Alan Turing, Gay Father Of Computer Science, To Be Featured On New British Stamp

AlanturingpaintingAlan Turing was once a hero in England. He helped the government crack German Codes during World War II and developed the Turing Machine, laying the framework for today's modern computers and was generally regarded as one of the nation's brightest stars.

Then, in 1952, Turing was outed, leading to a very public trial, conviction and chemically castrated for "gross indecency." He killed himself two years later.

Now, 60 years on, the British government is honoring Turing by including him in a series of twelve new "Britons of Distinction" stamps set to be released next month.

George Broadhead, secretary of the Humanist group the Pink Triangle Trust, celebrated Turing's inclusion in a press release. "This is richly deserved," he wrote. "It is well known that Turing was gay, but perhaps not so well known that he was a staunch atheist. There are many other famous gay atheists past and present — Christopher Marlowe, Maynard Keynes, Stephen Fry and and Michael Cashman among them — but Turing is probably the most notable since his breaking of the Enigma Code went such a long way in saving the UK from defeat in the last war."

Though Turing's picture is not featured on the new stamp – one of his eponymous machines is, instead – the news is just the latest step in a decades-long effort to redeem Turing's image. Perhaps the biggest development came in 2009, when then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an official apology for Turing's treatment.

"While Mr Turing was dealt with under the law of the time and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him," Brown said at the time. "Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was convicted, under homophobic laws, were treated terribly.

A new petition is now asking that the government to offer an official posthumous pardon for Turing. One of Turing's supporters, programmer John Graham-Cumming, actually opposes this petition, because it still assumes other gay men convicted under since-scrapped laws were guilty of something wrong.

"You either pardon all the gay men convicted (including, most importantly, those that are still living with criminal convictions) or you do nothing," he contended last month.


  1. Paul R says

    He’s one of a handful of people in history I’d have liked to meet. Though if memory serves, he was very solitary. So our chat might be brief.

    The only things that I don’t like is that they’re not using his photo, but my influence on British stamp design has really faded.

  2. MikeBoston says

    @ Little Kiwi – perhaps a bit of an overstatement but I agree that this recognition is well deserved.

    I was unaware that the pardon petition was solely for Mr. Turing. I agree completely that it should be a broader pardon but care must be taken. The law covered more than just consentual relations between two of the same sex (men only, women were not affected by the law) but also included other ‘unnatural acts’ interpreted as pedophilia, incest, rape, public lewdness, etc.

    Alan Turing Rocked!

  3. uffda says

    Alan Turing is indeed a wronged hero who’s work literally saved the lives of countless people in many nations. Yet a completely irrelevant homophobia made his own life a nightmare. An official posthumous pardon should be given as well as the pardon of all gay people who cannot now be regarded as criminals under current laws. But to do nothing in the meantime to address the wrongs Turing suffered is not helpful.

  4. Henry Holland says

    “Then, in 1952, Turing was outed”

    That’s not true, he outed himself. The slimeball that he had picked up for sex robbed him and Turing was so oblivious that when the police asked him whether/how he knew the guy, he told him what they’d been doing = arrest under the sodomy laws.

    Great man, it’s a great story, there’s a fine TV movie starring Derek Jacobi called “Breaking the Code” (based on the play about Turing) from 1996 that lays out the story quite well.

    And yes, pardons for all or pardons for none.

  5. says

    it’s still galling that in classes about WWII teachers often neglect to inform their students that the gay people who were liberated from the nazi deathcamps were then thrown into prisons. for being gay.

    “congrats! we saved you from the nazis! welcome to your new jail cell”

  6. Hue-Man says

    Wiki says: Turing was at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, from Sept 1936 to July 1938, and got his PhD from Princeton in 1938. Did this genius meet another – Einstein – who arrived at the Institute in 1933?

  7. Brent says

    Ironic that Turing probably thought he was fighting for “freedom” during WWII. Then his own British government goes ahead and castrates him for being gay. We didn’t learn that in our history classes/books, did we?

  8. Jeff says

    Turing is but one (albeit a major one) of the reasons that we need a gay history month, just as there is a Black history month.

    I think it should be May.

  9. NaughtyLola says

    I am a fan of Stephen Fry, really I am, but:

    Is someone actually putting him in the same *sentence* as Alan Turing? Seriously? Stephen Fry is a funny bastard, yes, but he’s a comedian. Alan Turing is the progenitor of modern computer science and computing as we know it today. They aren’t even in the same league.

    (For an entertaining, gentle, and kindhearted take on Alan Turning, check out Neal Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon” in which Turing appears as a friend and colleague of one of the protagonists.)

  10. ian says

    John Graham-Cumming is right. this petition…still assumes other gay men convicted under since-scrapped laws were guilty of something wrong. and “You either pardon all the gay men convicted (including, most importantly, those that are still living with criminal convictions) or you do nothing,” While Turing is a Hero who was instrumental in vanquishing the nazis and as such deserves any and every pardon and accolade, other gay men, some still living, have suffered under Britans former anti-gay laws for no reason other than being gay, deserve pardon too.

  11. Mike says


    You underestimate the significance of Turing’s work.

    As far as the war is concerned, even Churchill said that Turing made the single biggest contribution to Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany and its Axis partners:

    Not just the British victory, but the Allied victory.

    And Captain Jerry Roberts, who worked with Turing at Bletchley Park and who was in a position to see firsthand exactly how his codebreaking interacted with the rest of the war effort, says “without him we would have lost the war.”:

    As for the modern computer,virtually every single computer since the 1940s is built based on the architecture he thought up in the 1930s, including the one your using.

    So, does the world owe its existence to Alan Turing as Little Kiwi states? If you mean the world were the Allies won the war, and with computers and software, in short, the world as we know it: yes.

  12. NaughtyLola says

    @Paul R., if they used a photo someone else would complain that they only used a photo and not a commissioned portrait, as with so many other dignitaries immortalized on stamps.

    You can’t win for trying, alas.

    (I think the portrait is very dignified, myself.)

  13. Xavi says

    What an amazing man Turing was. I wish I had known he was gay when I was a student. I am sure his legacy would have instilled pride and, perhaps, even helped me come out at an earlier age. I wish I’d known about role models like Turing, Kamenny and Milk, their stories must be taught in today’s classrooms.

    I am awed and humbled by Turing’s amazing work and his incredible contributions to the war effort. I am completely disgusted he was “chemically castrated”, totally horrifying. It is difficult to believe such dreadful, inhuman laws existed in 1950s Britain.

  14. Michael Thomason says

    As someone who has been involved with, and teaching about, computer technology for 30+ years, I have always found it abhorrent to vilify a man because of his sexuality rather than honour him for his outstanding achievements. Turing was responsible for one of the greatest breakthroughs in WW2 in Britain and should be honoured for that!

  15. Paul R says

    @NaughtLola: I stand corrected. I somehow thought that was just a painting of him, not the stamp image. I agree that it’s dignified, and now I feel dumb.

    Turns out I was also wrong about him being quiet. Apparently he talked quite a lot. So let’s just ignore my previous post, what say?

  16. says

    A math moron like myself was able to get a glimpse of Alan Turing’s mathematical genius from Andrew Hodges’ lay-person-friendly biography “Alan Turing the Enigma.” From there you can expand and relate his quirky brilliance with other hyperintellects in Douglas Hoffstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid,” where a chapter is introduced with a tour of Turing’s mindscape.

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