Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Stewart Contribute to BBC's D-Day Anniversary Coverage
LONDON -- The BBC enlisted the services of Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch and Patrick Stewart (X-Men franchise) for its blanket coverage Friday of the 70th anniversary of the D-day landings during World War II.
The duo recorded original BBC radio news scripts from June 1944 for the public broadcaster's flagship Radio 4 channel, airing them Friday through Sunday.
The original scripts from June 1944 provided the first news that the Allies' offensive against Nazi-occupied mainland Europe had begun.
The BBC reports were part of wall-to-wall British media coverage of the 70th anniversary of the event, which has been immortalized in film and television by Hollywood, including Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, starring Tom Hanks, which is credited with being one of the most realistic fictionalizations of the main assault on the Normandy beaches that began at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944.
In the U.K., all the major TV networks -- including satellite operator BSkyB, commercial network ITV and Channel 4 -- devoted air time to coverage of the anniversary as more than 20 world leaders, including U.S. president Barack Obama and French president Francois Hollande, gathered in France alongside Britain's Queen Elizabeth II to acknowledge what is regarded as the beginning of the end of World War II.
The BBC will have more than eight hours of air time dedicated to the day across its television output in addition to radio air time.
In France, the anniversary is also being extensively covered.
Public broadcaster France 2, news channels France 24, BFMTV and CanalPlus' fledgling iTele broadcast wall-to-wall live coverage of the ceremonies, which includes following the helicopter flight and arrival of Obama before the services began.
France 2 morning news anchors broadcast directly from a beach-side set, while BFM had legendary American-born journalist Franz-Olivier Giesbert presiding over their coverage in studio.
At Colleville-sur-Mer, where 9,387 U.S. service personnel are buried in a war cemetery, Obama said: "America's claim -- our commitment to liberty, to equality, to freedom, to the inherent dignity of every human being -- that claim is written in blood on these beaches, and it will endure for eternity."
German news channels also devoted much time to the D-Day commemorations on Friday.
But coverage was dominated by analysis of German chancellor Angela Merkel's meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the event. It is hoped in Germany the Merkel-Putin meeting may bring progress in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
Merkel is only the second German chancellor to take part in D-Day commemorations after her predecessor Gerhard Schroder broke a long-standing taboo by attending the event in 2004.
Previous German leader Helmut Kohl had rejected invitations to attend in 1984 and 1994, arguing that "for a German chancellor, there is no reason to celebrate when others mark their victory in a battle, in which tens of thousands of Germans died a miserable death."
But in 2004, Schroder called D-Day "not a victory over Germany but a victory for Germany," because it helped bring World War II and the rule of the Nazis to an end. Merkel follows his example this year in honoring the victims of the war on the Allied forces' side. Portsmouth's D-Day Museum puts the death toll of Allied troops from the day of the invasion at 4,413.
Coverage of the anniversary of the D-Day landings was comparatively muted in Italy, where the allied landing on Sicily (on July 9, 1943) and especially the liberation of Italy (April 25, 1944) are bigger landmarks there.
Newspapers and news sites carried stories on the anniversary, but it was mostly overshadowed by coverage of local news including Sunday’s so-called "prayer summit" between Pope Francis, Israeli president Shimon Peres and Palestine's Mahmoud Abbas.The landings were the first stage of Operation Overlord -- the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe -- and were intended to end World War II.
Within 11 months, Nazi Germany was defeated as the Soviet army swept in from the east and captured Hitler's stronghold in Berlin.
Rhonda Richford, Scott Roxborough and Eric J. Lyman contributed to this report