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Plastic £5 note featuring Churchill to stand the test of time, says Mark Carney

Published 02/06/2016

Britain's first plastic banknote featuring Sir Winston Churchill will, like the great stateman's reputation, "stand the test of time", the Governor of the Bank of England has said.

Unveiling the full new design for the £5 at Sir Winston's birthplace on Thursday, Mark Carney paid tribute to the wartime prime minister's "bulldog spirit" and his part in British history.

He said: "This spirit is just one, only one, of his many contributions that the Bank commemorates with the new fiver."

Mr Carney said "money was memory for a country and its people" and for that reason it was right that historical figures such as Churchill appeared on notes.

The "new fiver", which is being issued in September, marks a break from the current paper notes because it is printed on polymer, a thin flexible plastic film, which is seen as more durable and secure.

It is slightly smaller than the note it is replacing, can be wiped clean, and is tear-resistant.

The note was revealed today at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire where Sir Winston was born in 1874.

Mr Carney added: "Our banknotes are testaments to the outstanding achievements of the nation's greatest individuals.

"They are repositories of the United Kingdom's collective memory.

"That contribution will continue with the new £5, which brings together the future, in the form of polymer and the most advanced security features yet, and Britain's glorious history, in the achievements of Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill."

The new design is set to enter circulation in the autumn with a first print-run of 440 million notes, marking the start of the old notes' withdrawal.

Current £5 notes feature prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.

The announcement by the Bank of England in 2013 that Fry was being replaced caused an outcry as it could have meant that, apart from the Queen, there would be no female faces on the UK's notes.

Thousands of people signed a petition in protest at the move, and it was subsequently announced that novelist Jane Austen would be the face of the new £10 note from 2017.

Like the new fiver, the new £10 and £20 notes will also be printed on polymer.

In April, the Bank announced that artist JMW Turner will appear on the next £20 banknote, due to be issued by 2020.

Australia introduced the world's first plastic bank notes in 1988 and more than 30 countries have since followed suit.

Sir Winston's grandson, Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames, said the note was "a wonderful tribute" and thought the man himself would have liked it.

Speaking at the launch in the palace's Marlborough Room, he said: "I think he would regard it as an amazing tribute.

"When he was a young man I think he used to get through a fair bit of the stuff himself, so I think he probably would have thought it unlikely he would ever feature on a bank note himself.

"I think it's a wonderful tribute and it's a living tribute."

The note itself features Sir Winston's glowering visage in a famous portrait captured in Ottawa by Yousuf Karsh after the photographer is said to have taken his cigar from him.

The decision to use an image of the man voted "the greatest ever Briton" in a 2002 BBC poll went down well with the public in a showcase of the new note held immediately following the Governor's speech.

Ann Humby, from Swindon, said: "It's great, as it should be. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him."

However the 75-year-old thought some of the blue colouring on the note was "a bit wishy-washy".

The note is also supposed to be "cleaner, safer and stronger", as demonstrated by eight-year-old James Caccavone, who was unable to tear the new note, branding it "unbreakable".

His father Tony Caccavone also welcomed the new fiver's introduction, slated for September, and said: "It something that can handle today's life much better - especially the washing machine."

His wife Sue added: "I like the feel of it but I think it'll be tricky separating it when you're in the queue trying to get them out of your purse."

The Bank of England has estimated that the replacement notes will last at least two-and-half times longer than the old cotton-fibre version, and will stand up better to staining and folding.

The technology used in their manufacture also means they can incorporate stronger security features, although the governor stressed the UK has "a very low rate of counterfeiting".

The notes, which feature the Queen on the reverse, can also be told apart by people are partially-sighted or blind through new "tactile features".

The surface of the new fiver is entirely smooth, while the £10 and £20 notes will incorporate lines of bumps of differing lengths.

Mr Carney also confirmed there is "no immediate plan" to introduce a new £50, adding "those decisions will be taken in due course".

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