The choice of Alan Turing to appear on the £50 banknote marks another step in the nation’s long overdue recognition of “this very great man”, Stephen Fry has said.
The actor welcomed the decision, which was made after the Bank of England invited nominations from the public for someone from the field of science, but said much progress is still needed to achieve an equal society.
In a YouTube video posted by the Bank of England, Fry said: “Featuring him on a banknote is something I’ve called for for a number of years.
“The choice of Alan Turing and the manner at which it was arrived at, by public nomination, marks another step in our nation’s long overdue recognition of this very great man.
“And there is much to recognise in his life, his interests and talents ranged far and wide.
“We could talk about Alan Turing the prodigious mathematician whose early work changed the course of academic higher mathematics.
“Or, Alan Turing the mathematician who turned his hand to cryptography and codebreaking, that helped change the course of the Second World War.
“Alan Turing, the cryptographer, who then conceived of and designed one of the world’s first programmable computers.
“Alan Turing, the computer scientist, who loved nature and became a pioneer in the field of developmental biology.
“And Alan Turing, the man who chose to be openly gay, at a time when this natural choice could attract the most barbaric punishments.
“For many minorities, the 1950s were a particularly oppressive time in this country’s history.
“This was especially true for the LGBTQ community.
“Alan Turing was among the thousands of men who were harried and harangued by the authorities.
“Not just down to the hostile attitude to their sexuality alone, but also under the bigoted belief that there was a link between homosexuality and communism.
“That both had to be rooted out of British society, as part of the Cold War effort.
“Alan was arrested in 1952 after the police learned that he had had a sexual relationship with another man.
“He was tried and sentenced under the gross indecency laws of the time.
“Given the awful choice of a prison term or hormone therapy, what transpired to be chemical castration though this wasn’t revealed to him at the trial, Alan Turing chose the hormone therapy.
“Although friends and colleagues from his work at GCHQ and Manchester University spoke up for him at his trial, attesting to his enormous contribution to the war effort and British academic prestige, it wasn’t enough to save him from this cruel punishment.
“Shortly after undergoing his ‘hormone therapy’ Alan Turing committed suicide.
“Sixteen days shy of his 42nd birthday.
“Over the past decade, Alan’s life story, with its soaring highs and tragic lows, has become known to a much wider audience.
“Today he is the overwhelming choice to be the figurehead of the new £50 banknote.
“This follows other significant steps taken in Britain to right this historic wrong.
“In 2009, prime minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the appalling way Alan Turing was treated.
“In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon.
“In 2017, the Turing law was passed, pardoning the tens of thousands of people convicted under historic laws outlawing homosexual acts.
“Although belated, this recognition of Alan Turing’s achievements goes some way to address the shameful treatment he was subjected to in the final years of his life.
“And whilst the injustice perpetrated on the tens of thousands of LGBTQ people who were persecuted by the legal system can’t be undone by pardoning Alan or by passing the law that bears his name, using his name as a vehicle to apologise to a community for what was done to them was an important step.
“By figuring him on this new banknote, we have chosen to celebrate Alan Turing’s many remarkable achievements.
“Much progress is still needed before we achieve the equal society we strive for, but by choosing this man as the figurehead, we are attesting to our belief that people should be judged by what they can contribute to the world and the ideas they bring.
“And not anything else.”