Sponsors asked to invade D-Day

Leading firms have been approached by the Government to sponsor Britain's D-Day commemorations in an attempt to cover the expected pounds 500,000 costs.

However, the commercial approach has been deplored by the Royal British Legion. Its advertising adviser, Barry Delaney, said: 'We've done 50 years without sponsorship so it must be possible to do another 50.'

He said sponsorship 'of the commemoration of our glorious dead belongs to another culture. It is not what most people want and certainly not how those who were there care to remember.'

Department of National Heritage officials are optimistic about getting corporate sponsorship deals - under which companies will receive advertising and publicity in return for cash - for events marking the campaign 50 years ago in which 37,000 servicemen were killed.

Two of the biggest names in business, GEC and Hanson, are considering the idea. Both are clients of Lowe Bell, the public relations agency retained by the Government to promote D-Day. They are among several companies approached by Sir Tim Bell, the agency's chief, before he secured the National Heritage contract.

GEC is believed to be close to agreeing to be a joint sponsor of the main Hyde Park 'event' starring Dame Vera Lynn. The company logo will appear prominently in the official programme and around the park. Hanson is also willing to be involved - although it is understood a plan for it to host a party for veterans at the Imperial War Museum has been shelved.

Links between the two companies and the Conservatives are close: GEC donated pounds 50,000 to the party in 1987 and has given pounds 100,000 since 1978; Hanson gave pounds 100,000 in 1992. GEC is chaired by Lord Prior, the former Tory Cabinet minister and the company's participation is being handled by Sara Morrison, a former party vice-chairman.

Sources close to the awarding of the PR contract said Lowe Bell won because its bid was well below those of the other two short-listed contenders - Hill and Knowlton, and Shandwick - and it was more enthusiastic about sponsorship.

A National Heritage spokesman said that in return for such sponsorship, companies will get 'kudos, publicity - all those things which normally attract corporate sponsorship'. He justified the decision to seek sponsors because the Government 'wished to ease the burden on the taxpayer'. If National Heritage and Sir Tim are successful, he confirmed, the pounds 500,000 budget could be covered.

GEC said that it supported all three main Armed Services charities, but refused to give details of its D-Day plans.

Martin Taylor, vice-chairman of Hanson, said: 'We're seriously considering what we might do in the commemoration of D-Day.'

In the United States, the Government is funding a pounds 500,000 advertising campaign to persuade American veterans to come to Britain. National Heritage officials have calculated that each US tourist will spend an average of pounds 400 while in Britain.

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