020 8979 9858

Alan Turing, genius code breaker and mathematician

WHEN you consider what some people do to earn a knighthood, it’s quickly apparent that there have been some glaring omissions in our history.
One of the worst such examples, in our view, is the case of former Hampton resident Alan Turing, the genius code breaker and mathematician who cracked the German Enigma code and prevented England from being starved into submission by the U-boat fleet during the Second World War.                                                                                                                                      
Alan Mathison Turing, often referred to as the father of modern computing and one of the most creative thinkers in recent British history, lived for part of his life in Hampton.
Turing was most famous for his work during the Second World War when he was part of the British government's Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.
As one of the leaders of the code-breaking team in Hut 8 at the highly secret Buckinghamshire establishment, Turing was responsible for helping to break the complex naval code system used by the Kriegsmarine to control U-boat wolf packs and surface raider movements during the Battle of the Atlantic and to direct them to the right areas to attack vulnerable convoys heading to and from the United States and further afield.
It was an absolutely crucial phase of the war when Britain, an island nation, was totally dependent on supplies of food and munitions arriving by sea and, for a time, it looked as though the well-organised and tenacious wolf packs would win the war for Germany.
But thanks to Turing’s extraordinary mind, he devised a number of electromechanical instruments to help narrow down possible solutions to the encrypted German ciphers to a manageable number for further investigation.
One of the most famous of these machines was called a ‘bombe’ and consisted of a series of electronic wheels and relays which could work through the millions of possible combinations for each code at what, at the time, was a phenomenal speed.
These instruments are recognised as the foundation of modern day computers and led Turing to become interested in artificial intelligence. He went on to devise the so-called ‘Turing Test’ to define whether a machine is "intelligent".
Briefly, this test is based on the concept that if a human cannot distinguish a machine from another human being by talking to it, the machine is defined as being ‘intelligent.’
Many subsequent political commentators have jokingly suggested that the Turing Test could equally well be applied to politicians of all different hues to discover whether there is any real intelligence at work!
Turing’s rise to fame followed an often difficult path.
Born in Maida Vale, London, in June 1912, he spent most of his young life with friends of his parents in Hastings as his father was a member of the British Civil Service and was posted to India.
From a very early age, it was clear that the boy bordered on being a genius and he was eventually sent to Sherborne public school in Dorset.
Even there, Turing found it difficult to fit in – with his natural gift for mathematics and science, the headmaster at Sherborne even wrote to his parents suggesting that it if wanted to concentrate on learning science subjects, he might be wasted at Sherborne which, like most schools of its age, concentrated more on teaching the classics rather than science-related subjects.
Alan Turing eventually graduated with a first class honours degree in mathematics from Cambridge and went on to study at Princeton University in the United States where he obtained a PhD.
He returned to Cambridge and worked on a number of theoretical projects designed to demonstrate the power of machines in helping to calculate and solve problems.
With the outbreak of war in 1939, Turing was quickly signed up by the Government Code and Cypher School GCCS) and began work in earnest as a crptanalygist.
In 1945, Turing was made an OBE for his wartime services and shortly after that, came to work at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington on the design of another early computer – ACE – the Automatic Computing Engine – which was eventually built in 1950.
It was during this period that Turing lived in Hampton for nearly two years in a guesthouse – Ivy House ¬– in Church Street, Hampton.
By that time, Turing had accepted a post with Manchester University where he continued to work on computing models and algorithms.
The diminutive genius had always acknowledged his homosexuality and during his invaluable wartime service, it had never presented a problem to the authorities.
But as with so much of his life, his sexuality was touched by tragedy. 
One of his early lovers died suddenly when Turing was just a teenager and it was another lover who indirectly led to Turing’s tragic end.
The lover broke into Turing's house but when he reported the crime to the police they decided that Turing himself was the true criminal -because he was gay.
The authorities gave Turing an unpalatable choice – go to prison or suffer chemical castration by undergoing a course of oestrogen injections. Turing chose the latter course but it led to a severe bout of depression and, ultimately, to his suicide in June 1954, when he ate a cyanide-laced apple. He was just 41.
On September 10 2009, following an internet campaign, Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British Government for the way in which Turing was treated after the war.
Scant consolation for a genius that deserved far better from the country he saved from Nazi occupation.
If ever anyone deserved a posthumous knighthood, in our opinion, it is Turing. Let us know what you think.
Editors Choice local news, reviews and features...
Crisis in the NHS and Social Care Image

Crisis in the NHS and Social Care

The NHS featured prominently in the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremony, in a way it?s difficult to imagine any other country?s health system doing. And the Brexit campaign made significant traction with its promise that the £350 million a week we ?send? to the EU (over half of which comes straight back) could ?fund our NHS instead?

Read More


Robert Bigelow Image

Robert Bigelow

MOST of the time, people who say they believe in the story that aliens are living on earth can be dismissed as 'the lunatic fringe' or perhaps those who have been rather over-indulging in strong liquor. But when a billionaire American businessman - and particularly one who has worked with NASA on constructing space habitats and vehicles.

Read More


Aaron Swartz Image

Aaron Swartz

AUTHORITY has always had a difficulty with those unique human beings who see things differently from the majority. In an extraordinary career, he founded a number of defining internet sites, many of which were devoted to ensuring public access to huge swathes of material.

Read More


JOHN SHEAF Image

JOHN SHEAF

Some more interesting facts from our local historian John Sheaf

Read More


From the Web, your call ? Bruno Borges Image

From the Web, your call ? Bruno Borges

WHEN you consider the vastness of the Universe, there is much to be said in support of the theory that there is likely to be other intelligent life out there somewhere. Throughout the centuries, man has posed the question about alien lifeforms and much has been written about supposed sightings of extra-terrestrial beings.

Read More


Cleve West Vegan

Veganism - the way to a kinder world!

We recently spoke to the Hampton Guide resident gardener Cleve West about his transition from vegetarian to vegan and how it has transformed his life.

Read More


AlanSimpson

Alan Simpson Interview

Thousands of people who grew up in the 1950s and 60s will fondly remember the radio and TV shows of the late great comedian Tony Hancock. I  spent an evening talking to legendary scriptwriter Alan Simpson, who, along with Ray Galton, wrote the words for Hancock, about a project to re-create some of the radio shows that have been lost over time.

Read More


Steve McPherson Image

Steve McPherson

Steve McPherson has had almost a life-long love affair with Hampton and Richmond Borough Football Club - an affair that culminated with him taking on the role of club chairman for more than nine years.

Read More


Jessie Matthews Image

Jessie Matthews

ONE famous former resident of Hampton was dancer and actress Jessie Matthews who used to live in Old Farm, Old Farm Road which has since been demolished.
Read More


john cooper

John Cooper motor racing legend

THERE have been many notable sporting personalities who have lived and worked in Kingston and its surrounds but few have made such an impact on their sport as John Newton Cooper.
Read More


Galton and simpson

The Lost Hancock Scripts

Many people associate the birth of situation comedy with such shows as 'Hancock Half Hour' and 'Steptoe and Son'. Hampton residents Ray Galton and Alan Simpson are the brilliant writers behind these comic gems. We caught up with them over a curry to find out how they found the missing Hancock scripts...
Read More


Alan Turing, genius code breaker and mathematician

Alan Turing, genius code breaker and mathematician

WHEN you consider what some people do to earn a knighthood, it’s quickly apparent that there have been some glaring omissions in our history.
One of the worst such examples, in our view, is the case of former Hampton resident Alan Turing...

Read More


Alan Turing honour

Alan Turing honour

Where The Guide leads, others clearly follow! It was more than a year ago that The Hampton Guide launched its campaign for codebreaking and computer genius Alan Turing to be honoured by the nation for his outstanding work during and after the Second World War.
Read More


Dr Vince Cable M.P. Interview Image

Dr Vince Cable M.P. Interview

Sir Vince Cable, who won back his Twickenham Constituency seat in Parliament for the Liberal Democrats at June's general election, is now 74.
But at a time when many people would be thinking of enjoying a relaxing retirement, Sir Vince is clearly relishing his renewed opportunity to influence the future of Great Britain - and is doing so with the energy and enthusiasm that many half his age would envy.

Read More


Special Offers

Not to be missed special offers from local traders and businesses
Alan Turing, genius code breaker and mathematician Special Offers Panel - Intro Image


What's On...

Events, shows, concerts, sporting occassions - month by month in your area -
What's On
Sept 16-17
Open House London Free Admission Kempton Waterworks, Snakey Lane, Hanworth Visit the Museum for free and marvel at the spectacular 1000-ton engines in this beautiful Art Deco building. Doors open at 10:30am (please note: engine not in steam!) (www.kemptonsteam.org)
Sept 30
Glow in the Park Kempton Park Dance, jog, run or walk your way around a 5km course. Glow zones and music will keep you grooving round the route. Don't forget to wear all your glow kit (www.kempton.co.uk)
Oct 1-7
The Turn of the Screw Hampton Hill Theatre, 90 High Street, Hampton Hill A ghost story by Henry James (www.teddingtontheatreclub.org.uk)
Nov 4 (tbc)
Roundtable Fireworks Kempton Park Fun for all the family (www.kemptonfireworks.org.uk)