Winston Churchill 'set to fade from memory'

Ellen Branagh,Press Association
Thursday 13 May 2010 11:04 BST

By 2090 future generations will no longer recognise Winston Churchill, new research revealed today.

It seems hard to believe amid the current political storm, but research commissioned by the Royal Mint found that, in 80 years' time, people will not recognise the former Prime Minister.

As part of the survey, carried out to mark this week's 70th anniversary of Churchill's prime ministerial tenure, more than 1,136 people were asked to identify three prominent 20th century PMs including Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

One in five (19%) adults failed to name Churchill, with the figure rising to 32% of 25 to 34-year-olds and 44% of those aged 16 to 24.

Following the pattern, researchers projected the rough date when the leaders would no longer be recognised, with Churchill's demise predicted in 80 years' time.

They said the vast majority of those questioned could identify both Mr Blair (97%) and Baroness Thatcher (98%).

But recognition dropped significantly in the 16 to 24-year-old range - 16% failed to identify Baroness Thatcher and more than a quarter (27%) were unable to recognise Mr Blair.

If this downward trend were to continue, Gordon Brown's predecessor would be "extinct" in the public consciousness by 2075, followed by the Iron Lady in 2115, they said.

The survey, which involved people naming black and white headshot photos of the prime ministers, saw Churchill mistaken for Stephen Fry, Robert Hardy, Michael Gambon, Charlie Chaplin, Oliver Hardy, John Betjeman and Roy Hattersley, the Royal Mint said.

And one person even incorrectly identified Tony Blair as David Cameron.

The research could help the country's new leader make sure he cements his place in the history books rather than being forgotten.

Prof George Jones, Emeritus Professor of British Government at the London School of Economics, said: "There's a complex combination of factors at play when it comes to maintaining prime ministerial longevity and being remembered as a great British leader.

"For long-lasting impact and to cement your position in the public consciousness, certain character and personality traits such as potency and decisiveness must be apparent and proven crisis-handling demonstrated.

"If the new Prime Minister wants to secure his place in history, he must bear these things in mind."

Data was collected according to five age groups - 16 to 24, 25 to 34, 35 to 44, 45 to 54, and 55+ - then researchers worked out what the percentage recognition was of each age group when they were 16-24.

The results were plotted on a graph going back to 1970, when the oldest age group was 16-24, and a "line of best fit" was calculated to the point where recognition was at 0% - the year of "extinction".

Kevin Clancy, head of Historical Services at the Royal Mint, added: "It's shocking that one of our greatest statesmen runs the risk of potentially being forgotten.

"Churchill remains an historical colossus and is arguably one of the nation's greatest Britons.

"It's fundamentally important that we commemorate our heritage for future generations to celebrate, and to mark the 70 years that have passed since he was Prime Minister we're immensely proud to have designed a new £5 coin featuring an iconic Churchillian image, to help his memory live on."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in