Alan Turing note: Who is the LGBT maths icon celebrated on Britain’s first plastic £50 bank note?

Alan Turing features on the new bank note which has now entered circulation, with the note paying tribute to the British mathematician and codebreaker for his pivotal role in Second World War efforts and importance as an LGBTQ+ icon.

Alan Turing note enters circulation: Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey poses for a photograph with the new fifty pound (GBP) note, featuring an image of mathematician and scientist Alan Turing, at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, on June 21, 2021. (Image credit: Joe Giddens via Getty Images)
Alan Turing note enters circulation: Governor of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey poses for a photograph with the new fifty pound (GBP) note, featuring an image of mathematician and scientist Alan Turing, at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes, on June 21, 2021. (Image credit: Joe Giddens via Getty Images)

The timely roll out of the bank note has been arranged to pay tribute to the celebrated mathematician on what would have been his 109th birthday.

Turing died by suicide at the age of 41, but his legacy lives on across the globe as one of Britain’s leading STEM legends after his skills in codebreaking helped Britain and the Allied Forces achieve victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War.

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Speaking at Bletchley Park, where Turing undertook his historic codebreaking work, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said he was “delighted” to be releasing the new £50 polymer bank note featuring Turing.

With the computer scientist joining Jane Austen, Winston Churchill and other notable British figures on Bank of England notes, Governor Bailey said that “placing [Turing] on this new banknote is a recognition of his contributions to our society, and a celebration of his remarkable life.”

Who was Alan Turing?

Alan Turing is best known for his codebreaking triumphs in the Second World War, when he led an Enigma message-cracking team at Bletchley Park which successfully decoded the used by Nazi Germany and its allies to exchange information which would go undetected by the Allied Forces.

The messages were believed to be unbreakable and indecipherable until broken by Turing in January 1940.

Despite his heroic efforts and centrality in the eventual victory over Hitler’s Third Reich, Turing was arrested on account of his homosexuality and relationship with another man in 1952 and chemically castrated soon after.

He later died by suicide at the age of 41 as a result of cyanide poisoning.

Alan Turing’s name is also now widely associated with worldwide pursuits of safe and ethical Artificial Intelligence (AI), with the ‘Turing Test’ used to identify whether a machine can match human intelligence.

What’s so important about the new £50 note?

Alan Turing’s appearance on the note has been heralded as a significant moment in commemorating the codebreaker, but one which many relatives and commentators have said should not overshadow his mistreatment under oppressive laws against homosexuality in mid-20th century Britain.

“The new £50 note is a wonderful dedication to Alan and his legacy and something that on a personal level is quite surreal,” James Turing, Alan Turing’s great-nephew who founded Edinburgh-based charity, The Turing Trust, told The Scotsman back in 2019.

"However, it doesn’t change how Alan was treated during his life, so my hope for this dedication is that it will help to remind us all that we must do better and strive daily to make the world a more tolerant and equal place.”

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But the note’s polymer composition is another point of significance, with it being the first plastic £50 note issued by the Bank of England.

Speaking as the note entered circulation, Bank of England’s Chief Cashier Sarah John added: “The polymer £50 note is the most secure Bank of England banknote yet, and the features of the note make it very difficult to counterfeit.”

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