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Alan Turing named greatest icon of the 20th century by BBC’s Icons

Nick Duffy February 6, 2019
BBC Icons: World War Two codebreaker Alan Turing

(Creative Commons)

Gay codebreaker Alan Turing has been named the greatest icon of the 20th century.

Alan Turing prevailed in Tuesday’s (February 5) final of BBC Two Icons series, winning a public vote that saw him go up against Dr Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Ernest Shackleton, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali and Pablo Picasso.

Alan Turing was persecuted for being gay

During World War II, Turing worked at Bletchley Park to crack the German Enigma codes, which is widely believed to have led to the war ending earlier than expected.

Turing, often hailed as the grandfather of modern computing, was convicted of ‘gross indecency’ in 1952 after having sex with a man, and was chemically castrated, barred from working for GCHQ, and driven to suicide.

Alan Turing
Alan Turing. (Creative Commons)

Rejected and persecuted in his lifetime, Turing is now frequently cited as one of the most-celebrated heroes in British history, and was granted a posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth in 2013 in recognition of his work.

The pardon would later be extended to all men with historical gay sex convictions.

BBC Icons: Alan Turing ‘still sparkles today’

TV presenter Chris Packham gave a passionate speech about the work of Turing during the BBC Icons show.

He said: “It’s so difficult to say, who’s better, who’s best? But under the conditions, Turing absolutely sparkles.

“Faced with global catastrophe, he built a computer to turn cipher into song and mysteries into music. The Nazi Enigma machines were not match for his cunning.

“A genius, a saviour, but he was also autistic and gay, so we betrayed him and drove him to suicide.”

— Chris Packham

“But all he got for all of his toil and all of our trouble was a poisoned apple.

“A genius, a saviour, but he was also autistic and gay, so we betrayed him and drove him to suicide.

“Shame. Writ large his death, an unforgiving tattoo on humanity’s conscience.”

TV presenter Chris Packham gave a passionate speech about Alan Turing on the BBC's Icons series
TV presenter Chris Packham gave a passionate speech about Alan Turing on the BBC’s Icons series

Alluding to global warming, Packham added: “Scientists are the only hope for our future and they are armed with Alan Turing’s legacy.”

Encouraging members of the audience to take out their smartphones, he added “In each of your hands you hold a little bit of Alan Turing.

“He’s with us when we wake up, he’s with us when we go to bed at night and he’s with us when we talk to our loved ones.

“He’s beautiful isn’t he? Glistening in our darkest hour. Alan Turing’s legacy hasn’t passed. It’s not a relic of the 20th century. His gift to us is our future.”

Turing has been touted for several other honours, and was shortlisted to appear on the next £50 note.

More: Alan Turing, BBC, Gay, Icons, LGBT

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