I have just had the pleasure of (finally) watching The Imitation Game. A simply stunning film about an incredible true story of perseverance, heroism, sickening prejudice and … erm … maths.
Yes, the acting – especially by Benedict Cumberbatch – is remarkable, but what stays with me most is the wretched injustice of the treatment of Alan Turing. He died alone, persecuted for the “crime” of being gay and chemically castrated by a state – the United Kingdom – which should have celebrated him as a national hero almost without compare.
You may remember that in 2002, the BBC ran a poll to find Britain’s “Greatest Person”. Alan Turing came in 21st behind such luminaries as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Princess Diana and Michael Crawford.
Lovely and talented people as I am sure they all were/are, it is (in my humble opinion) undeniable that, by virtually single-handedly shortening World War 2 by two years (this saving an estimated 14 million lives) and effectively inventing the computer, Turing had rather more of a positive impact on the world than any of them.
On another point, Turing also placed behind 3 monarchs who, lest we forget, only had the opportunity to become “great” due to the fortunate status of their parents. And as for Margaret Thatcher (who appeared at no 16 on the list), well, you can guess my views on her!
Now I know these polls are meant for entertainment and can be over-analysed – and this particular one is almost 15 years old – but it is indicative of public sentiment.
Thankfully, homosexuality was legalised in 1967, wartime records were declassified in the 1970s, and society has become generally more tolerant.
Add to that the disgracefully delayed posthumous pardon granted to Turing in 2013 and the worldwide success of this film, and I am sure that Turing would occupy a higher place on the list should such a poll be repeated.
I, for one, would happily cast my vote for him.