Turing on the £50?

The computer scientist and wartime codebreaker will be on the note

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Is putting Alan Turing on the £50 note a fitting tribute?

By Joe Harker

Mathematician, computer scientist and Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing will be the new face of the £50 note.

The new banknotes will be polymer instead of paper, following the £5 and £10 which have also made the switch, and Turing was selected to be the "other face" on the note alongside Queen Elizabeth.

As one of Britain's greatest minds it would appear to be a fitting tribute to a man who faced persecution in his lifetime.

The Claim:

The BBC reports that Turing appearing on the £50 means a lot to the LGBT community.

Turing was a gay man convicted of gross indecency in 1952 and given the choice between a prison sentence or chemical castration, he opted for the latter. He died two years later, with an inquest into his death determining suicide as the cause.

The codebreaking hero whose work helped save convoys from U-Boat attack and may have ended the Second World War years earlier than it might have been, thus saving millions of lives, wound up dead and disgraced for being gay.

He became a symbol of the "witch hunt" of gay and bisexual men until homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967. Turing was given a posthumous apology from the government in 2009, while he received a posthumous pardon in 2014.

For him to have been granted the honour of appearing on a banknote acknowledges him as one of the greatest Britons of all time, an individual who has contributed to the nation and helped define in part what it means to be British.

The Counter Claim:

However, as tributes go the £50 note is seen as some by rather underwhelming. When was the last time you saw a £50 note, let alone used one?

The Bank of England estimates that 344 million £50 notes are in circulation but many people will hardly ever see one. They are less common than the £5 note, of which there are 396 million in circulation.

Putting Alan Turing on the £50 is also somewhat diminished as a tribute when there's a discussion over whether the note should still be used at all.

Seen as the "currency of corrupt elites", the £50 note has some stigma attached to it for being the sort of currency most people will never see but is used in high money deals, not all of which are legal.

Good news: you've made it onto a banknote. Bad news: it's the one associated with organised crime and much loathed banking and your face is all over it.

Some shops have the policy of not accepting the currency, even if it is accepted it is often done so with suspicion.

The Facts:

Alan Turing was born in London in 1912 and is widely considered to be the father of modern computing. His work on early artificial intelligence was also groundbreaking, much of the modern technology we take for granted can trace its lineage back to Turing's work.

His work as a codebreaker in Bletchley Park during the Second World War involved breaking German ciphers for naval communications, a major part in winning the Battle of the Atlantic.

His work was vital in cracking the famous Enigma Machine, which is hailed as a key component in shortening the war. Estimates are hard to make but the codebreaking work led by Turing is thought to have been responsible for shortening the way by two years and saving 14 million lives in the process.

After the war he worked at the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Manchester. A memorial statue of Turing sits in Manchester's Sackville Park along with a plaque.

The UK is almost done in moving from paper banknotes to polymer, having started issuing polymer £5 notes in 2016 before introducing a £10. Turing's note will be issued by the end of 2021, while a polymer £20 note with artist JMW Turner will be issued next year.

Former prime minister Winston Churchill appears on the £5, while author Jane Austen is on the £10.

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