Alan Turing: £50 banknote featuring World War II codebreaker enters circulation

The new £50 note will be a polymer one. Credit: PA

A new £50 banknote featuring Alan Turing has been released into circulation on what would have been the Enigma codebreaker’s birthday.

Mr Turning is the first gay man to appear on a banknote and in honour of his life, the Bank of England is flying the Progress Pride flag above its building in London’s Threadneedle Street on Wednesday.

The new polymer Bank of England note will be available in bank branches and at ATMs in the coming days and weeks.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey with the new £50 note, featuring Alan Turing, at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

Often considered to be the father of computer science, Mr Turing played a pivotal role in breaking the Enigma code and his legacy has had a lasting impact on the way we live today.

Cracking the Enigma code is said to have helped to shorten the Second World War by at least two years – saving millions of lives. The Enigma enciphering machine, adopted by the German armed forces to send messages securely, was believed to be unbreakable.

But the wartime hero's life was cut short, however, after he died at just 41-year-old having faced persecution for his sexuality.

Mr Turing was convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man. His conviction led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

He was chemically castrated following his conviction in 1952 and died in 1954 at the age of 41.

He was later given a posthumous royal pardon.

An Enigma machine of the type used by Alan Turing Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Mr Turing was part of an Enigma research section working at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire.

The first wartime Enigma messages were cracked in January 1940 and Enigma traffic continued to be broken routinely for the remainder of the war.

Speaking at Bletchley Park, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said: “Our banknotes celebrate some of our country’s most important historical figures.

“That’s why I am delighted that Alan Turing features on the new polymer £50 note.

“Having undertaken remarkable codebreaking work here at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, he went on to pioneer work on early computers, as well as making some groundbreaking discoveries in the field of developmental biology.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey gives a new £50 note to Bletchley Park chief executive Iain Standen Credit: Joe Giddens/PA

“He was also gay and was treated appallingly as a result. Placing him on this new banknote is a recognition of his contributions to our society, and a celebration of his remarkable life.”

Born on June 23, 1912, Mr 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.

His “Turing test” also examined the behaviour necessary for a machine to be considered intelligent – the foundation for artificial intelligence.

The new polymer £50 note contains advanced security features, completing what the Bank described as its most secure set of banknotes yet.

The note will join the Sir Winston Churchill £5, the Jane Austen £10 and the JMW Turner £20, meaning all Bank of England banknotes are now available in polymer.

The new banknote contains advanced security features which make it very difficult to counterfeit Credit: Bank of England/PA

September 30, 2022, will be the last day people can use its paper £20 and £50 notes, although they can still be exchanged in bank branches.

The Bank of England Museum has also launched an online exhibition to coincide with the Turing £50 banknote entering circulation.

Cash use has fallen sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, with several stores discouraging customers from using this payment method.

The number of cash payments made last year plunged by 35%, according to recent figures released by trade association UK Finance.

Coins and banknotes were used for 17% of all payments in the UK last year, while 27% of payments were contactless, UK Finance’s figures showed.