Alan Turing: Former St Leonards schoolboy to be face of new £50 note

A Bank of England mock-up of the new �50 note featuring Alan Turing. Photograph: Bank of England.
A Bank of England mock-up of the new �50 note featuring Alan Turing. Photograph: Bank of England.

Alan Turing, the scientist famous for helping to crack the wartime Enigma code, has been revealed as the face of the new £50 banknote.

The mathematician, who lived and was schooled in St Leonards, was chosen from a list of almost 1,000 scientists

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, made the announcement at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester today.

He said: “Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today. As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far ranging and path breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

Turing was educated at St Michael’s School in Charles Road, St Leonards, until he was 14, and lived in a house in Upper Maze Hill where, in 2012, a blue plaque was unveiled in his honour.

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Alan Turing provided the theoretical underpinnings for the modern computer. While best known for his work devising code-breaking machines during WWII, Turing played a pivotal role in the development of early computers first at the National Physical Laboratory and later at the University of Manchester.

He set the foundations for work on artificial intelligence by considering the question of whether machines could think.

Turing was homosexual and was posthumously pardoned by the Queen having been convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man. His legacy continues to have an impact on both science and society today.

Alan Turing was chosen following the Bank’s character selection process including advice from scientific experts. In 2018, the Banknote Character Advisory Committee chose to celebrate the field of science on the £50 note and this was followed by a six-week public nomination period. The Bank received a total of 227,299 nominations, covering 989 eligible characters. The Committee considered all the nominations before deciding on a shortlist of 12 options, which were put to the Governor for him to make the final decision.

The other shortlisted characters, or pairs of characters, considered were Mary Anning, Paul Dirac, Rosalind Franklin, William Herschel and Caroline Herschel, Dorothy Hodgkin, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking, James Clerk Maxwell, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Sanger.

Sarah John, Chief Cashier, said: “The strength of the shortlist is testament to the UK’s incredible scientific contribution. The breadth of individuals and achievements reflects the huge range of nominations we received for this note and I would to thank the public for all their suggestions of scientists we could celebrate.”

The new £50 note will celebrate Alan Turing and his pioneering work with computers. As shown in the concept image, the design on the reverse of the note will feature a photo of Turing taken in 1951 by Elliott & Fry, which is part of the Photographs Collection at the National Portrait Gallery; a table and mathematical formulae from Turing’s seminal 1936 paper that is widely recognised as being foundational for computer science; the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) Pilot Machine which was developed at the National Physical Laboratory as the trial model of Turing’s pioneering ACE design; and technical drawings for the British Bombe, the machine specified by Turing and one of the primary tools used to break Enigma-enciphered messages during WWII.

The note will also include Turing’s signature from the visitor’s book at Bletchley Park in 1947, where he worked during WWII; ticker tape depicting Alan Turing’s birth date (23 June 1912) in binary code; and a quote from Alan Turing, which reads: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

The full note design including all the security features will be unveiled closer to it entering circulation, which is expected to be by the end of 2021.