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Who is Alan Turing and why will he be on the new £50 note?

Alan Turing will feature on the new £50 note from 2021. Credit: Alan Turing

Computer scientist Alan Turing will be recognised for his work by becoming the face of a new £50 note.

The Bank of England said the note will go into circulation in 2021, with Turing coming top of a 900-name shortlist of scientists for the honourary position.

His work is widely believed to have shortened the length of World War Two - but who was he and how is he remembered?

  • Who was Alan Turing?
The Bank of England will print the notes from 2021. Credit: Bank of England

Alan Turing was a wartime hero who is often considered to be the father of computer science.

Born on June 23, 1912, Turing studied mathematics at King’s College, University of Cambridge, gaining a first-class honours degree in 1934. He was elected a Fellow of the College.

In 1936 his work on Computable Numbers is seen as giving birth to the idea of how computers could operate.

Perhaps Turing’s best-known achievement was his role in cracking the Enigma code.

He played a pivotal role in decoding the cypher, used by German forces and thought to be unbreakable, the legacy of this work has a lasting impact on the way we live today.

It has been said cracking the code helped to shorten the length of the Second World War by at least two years – saving millions of lives.

But his life would soon be overshadowed by a conviction for homosexual activity, a decision now considered unjust and discriminatory against a man who should have been celebrated as a hero.

The notebook of Enigma code-breaker Alan Turing, loaned to Bletchley Park, which played a major part in breaking codes in the Second World War. Credit: Chris Radburn/PA
  • Why was he convicted?

Turing was brought before a court in 1952 and found guilty of committing an act of gross indecency with another man.

At the time it was a criminal offence in the United Kingdom for people to engage in homosexual acts - a law that wouldn't change until 1967.

He chose chemical castration over a custodial sentence. He was also banned from working at GCHQ, a government intelligence agency.

Court papers from the time note his sentence as being "placed on probation for twelve months" and ordering him to "submit for treatment by a duly qualified medical practitioner at Manchester Royal Infirmary".

Just two years later, at the age of 41, Turing took his own life.

Alan Turing is regarded of one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. Credit: Alan Turing
  • Why is Turing being printed on a £50 note significant?

The decision to print his image on a British bank note is a major step in the fight for recognition of his work.

Campaigners have long demanded he be remembered for his achievements, which were brushed aside due to his sexuality.

It took decades of campaigning for Turing, and other men convicted of similar acts, to receive an apology.

The Queen posthumously pardoned Turing in 2013. The then-Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, said it was a "fitting tribute to an exceptional man."

The decision from the Bank of England reflects a move towards greater diversity of people printed on British bank notes.

  • What else have the apology campaigners achieved?

Aside from the posthumous royal pardon, Turing has received several formal apologies.

In September 2009, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised to Turing for prosecuting him as a homosexual, after a petition calling for such a move.

He said: "We're sorry, you deserved so much better," in an official statement posted on the Downing Street website.

Stephen Hawking, who was also shortlisted to become a face on the £50 note, urged the then prime minister to make the apology.

In April 2016, GCHQ boss Robert Hannigan formally apologised on behalf of the organisation from which he was expelled following his conviction.

He said: "The fact that it was common practice for decades reflected the intolerance of the times and the pressures of the cold war, but it does not make it any less wrong and we should apologise for it.

"Their suffering was our loss and it was the nation’s loss too because we cannot know what [those] who were dismissed would have gone on to do and achieve. We did not learn our lesson from Turing."

Not all have agreed he should receive the apology. A bill was temporarily halted from passing through the Commons by notorious parliamentary objector Sir Christopher Chope in 2013.