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Alan Turing honour

Where The Guide leads, others clearly follow! It was more than a year ago that The Hampton Guide launched its campaign for codebreaking and computer genius Alan Turing to be honoured by the nation for his outstanding work during and after the Second World War.

This year – in what would have been Turing’s centenary – all kinds of other media outlets have joined the clamour for some kind of formal recognition to be given to the man who, arguably, was one of the biggest contributors to the overall victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany.

Various schemes have been suggested – including putting Turing’s image on the back of a new banknote – but our view is, and has always been, that a posthumous knighthood is the only appropriate way of marking his contribution.

Turing, who lived in Hampton whilst he was working at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington after the war, is largely credited as the man who invented the computer. Whilst at Teddington, Turing worked on plans for building one of the first true computing machines – ACE: the Automatic Computing Engine – and although he left NPL before it was constructed, his legacy was obvious.

That followed his work at the top secret wartime codebreaking unit at Bletchley Park in Bedfordshire where he helped to devise electronic machines called Bombes which made the process of cracking the German Enigma code easier and faster.

It was the ability of the British and their allies to decipher those codes that allowed them to pinpoint the spots in the North Atlantic where Nazi U-boat packs were gathering to attack vital convoys – and it proved a key turning point in the war.  His efforts subsequently led to the development of early computing machines and many of the principles Turing established in those years remain fundamental for today’s hardware and software developers.

Because of the secrecy surrounding Bletchley Park, even after the war had finished, Turing received no recognition for his part in the codebreaking – although he was idolised by those who worked with him.

In 1952, he reported a burglary at his home but during the police investigation it emerged that Turing had a male lover staying in the house at the time. Homosexuality was then a criminal offence and Turing himself was prosecuted and found guilty. He accepted a course of injections, which were designed to suppress his sexual urges, rather than go to prison but from that point onwards there was far more attention focused on his sexuality than on his genius in computing.

In June 1954, his housekeeper entered Turing’s room to find him dead with a half-eaten apple beside him. An inquest subsequently found that he had taken his own life - by injecting cyanide into the apple – ‘while the balance of his mind was disturbed.’

With all the attention on his centenary – his 100th birthday would have been June 23 this year – that verdict is now under question. Turing expert Professor Jack Copeland says that there was nowhere near enough evidence to support that verdict – the police did not even check to see whether traces of cyanide remained in the half-eaten apple – and most of Turing’s friends said he was in high spirits in the days running up to his supposed suicide.

Whatever the truth of his passing may be, there is no doubt that Turing deserves some tangible recognition for his contribution to the United Kingdom.

As we’ve argued all along, a posthumous knighthood is the least that the Government should consider for this extraordinary man.
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What's On
Jun 27
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Jul 6-12
Pride in London: Pride Day Celebration of sexual diversity, including the Pride Parade. www.prideinlondon.org
Jul 11
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Aug 15
Sunbury Regatta Rivermead Island, Sunbury (www.sunburyregatta.com)