Friday, 4 September 2009

A Great Briton

Among all the refreshed memories of the outbreak of the Second World War, one name has been neglected: Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who cracked the German Enigma code, thereby shortening the war by an estimated two years, saving hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of lives. Bletchley Park, the settlement of Nissan huts where Turing and his fellow codebreakers worked their magic, was recently denied government funding, an astonishing decision, considering the role it played in the preservation of civilised life. Simon Greenish, Director of the Bletchley Park Trust, recently revealed that school visits were to be cut due to lack of funding; this despite the Trust being awarded one of Ed Balls’ Quality Badges for the excellence of its education programmes.

Turing himself appears to be better known outside the UK; AppleMac’s famous logo of a bitten apple is an homage to Turing, who committed suicide by biting into poisoned fruit in 1954 after two years of ‘chemical castration’ imposed on him following a prosecution for gross indecency in 1952. Computer scientist John Graham-Cumming recently established a petition calling for an apology from the UK government for the way the mathematician was treated. He has also written to the Queen to ask for Turing to be awarded a posthumous knighthood. It seems the least a grateful nation can do.

There is of course another honour we can offer Turing. As referred to before, the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square, currently plagued by exhibitionists filmed from the Sky Arts Nissan hut (some kind of oblique tribute to Bletchley Park?), will soon be free. So what’s it to be? A Spitfire or Alan Turing on the plinth? At the moment, I am inclining towards the latter. Arise Sir Alan, we are all in your debt.

Bletchley Park maintains an informative website and a vigorous social media campaign.

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