LONDON (AP) – The rainbow flag is proudly raised on Thursday above the Bank of England, in the heart of London’s financial district, to commemorate World War II code breaker Alan Turing, the new face of 50 pound note from Great Britain.
The design of the banknote was revealed prior to its formal release to the public on June 23, Turing’s birthday. The 50 pound note is the most valuable denomination in circulation, but it is seldom used during daily transactions, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, as digital exchanges have increasingly replaced the use of money.
The new banknote, which is loaded with high-level security features, completes the bank’s readjustment of its paper currency stability in recent years. Turing’s image joins that of Winston Churchill on the five pound note, novelist Jane Austen on the 10 pound note and artist JMW Turner on the 20 pound note. All banknotes are made of polymer instead of paper, which means they must last longer and remain in better condition during use.
The new note incorporates two windows and a two-color sheet that designers say will make counterfeiting difficult. There is also a hologram image that changes between the words “Fifty” and “Pounds” when the note is tilted from side to side, as well as a built-in microchip to honor Turing’s role in the birth of computers.
Turing was chosen as the new face of the 50 pound note in 2019 after a public nomination process, recognizing his key role in breaking the Enigma code of Nazi Germany during World War II. The code was considered unbreakable, as the cipher changed continuously. Historians say that breaking the code may have helped shorten the war by at least two years, potentially saving millions of lives.
The nearly 250,000 votes supporting Turing’s nomination also represented an acknowledgment of the discrimination he faced as a homosexual after the war.
“There is something about a nation’s character in its money and we are right to consider and celebrate people on our bank notes,” said Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey.
“Turing is best known for his coding work at Bletchley Park, which helped to end World War II. However, in addition, he was an important mathematician, developmental biologist and a pioneer in the field of computer science. He was also gay and was treated terribly as a result. “
During World War II, Turing worked at Bletchley Park’s secret code-cracking center, where he helped break Enigma by creating the “Turing bomb”, a precursor to modern computers. He also developed the “Turing test” to measure artificial intelligence.
After the war, he was prosecuted for his relationship with a man in Manchester and had the choice between prison and parole on condition that he underwent treatment with female hormones, which at the time was used as a form of chemical castration.
His conviction led to the removal of his security clearance and meant that he was no longer able to work for the Government’s Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). He died at the age of 41 in 1954, after eating an apple mixed with cyanide.
Turing received a posthumous apology from the British government in 2009 and a royal pardon in 2013. Four years later, Turing’s law, which pardoned gay men with previous convictions, was passed.
Actor and author Stephen Fry said Turing’s choice to appear on the 50-pound note marks another step in the nation’s long-awaited recognition of “this great man”, whose “talents vary everywhere”.
In a YouTube video posted by the Bank of England, Fry exposed the levels of discrimination and “barbaric punishments” that gays faced in the years after World War II.
“Alan Turing was among the thousands of men harassed and detained by the authorities,” he said.
“Not only because of the hostile attitude towards their sexuality alone, but also because of the prejudiced belief that there was a connection between homosexuality and communism,” added Fry.
In the past decade, Turing’s life has become known to a much wider audience, especially after the 2014 film “The Imitation Game”, which saw Benedict Cumberbatch play Turing’s role.
As part of the new banknote project, the bank collaborated with the UK intelligence and security agency GCHQ to create the Turing Challenge, a set of 12 puzzles
GCHQ said the full challenge could take seven hours for an experienced puzzle to complete and may even have left Turing “scratching his head, although we highly doubt it”.
Turing’s great-nephew, James Turing, who runs the Turing Trust who refurbishes UK computers for use in African schools, told BBC radio that the puzzle is “a wonderful recognition and somewhat reminiscent of the famous crossword puzzle they used to recruit at Bletchley Park at that time.”