5 facts about… Alan Turing

The man who helped break the German Enigma code in World War II, a pioneer of computer science and one of the 20th century’s most brilliant mathematicians

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When World War II was declared, a young Cambridge graduate named Alan Turing arrived at Bletchley Park. It was while at the Buckinghamshire mansion, home to the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School, where Turing and his colleagues broke the ‘unbreakable’ Enigma code. Not finished there, Turing developed an idea for a ‘universal machine’ – the early blueprint for modern-day computers – resulting in his 1950 invention, the Automated Computing Engine. The ACE was the fastest computer in the world.

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Here are 5 facts about Turing’s life, and his tragic end…

1) ECCENTRIC GENIUS
The scruffy, shy Turing soon earned a reputation at Bletchley as an eccentric loner. He would be seen cycling around the grounds with his pyjamas under his clothes while wearing a gas mask – to avoid hay fever – and in his office, Turing kept his mug from being stolen by chaining it to his radiator.

2) SEXUALITY
Turing was a homosexual – a criminal offence in Britain at the time. While at Bletchley, he proposed to a colleague, Joan Clarke, perhaps in an attempt to divert attention away from his true sexuality. Joan accepted, but Turing soon called it off.

3) ARREST
Turing was arrested in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’ – the draconian umbrella charge used against homosexual behaviour. He only avoided prison by agreeing to injections of female hormones, in a ‘treatment’ known as chemical castration, as an attempt to ‘remove’ his homosexual libido.

4) SNOW WHITE
Sinking into deep depression, the 41-year-old Turing committed suicide on 8 June 1954. Next to his body was a half-eaten apple. As Turing was a massive fan of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, many still believe the apple was laced with cyanide and that his method of suicide was a tribute to the Disney film. Before his death, he was occasionally heard muttering to himself the Wicked Queen’s line, “Dip the apple in the brew, let the sleeping death seep through.”

5) PARDON
Following an online petition campaign in 2013, Turing was given a royal pardon for his conviction – 61 years after his shameful arrest. Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised in 2009 for the “appalling” treatment Turing endured.

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Alan Turing is History Revealed’s History Maker in the September issue – on sale now. Available in print and digitally