Alan Turing on British money

by Ed Sawicki - June 2021

Alan Turing 50 pound note
Alan Turing on 50 pound note

The Bank of England will issue a 50 pound note featuring Alan Turing on June 23, 2021, Turing's birthday. He died on June 7, 1954 at the age of 41.

Turing is best known for his work at Bletchley Park during World War II breaking German codes—most famously, the code used by the German Enigma machine. Turing's work helped the Allies win the war.

However, this didn't stop the British legal system from prosecuting Turing for being gay in 1952. If the British public did anything to intervene on his behalf, it was not successful. Gayness was a serious crime in Britain in those days but so was rock and roll less than a decade later.

Turing was faced with a choice of prison or chemical castration. He accepted the latter but this admission of guilt removed his security clearance and barred him from continuing his work for the British signals intelligence agency (GCHQ).

In 1955, he died from cyanide poisoning, ruled a suicide.

On September 10, 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for how Turing was treated. On December 24, 2013, Queen Elizabeth II signed a pardon for Turing's conviction for “gross indecency”. Honoring Turing with a 50 pound note in 2021 is further recognition of his contribution.

Some press reports say that Turing is the first gay man to appear on British money—but really, what are the chances of that?


Wikipedia: Alan Turing

Wikipedia: Turing completeness

BBC: Royal pardon for codebreaker Alan Turing

Bank of England: The new £50 note unveiled

NPR: New U.K. Currency Honors Alan Turing, Pioneering Computer Scientist And Code-Breaker

The UK’s new £50 note celebrates Alan Turing with lots of geeky Easter eggs