The Bank of England on Wednesday unveiled their new £50 note featuring gay mathematician, cryptographer, and biologist Alan Turing. Turing was selected by public nomination in 2019 when the Bank sought to honor a British scientist on the note. Despite his instrumental contributions breaking Nazi Germany’s famed Enigma code during World War II, the heroic cryptopgrapher was later chemically castrated following his 1952 arrest for having a sexual relationship with another man.
“Turing is best known for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, which helped end the Second World War,” Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said in a statement. “However in addition he was a leading mathematician, developmental biologist, and a pioneer in the field of computer science. He was also gay, and was treated appallingly as a result. By placing him on our new polymer £50 banknote, we are celebrating his achievements, and the values he symbolizes.”
“Turing was embraced for his brilliance and persecuted for being gay,” echoed GCHG Director, Jeremy Fleming. “His legacy is a reminder of the value of embracing all aspects of diversity, but also the work we still need to do to become truly inclusive.”
The new £50 polymer note features Turing’s likeness on the back along with other symbolic imagery representing his many achievements. These include images and technical drawings of his early attempt at computers along with a key component of his codebreaking machine, ticker tape depicting his birthdate in binary code, as well as a quote he gave to The Times in 1949 where he said “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”
The Bank of England released a video on YouTube which featured gay author and actor Stephen Fry, who noted Turing “was among the thousands of men who were harried and harangued by the authorities” during the post-war United Kingdom, and that he was filled with delight both with the honoring of Turing but also the manner in which he was selected.
“The choice of Alan Turing and the manner in which it was arrived at by public nomination marks another step in our nation’s long overdue recognition of this very great man,” Fry said in the video.
Turing was a key visionary and pioneer in the fields of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. He was instrumental in his efforts at famed Bletchley Park just outside London where he and his team broke Nazi Germany’s Enigma code, which was thought to be unbreakable. Much of his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act at the time, and so he was never fully recognized for his contributions.
He was arrested in 1952 for homosexual activity with a consenting 19-year-old man. Given the choice between prison or chemical castration, he chose the latter. As a result of his conviction, the authorities took away his security clearance and barred him from further cryptography work for the British signals intelligence agency. He died in 1954 at the age of 41, having consumed cyanide. Turing’s life and story were famously portrayed in the 2014 film The Imitation Game staring Benedict Cumberbatch.
Fleming said he sees Turing’s appearance on the note as a “landmark moment” in his country’s history and a cause for both celebration and reflection.
“Not only is it a celebration of his scientific genius which helped to shorten the war and influence the technology we still use today, it also confirms his status as one of the most iconic LGBT+ figures in the world.,” Fleming said.