Youth poll gives Gandalf real role in history

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The Independent Online

Historical fact is being diluted by Hollywood fiction, with some young people believing that Gandalf the wizard masterminded the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

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 film-making 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 Helm's Deep. The battle comes at the end of The Two Towers, the second book in Tolkien's trilogy.

Of the 1,006 adults over 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 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. Some thought it was part of the Hundred Years War. One in eight thought Anglo-Saxon Britain had been overrun by Napoleon

"Some of the results are really surprising," said Peter Furtado, editor of History Today magazine. "Since the collapse of the grand Whig narrative that Churchill was talking about in A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and which went out of favour with the rise of multi-cultural Britain, it's been very difficult for anybody to construct a large story of Britain. It seemed that Simon Schama did it very well in A History of Britain, but someone really needs to have another try," Mr Furtado said.

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