No single country won World War II (although the US of A may beg to differ), just as no single person won the war either. But there is one man that came as close as anyone to being the saviour of modern Europe – Alan Turing. So how did good ol’ Blighty repay this genius? – chemical castration. Mental.
This week, had he been alive, he would have hit 100 years of age. In computerology or whatever it’s called, he is considered the grandaddy of modern PC’s. He showed his mathematical prowess early on in his life, solving problems trickier than the sudoku in the Financial Times. During WWII he worked in Britain’s code breaking centre where he helped bring down the Nazi’s Enigma Machine. I read a bit about how they did that, but I couldn’t understand a single bit of it. But it sounds snazzy. He seems to have been a good old, text book, English eccentric too, one of his co-code jazzers said this of him: “in the first week of June each year he would get a bad attack of hay fever, and he would cycle to the office wearing a service gas mask to keep the pollen off. His bicycle had a fault: the chain would come off at regular intervals. Instead of having it mended he would count the number of times the pedals went round and would get off the bicycle in time to adjust the chain by hand. Another of his eccentricities is that he chained his mug to the radiator pipes to prevent it being stolen”. That’s what I want from a British genius/ hero – quirky as a plum.
He got an OBE for his services in the war, but that’s where the accolades stopped. In 1952 he struck up a brief relationship with a guy called Arnold Murray who, after a week or so, broke in to Turing’s house. Turing reported this to the Police who, upon questioning, found he had had a sexual encounter with Mr Murray and immediately arrested them both for gross indecency. Yes, that’s right, 60 years ago, in this country, two people did something in their own house, that hurt no one and were arrested for it. Alan seems to have hidden the trauma with humour and is said to have carried a file with the documents pertaining to the case emblazoned with the words “Burglary and Buggery”. He is also quoted as saying “…the worst I can get is seven years, but if I’d buggered a sheep it might be ten” before cackling with laughter.
Turing, probably terrified of jail (fair enough, it sounds rubbish), opted for chemical castration instead! What a choice. Two years later he was found dead at his own hand with a partially eaten cyanide soaked apple beside him.
Finally in September 2009 the British government made an official apology for the way Turing was handled. Too little too late. Turing we salute you….