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There’s backlash against a sculpture of gay war hero Alan Turing because it would ruin the ‘character’ of his former college. Yes, really

Patrick Kelleher May 1, 2020
WWII codebreaker Alan Turing

World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency for consensual homosexual sex in 1952 (Creative Commons)

A 12-foot steel sculpture dedicated to the memory of Alan Turing would ruin the “existing character” of King’s College, Cambridge, Historic England has said.

Turing was an acclaimed gay mathematician and scientist who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 over his relationship with another man. He was chemically castrated by the state as part of his punishment.

Turing studied at King’s College Cambridge, and a steel sculpture designed by Sir Anthony Gormley is currently in the works for the college to commemorate his life.

But Historic England, which is responsible for protecting England’s historic heritage, has said that the sculpture should not be erected at King’s College.

The organisation said the steel sculpture “would be at odds with the existing character of the college”, according to The Telegraph.

Historic England said the Alan Turing memorial would be ‘at odds’ with the character of King’s College Cambridge.

The group said the memorial could impact upon the “striking collection of historic buildings within a sweeping landscape” which make up a “much-loved view in the city”.

Gormley’s sculpture is intended to look over the chapel at the college and will be made up of 19 steel slabs erected to form an abstract metal figure.

Historic England spokesperson Claire Campbell said: “We recognise that the proposal would deliver some enhancement to the significance of the King’s College through the introduction of a sculpture by a renowned contemporary sculptor and the visible commemoration of Turing.

Turing was someone who had a strong moral sense and his personal life was extremely difficult.

“These could also be considered as public benefits,” she added.

However, she said the “introduction of an eye-catching sculpture in a prominent position” would be “at odds with the existing character of the college”.

“This would result in harm, of a less than substantial nature, to the significance of the listed buildings and landscape, and by extension the conservation area.”

Sir Anthony Gormley said he hopes the Turing sculpture is ‘the very best’ he can do.

In a statement, Gormley said he is “in debt to King’s College” for allowing him the opportunity to create the sculpture.

“In honouring Alan Turing and reflecting on his remarkable contribution to the way we live now I do not want to make a statue but the very best sculpture that I can make,” he added.

He added: “Turing was someone who had a strong moral sense and his personal life was extremely difficult.”

“He was someone who had a remarkable way of making decisions unaffected by emotional bias but at the same time was highly emotional himself.”

Cambridge City Council has not yet approved plans for the sculpture, but King’s College has remained committed to the plans.

More: Alan Turing, Anthony Gormley, Historic England, King's College Cambridge

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