Fact and fiction mix as poll gives Gandalf a real role in history
Historical fact is being diluted by Hollywood fiction, with some young people believing that Gandalf the wizard masterminded the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Almost half of 16- to 34-year-olds questioned in a BBC poll did not know that Francis Drake led the English fleet against Spain. One in five 16 to 24-year-olds thought it was Columbus, while one in 20 said it was Gandalf, the wizard from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
The figures, which were released to mark the start of Battlefield Britain, a new BBC series fronted by the veteran election presenter Peter Snow and his son Dan, were declared “really surprising” by history specialists. Campaigners for a return to a more traditional syllabus branded the results a “disgrace” for the state education system.
Showing the impact of Hollywood on history, 15 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds thought that when Orangemen march in Northern Ireland on 12 July, they were celebrating victory at Helmsdeep, a battle at the end of The Two Towers, the second novel in Tolkien’s trilogy.
Of the 1,006 adults over the age of 16 who took part in the survey, only half of all age groups knew that the marches mark the Battle of the Boyne, in which the Protestant William of Orange defeated the troops of King James II in 1690.
Despite the blanket coverage in the media of the recent 60th anniversary of D-Day, a third of those polled and half of 16- to 34-year-olds did not know that the Battle of Britain took place during the Second World War. More than one in 10 among 16- to 24-year-olds thought it was part of the Hundred Years War against France 600 years earlier.
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