Henry Zecher says:

Of those “fictional” characters thought to be real, highwayman Dick Turpin, Comte d’Artagnan of the Three Musketeers, the Anglo-Saxon noblewoman Godiva (wife of Leofric, the Earl of Mercia), and even possibly the original King Arthur were in fact very real, but their exploits are the stuff of legend and fiction; and Lisa del Giocondo, wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, was the model for Leonard da Vinci’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa.

February 7, 2008 at 12:25 am
(4) johnny litson says:

Yes, and not to forget that though the character was a work of fiction, most people still believe that the character pretty much alive, this shows the observation and imagination of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

February 16, 2008 at 8:08 pm
(5) Lynne McGuinness says:

I am surprised that you think 3,000 people in Britain constitutes more than half of the population, (can any one in America count?)also it isn’t possible that adults in Britain would say that Winston Churchill was a myth, though it is entirely possible with American culture that tends to infiltrate and be followed by our youth. As for Sherlock Holmes, though he was fictional, wouldn’t it have been wonderful if he was real? That insight isn’t shared by your page, as you have just created a myth of your own.

January 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm
(6) Brittany says:


July 20, 2012 at 9:12 pm
(7) Me says:

@Lynne McGuiness: Its called a sample size. If you pick any 3000 people and half of them believe in the existence of Sherlock Holmes, its a reasonable and widely accepted assumption that half the population from which they were picked think the same. Also, as is clearly stated, the survey was carried out by UKTV Gold. As they were questioning Britons, it is unlikely that Americans are to blame for any discrepancies. The point of the questionnaire was to test how deeply popular culture has affected the population’s idea of fact and fiction. Adults in Britain could easily have not been aware of Churchill’s existence, through sheer ignorance or uncaring. Americans often go on without knowing their Senators, Representatives, Judges, and even Presidents! It was not meant as insult to anyone, merely an inquiry. As for influential culture, it is not America that has turned famous spots into tourist traps (I am thinking of Reichenbach Falls, with the plaque commemorating the spot of Sherlock’s ‘death’) and reproducing adaptions of Sir Doyle’s famous works.

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