LONDON – The rainbow flag flew proudly Thursday above the Bank of England in the heart of London's financial district to commemorate World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, the new face of Britain's 50-pound note.
The design of the bank note was unveiled before it is being formally issued to the public on June 23, Turing's birthday. The 50-pound note is the most valuable denomination in circulation but is little used during everyday transactions, especially during the coronavirus pandemic as digital payments increasingly replaced the use of cash.
The new note, which is laden with high-level security features and is made of longer-lasting polymer, completes the bank's rejig of its paper currencies over the past few years. Turing's image joins that of Winston Churchill on the five-pound note, novelist Jane Austen on the 10-pound note and artist J. M. W. Turner on the 20-pound note.
Turing was selected as the new face of the 50-pound note in 2019 following a public nomination process that garnered around 250,000 votes, partly recognition of the discrimination that he faced as a gay man after the war.
Among his many accomplishments, Turing is most famous for the pivotal role he played in breaking Nazi Germany's Enigma code during World War II. The code had been believed to be unbreakable as the cipher changed continuously. Historians say the cracking of the code may have helped shorten the war by at least two years, potentially saving millions of lives.
“There’s something of the character of a nation in its money, and we are right to consider and celebrate the people on our bank notes," Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey said.
“Turing is best known for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, which helped end the Second World War. However, in addition he was a leading mathematician, developmental biologist and a pioneer in the field of computer science. He was also gay and was treated appallingly as a result."
During World War II, Turing worked at the secret Bletchley Park code-breaking center, where he helped crack Enigma by creating the “Turing bombe,” a forerunner of modern computers. He also developed the “Turing Test” to measure artificial intelligence.