WWI Centennial: Gallipoli

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 179th installment in the series. 

April 25, 1915: Gallipoli, Armenian Genocide Begins 

One of the bloodiest fights of the Great War, the Battle of Gallipoli began with amphibious landings conducted by British, Australian, and New Zealand troops in the face of ferocious Turkish resistance on April 25, 1915. Over the next eight months, as they tried and failed to conquer the peninsula in hopes of capturing the Ottoman capital at Constantinople, the British and colonial troops (later reinforced by French units) would suffer an incredible 252,000 casualties, while the Turks lost a roughly equivalent number. Within these figures, 45,000 Allied troops and 86,000 Turkish troops were killed. 

This tragedy, in which the colonial troops of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) suffered disproportionate losses under British command, would become one of the defining moments in the formation of distinct national identities for those Dominions, setting the stage for their eventual independence from the mother country. On the other side Gallipoli played an equally important role in the formation of a new Turkish identity, as ordinary soldiers sacrificed their lives in droves to protect the Turkish homeland; one of the heroes of Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal, would go on to found the modern Republic of Turkey on the ruins of the old Ottoman Empire, winning the honorific “Atatürk” (“Father of the Turks”) from a reverent Turkish parliament (below, Kemal at Gallipoli). 

“We Shall Get a Very Bad Knock” 

The disaster at Gallipoli resulted from a series of bad decisions (and indecision) on the part of the British government, including Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, Secretary of War Lord Kitchener, and First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, as well as First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher, the overall commander of the Royal Navy. Beginning in the winter of 1915, the British leaders committed themselves to an ill-conceived plan to force the Turkish straits and capture Constantinople with naval power alone. However when repeated attempts failed at significant cost, instead of throwing in the towel they doubled down, sending a force 70,000 ground troops to mount a multipart amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula, in order to clear the Turkish coastal defenses on the straits from landward. 

The problem was that over two months elapsed between the first naval bombardment on February 19, 1915, and the amphibious invasion on April 25, 1915 – giving the Turks plenty of time to prepare formidable defenses at Gallipoli. They were aided by their German allies, as Otto Liman von Sanders, the head of the pre-war German military mission to Turkey, took command of the Turkish Fifth Army, and German engineers directed the construction of defensive works. 

Many Allied officers predicted that the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force under General Sir Ian Hamilton would run into trouble. On April 16 a British officer, Aubrey Herbert, went to lunch with his colleagues at the Allied base on the Greek island of Mudros and later wrote in his diary: “The talk was, of course, about the landing. A friend of mine said: ‘This is a terrible business; entire Staffs will be wiped out.’” Five days later Herbet confided: “The general impression is that we shall get a very bad knock, and that it may well set the war back a year…” In the same vein another British officer, Oswin Creighton, wrote on April 22: 

It seems a perfectly desperate undertaking. I can hardly expect to see many of my men alive again. My present feeling is that the whole thing has been bungled. The Navy should never have started the bombardment without the Army. Now there has been no bombardment for some weeks. Meanwhile the Turks, under German direction, have perfected their defences. The aerial reconnaissance reports acres of barbed wire, labyrinths of trenches, concealed guns, maxims and howitzers everywhere. The ground is mined. In fact, every conceivable thing has been done. Our men have to be towed in little open boats to land in the face of all this… Slaughter seems to be inevitable. 

This prophecy proved all too accurate.

Blood on the Beach 

In the early morning of April 25, 1915, the first wave of around 35,000 British and colonial troops in the 29th Division and ANZAC force marshaled on the decks of their troop transports and then climbed down rope ladders into smaller landing craft that were tied together in long lines, bow to stern. 

Beginning at 5am small steamboats towed the lines of landing craft towards a number of landing spots (designated S Beach, V Beach, W Beach, X Beach, and Y Beach) on Cape Hellas at the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, as well as on the west side of the peninsula at Kabatepe, the intended site of the ANZAC landing. The landing at V Beach also included an armored steamer, the River Clyde, carrying around 2,000 troops who were supposed to exit via pontoon gangways laid on small boats. 

Although the Allies succeeded in landing unopposed at Y Beach (where the landing party found itself facing sheer cliffs, and was later withdrawn) the other landings ran into a hail of fire from the Turkish artillery, machine guns, and rifles on shore, and naval bombardment by the Allied fleet proved unable to silence the Turkish defenses as hoped. 

In many places the Turks waited until the last minute before opening fire, then laid down a devastating fusillade against the helpless troops, still trapped on the boats and encumbered with heavy packs. Some naval officers in charge of landing the boats reached the beach and turned around to help the troops disembark, only to find everyone already dead. William Ewing, a British medical officer who witnessed the landing at V Beach, recalled: 

Not a shot was fired by the enemy until the River Clyde grounded and the tows touched the shore. The shells from the ships had left the defences practically unimpaired, save for the big guns in the forts. A tempest of lead burst from the slopes and trenches, lashing the water round the boats to the whiteness of foam. The sea quickly changed to a more awful hue. 

By 9 am, Ewing estimated, “Of the 1000 men who up till now had left the ship about 500 were either killed or wounded.” Meanwhile the boats carrying the ANZAC troops drifted about a mile north of their intended landing spot at Kabatepe, and achieved a landing against sporadic but fierce resistance. An anonymous soldier who took part in the ANZAC landing later wrote in his diary:

Over the sides of the boats dived and rolled those splendid infantrymen, their bayonets already fixed… In sixes and sevens, in tens and twenties, in platoons, in half-companies – just as they tumbled out of the boats – those great-hearted fellows dashed up the beach and into that sickening inferno. They didn’t fire a shot; they didn’t waste a single second. They just flung their heavy packs form their shoulders, bent their heads to the storm, and with every inch of pace at their command they charged the Turkish trenches, some fifty yards distant. 

The ANZAC troops managed to push the first Turkish lines back and then pursued them inland, advancing toward their main objective for the day. In fact, if they had succeeded in capturing two key ridges, called Chunuk Bahr and Sari Bahr, they would be in a position to dominate the peninsula and clinch an Allied victory. But now Mustafa Kemal, commanding the 19th Division in reserve on the other side of the peninsula, mounted an immediate counterattack without waiting for orders. Kemal’s orders to his troops were simple, grim, and dramatic: “I am not ordering you to fight, I am ordering you to die. In the time it takes us to die, other troops and commanders can come and take our places.” In desperate fighting, the Turks forced the ANZAC troops back to the shore, where they dug in and held on desperately. The same anonymous ANZAC soldier wrote in his diary: 

No man who took part in that retirement will ever forget it. Overhead burst the shells, underfoot the dust rose and the twigs snapped as the unending rain of rifle, machine-gun, and shrapnel bullets zipped! and spattered around. Men fell fast, killed and wounded; every temporary stand we made was marked by little groups of grotesquely postured khaki-clad forms still with the stillness of death… Time after time we tried to dig ourselves in. In vain! The line had to be shortened, else we should be outflanked by the enormously superior forces opposed to us. 

The situation wasn’t much better at the Cape Hellas landing sites (with the exception of Y Beach, where the troops in the landing party were kicking their heels with no idea what was going on elsewhere). Herbert recalled: 

We were being shot at from three sides. All that morning we kept moving. There were lines of men clinging like cockroaches under the cliffs or moving silent as the guns on the right and left enfiladed us. The only thing to be done was to dig in as soon as possible, but a good many men were shot while doing this... I believe that, had it been possible, we should have re-embarked that night, but the sacrifices involved would have been too great. 

Allies Attack, Turks Counterattack 

On the following day, April 26, the ANZAC troops continued digging in, while the British troops fought their way forward from the beaches on Cape Hellas and finally joined forces on the tip of the peninsula. Meanwhile the next wave of roughly 35,000 troops was landing, along with a French force which had briefly occupied the town of Kumkale on the other side of the Dardanelles.

On April 28 Hamilton ordered a renewed attack on the Turkish positions at Krithia, a small village on the slopes above Cape Hellas. Once again the casualties were appalling on both sides, with the wounded often left to suffer stoically for hours or even days before they could be evacuated. Arthur Ruhl, an American correspondent who was observing the battle from the Turkish side, recalled the mute suffering of ordinary Turkish soldiers (below): 

During the early fighting on the peninsula the wounded came up to Constantinople, after days on the way, in wagons, perhaps, over horrible roads, in commandeered ferry-boats and freighters, yet one scarcely heard a sound, a murmur of complaint.  Gray and gaunt, with the mud of the trenches still on them, they would be helped into ambulances and driven off to the hospitals, silent themselves and through crowds as silent as those which had watched them march away a few weeks before. 

On May 1 Turkish War Minister Enver Pasha order a major counterattack, with both sides suffering huge casualties as the Turks tried to push the invading force into the sea. The anonymous ANZAC soldier wrote in his diary:

Men fought that day stripped to the waist; fought till their rifles jammed, picked up another – and went on fighting. Men with broken legs refused to leave the trench, cursing those who would have assisted them – went on firing until a second bullet crippled their rifle arm. Yet still they clung on, handing up clips of cartridges to their mates… Thus it went on from before dawn till towards evening. Charge and counter-charge, till men reeled from sheer exhaustion, and their blood-clotted weapons slipped from hands sticky with the same red paint. 

The same soldier recorded a shocking scene in the ANZAC trenches: 

We were also so clogged up with dead in our trenches that to make room for the living we had to throw the bodies out over the back. In many cases where our line was cut on the edge of the ridge these bodies rolled right down to the foot of the cliff… In one place quite a little stack of bodies had been huddled together on one side of the track; there might have been eighteen or twenty in the lot. Owing to the water running down this stack began to move, and kept on moving till it blocked the track up altogether… eventually a fatigue party had to be told off to build up the bodies as you would build sheaves on a wagon. 

The French division which had landed on the eastern end of Cape Hellas found itself plunged into the hellish fighting as well. One French officer, Joseph Vassal, later recorded his impressions in a letter to his English wife: “Artillery cases, dead men, dead horses, police, doctors, above all guns which thundered and deafened us… During the night from 2nd to 3rd May one regiment alone spent 40,000 cartridges… I went to the beach, where shells were still falling continually. Fountains of earth, fountains of water. Nine horses killed, two men.” 

But the attacks and counterattacks failed to make much of an impact either way, and by mid-May the situation at Gallipoli was already settling into a deadly stalemate. Hamilton and Sanders both called for reinforcements, which they duly received, promising even more grinding attrition in the months to come. The nightmare at Gallipoli was only beginning.

Armenian Genocide Begins 

As the Allies prepared their invasion of Gallipoli, the government of the Young Turks was already setting in motion their plan to wipe out the Armenians, whom they suspected of aiding the Russian advance in the Caucasus region. Mounting persecution in early April foreshadowed much worse violence to come. Four years later, the former American ambassador to Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau, would recall the beginning of the purge in eastern Anatolia during the spring of 1915: 

On April 15th, about 500 young Armenian men of Akantz were mustered to hear an order of the Sultan; at sunset they were marched outside the town and every man shot in cold blood. The procedure was repeated in about eighty Armenian villages in the district north of Lake Van, and in three days 24,000 Armenians were murdered in this atrocious fashion. 

Although mass murders were already taking place, many historians date the genocide to April 24, 1915, when the Turkish secret police rounded up around 250 leading Armenian public figures in Constantinople, including intellectuals, writers and journalists – the leaders of the Armenian community – placing them under arrest and detaining them without cause or on trumped up charges. Over the next few weeks they were joined by around another 2,000 Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople and elsewhere. All the detained individuals were then deported to detention centers near Ankara in central Anatolia. Almost all of them were later killed. 

This was just the first blow in a wider campaign against the entire Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire. Although the process varied from place to place across the empire, typically local Turkish officials would first disarm Armenian men and arrest their local leaders, who were often tortured and killed. Then the officials and ordinary citizens would confiscate Armenian property and homes, and the Armenians would be “deported,” supposedly to other destinations in central Anatolia and later the Syrian desert. 

However the deportations were in effect death marches. Sometimes groups of Armenians would simply be marched into the countryside and shot by the Turkish secret service, the Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa or “Special Organization.” On other occasions columns of deportees would be set upon in the countryside by Turkish or Kurdish bandits. Older, sick, or disabled people who couldn’t keep up were often the first to be killed, as “stragglers.” An American missionary, Henry H. Riggs, was returning to his mission from a visit to Diyarbekir in May 1915 when he encountered a column of refugees: 

They were under guard… As I passed, one man, looking at me quickly, lifted four fingers. That was all, and for a time I could not imagine what his signal was intended to convey. I sound found out, however. In a few minutes I came to a spot where the dust had hardly absorbed a pool of fresh blood. A trail through the dust from the scene of the tragedy to the edge of the bluff beside the road showed plainly enough where the body had been dragged from the road and dropped into the river which flowed just under the bluff. A little further on… [t]here lay the bodies of two elderly Armenians… A little further on yet, we passed the fourth ghastly trophy of that march of exiles. 

Other methods of mass killing included herding groups of victims off cliffs, forcing them to dig their own graves and then burying them alive, and drowning in rivers or lakes. The British diplomat and historian Arnold Toynbee quoted a report written by a German missionary about a mass drowning in May 1915: 

Between the 10th and 30th May, 1,200 of the most prominent Armenians and other Christians, without distinction of confession, were arrested in the Vilayets of Diyarbekir and Mamouret-ul-Aziz… On the 30th May, 674 of them were embarked on thirteen Tigris barges, under the pretext that they were to be taken to Mosul… A short time after the start the prisoners were stripped of all their money… and then of their clothes; after that they were thrown in the river. The gendarmes on the bank were ordered to let none of them escape.

The same report went on: 

For a whole month corpses were observed floating down the River Euphrates nearly every day, often in batches of from two to six corpses bound together. The male corpses are in many cases hideously mutilated (sexual organs cut off, and so on), the female corpses are ripped open… The corpses stranded on the bank are devoured by dogs and vultures. To this fact there are many German eyewitnesses.

See the previous installment, next installment, or all entries.

Jon Snow's Game of Thrones Fate Could Have Spelled Divorce for Showrunner David Benioff

Christopher Polk, Getty Images for Turner
Christopher Polk, Getty Images for Turner

The emotional toll that Game of Thrones's twists and turns takes on its fans has been well-documented. Between the TV show's massive body count and its never-ending series of other shocking moments, the show has left viewers shaken to theirs core for the past eight years (which is part of its massive appeal). But one of Game of Thrones's most heartbreaking moments—the death of Jon Snow at the hands of Alliser Thorne and other members of the Night's Watch in the fifth season—didn't leave just fans crushed. It nearly cost showrunner David Benioff his marriage.

While being interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2015, The Romanoffs star Amanda Peet, who has been married to Benioff since 2006, told Kimmel that she was close to divorcing Benioff for killing off Jon Snow.

"I made him promise me, I begged him … I said, 'I've heard all this stuff … [Kit Harington] got a haircut, I don't want to divorce you, what's happening?'" Peet recalled. Benioff assured his wife that Jon wasn't going to die, but obviously that wasn't true—or at least not at the time. "I don't love you anymore," Peet (jokingly) told her husband. "I said, 'If you kill him, that's it.'"

As we all know, the sixth season saw Jon brought back to life, but Peet likely had no idea it was going to happen due to the intense secrecy of the show. "It's a little like being married to someone in the CIA or something," the actress stated. "He's in bed and he has his earphones and we angle the computer so that I can't see the dailies."

Though Jon's resurrection may have saved their marriage, who knows how Peet will feel about how it all ends when Game of Thrones's eighth and final season premieres on April 14, 2019.

20 Surprising Facts About Benedict Cumberbatch

Larry Busacca, Getty Images
Larry Busacca, Getty Images

If Benedict Cumberbatch isn't careful, he might just run out of dream roles to play. Since the earliest days of his career, the 42-year-old actor has made no secret that there were two roles at the top of his character bucket list: Hamlet and Patrick Melrose, the protagonist at the center of Edward St Aubyn's critically acclaimed series of novels.

In 2015, Cumberbatch took the stage in London to do the whole "to be or not to be" thing. (More on that later.) In 2018, he starred in Patrick Melrose, Showtime's television adaptation of the book series, and earned both Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for the role. Now, Cumberbatch is back on the small screen—and bald—for the HBO movie Brexit, which premieres on January 19th.

1. He made his stage debut playing a "very bossy" Joseph in a Nativity play.

In a 2010 interview with London Theatre, Cumberbatch shared that his first stage performance found him playing “a very bossy Joseph in the Nativity play at primary school. Apparently I pushed Mary offstage because she was taking too long. Actresses eh!”

2. He thinks his name sounds like "a fart in a bath."

There’s something very regal-sounding about a name like Benedict Cumberbatch, but it’s not one that necessarily rolls right off the tongue. The Washington Post once identified the actor as “Bandersnatch Cummerbund” (though later clarified that it was a joke). But there have been plenty of other mix-ups—like the time a television show ID'ed him as “Benedict Cumberpatch” (which sort of has a nice ring to it).

Cumberbatch had a feeling that his name might cause problems in his career, which is why he began his career as Benedict Carlton (which is his middle name). Ultimately, it was his agent who convinced him to use Cumberbatch, even though the actor said the surname sounds like “a fart in a bath.”

3. He toyed with the idea of becoming a lawyer.

Though he grew up in a family of actors, Cumberbatch wasn’t always planning to live his life out in front of a camera. In fact, it was because of his parents’ chosen profession that they encouraged him to pursue a more stable calling, which led him to want to become a criminal lawyer.

“[Acting is] a very odd, peripatetic, crazed, out of your control work and social schedule,” Cumberbatch told The Mirror in 2015. “It's very hard to plan a family life, let alone know where the next paycheck is coming from so they worked very, very hard as my parents, and actors, to afford me an education whereby I had the opportunity and the privilege to try and channel myself towards other goals.

“For a while, I wanted to be a barrister because there's definitely a crossover with criminal law—with trying to persuade an audience and a jury and a judge of the case and your client's story so I did go down that route for a little bit. I think they would have been very happy if I ended up there."

He spoke with Vulture about his legal leanings, too, and noted that, “I would've loved the performance of court, the idea of persuading people, storytelling and all that. It parallels beautifully with acting, lots of frustrated, amateur dramatics going on in court all the time. I think lots of barristers literally perform in amateur dramatic societies and are very good actors. It's a massive crossover."

4. His parents on Sherlock are also his parents in real life.

Speaking of Cumberbatch’s parents: While both Timothy Carlton and Wanda Ventham are familiar faces as actors in their own right, fans of Sherlock might also be quick to recognize them as Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes’s parents.

In 2014, Cumberbatch told the Press Association that he was a little nervous about working with his parents, as “They’re Equity card carrying members but you know it was nerve-wracking because they are actors as well and yet they were brilliant and they were fantastic.”

5. He spent a year teaching in India.

During a gap year, Cumberbatch decided to volunteer his time and teach English at a Tibetan monastery in Darjeeling, India. “I’d always been fascinated by the idea of meditation and what it meant,” he told Lion’s Roar. “In India, I went on a retreat with a lama—several days of incantation to clear and purify the mind—along with a dozen other people. It was incredible, and I kind of floated out of there after two weeks."

Though teaching and acting may seem unrelated, many of the skills and practices Cumberbatch learned during that time eventually helped him in his acting career. “Stillness is an essential part of acting,” he said, “so I already had a certain amount of focus in that beforehand. A still point is a very, very hard place to find, especially among the usual kind of pulped sheep pushed around by the blinking flashing world of modern technology.”

6. He was kidnapped in South Africa.

While filming the 2005 miniseries To the Ends of the Earth, Cumberbatch experienced another kind of epiphany when he nearly lost his life. The actor and two of his co-stars took a day off to learn how to scuba dive near Mozambique. On their way back from the outing, the actor explained, “The three of us were trying to change the tire. These six men appeared suddenly from the eucalyptus. They said: 'Put your hands on your head, don't look at us,' and were frisking us for drugs, money, weapons. Then they bundled us into the car. They dragged me up and put me in the boot of the car.”

Like so many of the quick-thinking characters he has played, Cumberbatch realized his only option was to try and argue his way out of the situation:

“I said: ‘If you leave me in here, it’s not the lack of air, it’s the small space. There’s a problem with my heart and my brain.’

“I just tried to explain to them: ‘I will die, possibly have a fit, and it will be a problem for you. I will be a dead Englishman in your car. Not good.’

“They shut the boot and had an argument, and then pulled me out. So I kind of thank God I had the presence of mind to give them the idea that it would be better to keep me alive. And the other two hadn’t been harmed.”

In a way, the incident became the impetus for Cumberbatch to pursue his dreams even more aggressively. “It taught me that you come into this world as you leave it, on your own,” he said. “It’s made me want to live a life slightly less ordinary.”

7. Julian Assange tried to talk him out of starring in The Fifth Estate.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in 'The Fifth Estate' (2013)
DreamWorks

In 2013, a very white-haired Cumberbatch played the role of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate. In preparing for the role, Cumberbatch—ever the dutiful actor—reached out to Assange about arranging a meeting. Assange’s response, which went viral, was rather epic. Though he assured Cumberbatch that he would very much enjoy meeting him, and that he believed they would get along, he spent the bulk of his word count telling the actor why making the film was a terrible idea:

“You will be used, as a hired gun, to assume the appearance of the truth in order to assassinate it. To present me as someone morally compromised and to place me in a falsified history. To create a work, not of fiction, but of debased truth.

“Not because you want to, of course you don't, but because, in the end, you are a jobbing actor who gets paid to follow the script, no matter how debauched.

“Your skills play into the hands of people who are out to remove me and WikiLeaks from the world.

“I believe that you should reconsider your involvement in this enterprise.”

The film went forward as planned, with Cumberbatch in the lead (though it was a critical and box office failure, which likely pleased Assange).

8. He is easily starstruck.

When asked during a Reddit AMA whether he’s ever been starstruck while meeting or working with a fellow actor, Cumberbatch admitted that it happens all the time: “Uhhhhhhhh. Every time I've met someone famous who I've been in the audience of,” he said. “I have the same butterflies and inability to be cool. I approach them as a fellow member of the human race as the next person in their audience does. I've been doing this for 10 odd years, and so to meet people who thrilled me with their work for my entire life in such a concentrated manner as has happened over the last few years has been mind-blowing.”

9. Ted Danson was really, really excited to meet him.

While Cumberbatch may get nervous every time he meets an acting hero, one well-known actor who was pretty excited to meet Cumberbatch was Cheers star Ted Danson. When asked during a Reddit AMA to share the “weirdest encounter you've had with a fan,” Cumberbatch answered: “Ted Danson at a pre-Oscar party screaming across a floor of people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Ray Liotta, Kristen Stewart, Kirsten Dunst, et al while pushing past them and knocking their drinks. ‘OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! IT'S F***ING SHERLOCK HOLMES!’”

10. He wasn't immediately sold on playing Sherlock Holmes.

Though playing the titular “consulting detective” in Sherlock is the role that brought Cumberbatch global recognition, saying yes to the part wasn’t exactly a no-brainer for the actor. While speaking at a BAFTA event in 2014, Cumberbatch admitted that he was actually a little hesitant to sign on for the project. “I heard about it and thought that sounds like an idea to [re-franchise] something to make money,” he said. “It could be a bit cheap and cheesy. Then I found out who was involved and realized it wouldn’t be cheap and cheesy.

“My mum had done a few episodes of Coupling with Steven [Moffat] and Mark Gatiss was a huge hero of mine when I was a student in League Of Gentleman,” Cumberbatch continued, “so I knew the stable was good. I thought I would read it and then I fell in love with it.”

11. The BBC wasn't sure Cumberbatch was "sexy" enough to pull off Sherlock.


BBC

It’s funny to think about now, considering Cumberatch’s massive worldwide fanbase, but just as the actor wasn’t immediately sold on playing Sherlock Holmes, the BBC wasn’t sure the actor was a great match for the role—because they wanted someone with sex appeal. While speaking at the Hay Festival in 2014, Sherlock co-creator Steven Moffat talked about the BBC’s track record in determining which actors might connect with audiences—Cumberbatch being one of them.

“They said of casting David Tennant as Casanova, ‘Damn, you should have cast someone sexier,’” Moffat said. “With Benedict Cumberbatch, we were told the same thing. ‘You promised us a sexy Sherlock, not him.’”

Sue Vertue, a fellow producer on Sherlock (and Moffat's wife), relayed a similar tale to Entertainment Weekly just a few months prior to Moffat’s comments, telling the magazine: “When we first cast [Cumberbatch], people were saying, ‘You promised us a sexy one!’ People weren’t thinking of Benedict in that light at all.” His name, apparently, posed another problem: “When people said, ‘Who’s playing Sherlock Holmes?’ and we’d say, ‘Benedict Cumberbatch,’ everyone looked very vague,” Vertue said. “Then we’d always have to spell his name.”

12. He is (distantly) related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It turns out that Sherlock Holmes may have been the role Cumberbatch was born to play. In 2017, researchers at Ancestry.com made the rather fascinating discovery that Cumberbatch and Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are sixteenth cousins, twice removed. The ancestral link between the two is former Duke of Lancaster John of Gaunt, who was Doyle’s 15th great-grandfather and Cumberbatch’s 17th great-grandfather.

13. He also has a family link to Alan Turing.

Amazingly, the Conan Doyle connection wasn’t the first time Cumberbatch’s ancestry was linked to one of his characters. In 2014, the same team of researchers determined that Cumberbatch was the 17th cousin of Alan Turing, the computer scientist/codebreaker he played in Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game (2014)—a role that earned Cumberbatch an Oscar nomination in 2015.

14. He has been rendered in chocolate on more than one occasion.


UKTV/FLICKR

In a somewhat bizarre promotional campaign by Britain’s UKTV in 2015, Cumberbatch narrowly beat out David Tennant by a margin of just one percent to be named “TV Dishiest Drama Actor.” The prize? Having a life-sized statue, made entirely of Belgian chocolate, created in the actor’s likeness.

It took a team of eight people more than 250 man-hours to construct the delicious doppelgänger, dubbed “Benedict Chocobatch." In 2016, he was recreated in the sweet stuff again, though this time as an edible chocolate bunny/Benedict hybrid that fans could actually purchase … and eat.

15. He turned Hamlet into "the most in-demand show of all time."

In 2015, Cumberbatch achieved one of his lifetime dreams when it was announced that he would play Hamlet in a 12-week run at London’s Barbican theater. Tickets ended up selling out almost as fast as one could say “To be or not to be.” As The Telegraph reported in 2014:

"The curtain does not go up on the production for another year, but Cumberbatch's Hamlet is nevertheless outselling the next most popular show, the current run of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Young Vic, by four to one. The show has even registered 214 per cent more ticket searches in the hours after tickets were released than Beyoncé and Jay Z’s global On the Run tour.

Hamlet tickets went on sale at 10am on August 11 and within minutes fans were expressing frustration at finding themselves more than 20,000 places back in the queue."

16. He's the leading man in a lot of fan fiction.

In addition to being a leading man on the stage and both the small and big screens, Cumberbatch plays a starring role in a lot of fan fiction. A lot of fan fiction! In 2013, The Mirror estimated that approximately 100 million words of fan fiction had been written about the Sherlock star. Considering that was six years ago, the word count has certainly only grown.

17. Simon Pegg convinced him that he might have radiation poisoning.

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in 'Star Trek Into Darkness' (2013)
Paramount Pictures

While filming Star Trek: Into Darkness, Simon Pegg decided to have a little fun with Cumberbatch by convincing him that he was at risk for radiation exposure. According to Pegg, it worked. He recounted the story to The Sun in 2013:

"I don't like seeing people get embarrassed. But we were filming in a nuclear facility and one day I said that Chris [Pine] needed neutron cream—otherwise he'd get sunburn. He said, 'What?' And I said, 'Yeah, you'll get a rash from ambient radiation in the air.' From there the trick spread to other cast members. Finally, we got Benedict. He had this speech and he kept f***ing it up. Afterwards he said, 'Guys, I'm ever so sorry —I've got a real headache. I think the ions were getting to me.' He was so convinced."

18. He has a rare genetic mutation.

If Cumberbatch’s eyes seem to regularly change color, you’re not imagining things: The actor was born with both central heterochromia and sectoral heterochromia—two rare-but-harmless genetic mutations that affect his eyes. Each of his eyes has multiple colors (a mix of blue, green, and gold) because of the central heterochromia, and the sectoral heterochromia is the reason why he has a brown “freckle” on his right eye.

But ask the actor what his favorite part of his body is, and the eyes have got it. “I guess as an actor your eyes are vital in conveying any internal thought process or feeling, and for that I have my mum to thank,” he said.

19. He's not cool with "Cumberbitches."

When Cumberbatch’s massive contingency of female fans dubbed themselves “Cumberbitches,” the actor took issue with the pejorative moniker. “It’s not even politeness,” he said of his distaste for the term. “I won’t allow you to be my bitches. I think it sets feminism back so many notches. You are ... Cumberpeople."

20. He has been a vocal proponent of closing the gender pay gap.

Equal pay in Hollywood is a hot-button topic, and Cumberbatch has made his stance on the issue very clear by stating that he won’t work on a project if his female co-stars aren’t being paid the same. "Equal pay and a place at the table are the central tenets of feminism," Cumberbatch told Radio Times. "Look at your quotas. Ask what women are being paid, and say: 'If she’s not paid the same as the men, I’m not doing it.'"

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