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Alan Turing was NOT driven to suicide after his conviction for ‘homosexual acts’, insists his nephew

Alan Turing’s nephew has claimed the idea that his code-breaker uncle was ‘hounded to death by the state’ and took his own life because he was convicted for being gay is all part of a long-standing myth. 

Dermot Turing also suggested that he was not a ‘great codebreaker’ who was essential to Bletchley Park, as portrayed in the hit 2014 film The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. 

He said such portrayals only help to perpetuate the myth and that his uncle would have been ‘made sick’ by the repeated focus on his trial and time at Bletchley – pleading for his wider influence on mathematics to be his legacy instead. 

Alan Turing was gay at a time when it was illegal and in 1952 he was convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man before choosing to be chemically castrated over going to jail. 

But his nephew claims evidence from Turing’s archives suggest he had returned to his ‘normal self’ days after his trial ended and that his ‘mood had lifted’ just days before he took his own life by poisoning himself with cyanide in 1954 – which Dermot believes could have been over ‘boyfriend trouble’. 

‘It is trite and simplistic to assume that because he was convicted and put on this hormone treatment and took his own life within two years of that happening that these two things were causally related,’ he told The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Dermot Turing suggested his uncle Alan Turing (pictured) was not a ‘great codebreaker’ who was essential to Bletchley Park, as portrayed in the hit 2014 film The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch

Dermot Turing (pictured) said portrayals like The Imitation Game only help to perpetuate the myth and that his uncle would have been 'made sick' by the repeated focus on his trial and time at Bletchley - pleading for his wider influence on mathematics to be his legacy instead.

Dermot Turing (pictured) said portrayals like The Imitation Game only help to perpetuate the myth and that his uncle would have been ‘made sick’ by the repeated focus on his trial and time at Bletchley – pleading for his wider influence on mathematics to be his legacy instead.

Alan Turing created the British Bombe - one of the main methods used at Bletchley Park (pictured) to break Germany's Enigma-enciphered messages during the Second World War

Alan Turing created the British Bombe – one of the main methods used at Bletchley Park (pictured) to break Germany’s Enigma-enciphered messages during the Second World War

The Enigma enciphering machine (pictured) was believed to be unbreakable as the cipher changed continuously

The Enigma enciphering machine (pictured) was believed to be unbreakable as the cipher changed continuously 

Hollywood version: Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Benedict Cumberbatch and Allen Leech (pictured from left to right) in The Imitation Game

Hollywood version: Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Benedict Cumberbatch and Allen Leech (pictured from left to right) in The Imitation Game

‘They are not. If you look at the documentary evidence it is quite clear that by the time Alan was off the hormone treatment, his mood was lifted and he was back to being his normal self and in fact he was probably back to being his normal self within days of the trial finishing. 

‘He was quite defiant and positive about the whole thing.’

Alan Turing created the British Bombe – one of the main methods used to break Germany’s Enigma-enciphered messages during the Second World War.

The Enigma enciphering machine was believed to be unbreakable as the cipher changed continuously.

But Turing was able to build a computer capable of cracking the code faster, with the first wartime Enigma messages broken in January 1940.

Enigma traffic continued to be broken routinely at Bletchley Park for the remainder of the war.

But his nephew, author of Reflections of Alan Turing and other titles relating to his uncle, said there was also mythologising about the mathematician’s role at Bletchley.

He said it was Polish codebreakers who provided the basis for the cracking of the German machine, and that unlike what was portrayed in The Imitation Game, his uncle’s Bombe creation was ‘in the hands of engineers by 1939 and delivered to Bletchley Park in 1940’.  

He said: ‘It didn’t work too well but by the time of the Battle of Britain they had a souped-up version.

Dermot Turing said it was Polish codebreakers who provided the basis for the cracking of the German machine, and that unlike what was portrayed in The Imitation Game, his uncle's Bombe creation was 'in the hands of engineers by 1939 and delivered to Bletchley Park in 1940' (Pictured: Alan Turing)

Dermot Turing said it was Polish codebreakers who provided the basis for the cracking of the German machine, and that unlike what was portrayed in The Imitation Game, his uncle’s Bombe creation was ‘in the hands of engineers by 1939 and delivered to Bletchley Park in 1940’ (Pictured: Alan Turing) 

Enigma traffic continued to be broken routinely at Bletchley Park (pictured) for the remainder of the war

Enigma traffic continued to be broken routinely at Bletchley Park (pictured) for the remainder of the war 

Dermot does believe his uncle (pictured) killed himself, rejecting the theory that he accidentally poisoned himself with the chemicals he had been using to gold-plate spoons

Dermot does believe his uncle (pictured) killed himself, rejecting the theory that he accidentally poisoned himself with the chemicals he had been using to gold-plate spoons

‘Turing’s main work at Bletchley Park was done by 1939 before Britain was really at war.’

In The Imitation Game, Alan Turing is shown singlehandedly inventing and physically building the machine, which was simply untrue. 

As his nephew explained, a predecessor of the Bombe was actually invented by Polish cryptanalysts. 

But Alan Turing was able to design a new machine that broke the Enigma code faster by looking for likely letter combinations and ruling out combinations that were unlikely to yield results. 

He also developed the improved machine with the help of fellow mathematician Gordon Welchman, who helped him with the design. He was also left out of the film.   

When a coroner ruled that Alan Turing had died by suicide, Dermot said his own father John created a conspiracy to reassure his mother, Ethel, that he had not taken his own life.  

Myths about Alan Turing portrayed by The Imitation Game

  1. The Imitation Game film starring Benedict Cumberbatch suggests Alan Turing singlehandedly built and designed the British Bombe machine which cracked the Germans’ Enigma code. 
  2. Alan Turing is widely believed to have killed himself because he was convicted for ‘homosexual acts’ and chemically castrated.  The film also draws a clear parallel between the two.
  3. In The Imitation Game, Alan Turing does not report spy John Cairncross who was working for the Soviets because he threatens to out Turing if he does so. 
  4. In The Imitation Game the idea that Turing could have been a Soviet spy is given as the reason police pursue him at the end of the film. 
  5. Benedict Cumberbatch’s depiction of Turing suggested he was on the Autism spectrum and struggled socialising – claiming to not know what a joke is.
  6. In the film, Turing hides his sexuality as though it was a very closely guarded secret.
  7. The Imitation Game shows Turing creating the famous Bletchley Park crossword puzzle which was used to recruit code-breakers.
  8. In the film, Turing is arrested in the year 1951. 
  9. In The Imitation Game, Turing calls his code-breaking machine ‘Christopher’ – after a childhood crush who had died.

What actually happened in the real life of Alan Turing 

  1. In reality, Polish mathematicians created a predecessor to the Bombe and Alan Turing created a newer version which could crack codes faster – he also had help from mathematician Gordon Welchman on the design, although he never featured in The Imitation Game film. 
  2. Alan Turing’s nephew Dermot Turing claims his uncle’s mood had ‘lifted’ in the days before his death. He believes he may have taken his own life over ‘boyfriend trouble.’  
  3. In reality, while Cairncross was part of a British spy ring, he and Turing worked on separate projects and would never have met each other
  4. While there were spies active at Bletchley Park during the war, Turing was never actually under suspicion 
  5. In real life, Turing was undeniably eccentric and preferred to work alone, but pals described him as funny, warm, and charming. Children liked him too.
  6. In real life, Turing was open with his friends and colleagues and was known to flirt with other men. 
  7. The truth is that Turing had nothing to do with the creation of the crossword, and he once admitted that he was ‘not much use at them.’
  8. He was actually arrested a year later in 1952. 
  9. The machine was actually called the Bombe – and was never dubbed Christopher. The film also added more red wires to the device. 

Dermot does believe his uncle killed himself, rejecting the theory that he accidentally poisoned himself with the chemicals he had been using to gold-plate spoons.   

However, while in discussion with mathematical biologist Natasha Ellisson, Dermot said his theory is that it could have been over ‘boyfriend trouble’ rather than stemming from his trial and conviction.   

Ms Ellisson said Alan Turing’s works on ‘patterns in natures’ were still influencing contemporary research, prompting his nephew to say that he would prefer his uncle’s legacy to be about his wider mathematical insights. 

He added: ‘I would really like Alan Turing’s legacy to be about not this sort of sepia-tinted “oh we feel very proud of ourselves having won World War Two by codebreaking, not by actually shooting people”. 

‘Well that is nonsense isn’t it.

‘Alan Turing would have been made sick by this focus on his trial and the Bletchley Park thing, which I am sure he was very proud of . . . but it was just a tiny part of his life and wasn’t his career.’     

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