High on the news trends today is the subject of the royal pardon for codebreaker Dr Alan Turing.
You know what – I don’t think he cares given it’s some 60 years after his death (or murder!) And what a death, eh…
He helped save countless lives and sped up the end of WWII by up to two years by breaking the Enigma Code whilst working at Bletchley Park.
He is considered by many to be the father of modern computing and computer science after writing a series of papers and detailed programmes for a universal digital computer in 1945.
So, why, you may wonder did he need a royal pardon?
Was he a double agent?
Did he chop down a cherry tree in Balmoral?
Did he murder his assistant in a fit of jealous rage?
Or did he simply get a boyfriend?
Their bi- and homosexuality is said to have helped make the Spartans the fiercest warriors in the entirety of history and many other ancient cultures, like the Romans, were equally liberal. In the more modern, puritanical world however it was a criminal offense. For being caught with another man in 1952 he was tried for gross indecency, found guilty and offered a choice – a long jail sentence or chemical castration. Two years later he allegedly committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide. It was said at the time though he was in a good mood, left no suicide note and the apple that supposedly killed him was never tested. Cyanide is really nasty stuff and can kill in seconds – you’d test if you thought there was a danger of it.
Now – nearly 60 years year – the queen forgives him – because the government couldn’t – or wouldn’t!
I’m sorry, what?
Most laws are created by the most amoral, hypocritical, self-serving bigots on the planet – politicians. The law was changed in 1967 making it legal between consenting adults, but years before then it was another matter – unless you were an MP of course…
Cite BBC news 2012: Gay politicians and the tabloid press
Politicians like Labour MP Tom Driberg and Tory peer Lord Boothby, whose homosexuality was widely known among colleagues and political journalists, had been able to use their contacts and influence to keep details of their private lives out of the press.
As it says in his wikipedia entry,
Driberg made no secret of his homosexuality, which he practised throughout his life despite it being a criminal offence in Britain until 1967; his ability to avoid any consequences for his risky and often brazen behaviour baffled his friends and colleagues It goes on to list the extent of his habits, saying that his associates included a notorious sorcerer (Crowley), criminals like the Kray twins and even rumours of being a KGB mole. It also says how he was a member of the communist party for 20 years, they a Labour MP from 1945 to 1974.
Similarly with Lord Roberb Boothby, who was an mp from 1924 to 1958 – when he was made a life-peer with the title Baron Boothby.
Boothby was a promiscuous bisexual, in a time when male homosexual activity was a criminal offence.. He too mixed with the Kray twins.
So, if you mix with the darkest elements of society, criminals and are even suspected of treason, but are a member of parliament, it’s acceptable. If instead you are gentle soul that happened to have saved the country, you are a depraved creature to be reviled – for doing in private what the people in government practised more openly! Double standards then as now, eh.
There were still a number of scandals after gay relationships became legal in 1967, and over the years the age has consent dropped from 21 to 18 and now to 16. I can still remember some of the news stories from the 70’s and jokes to the effect, "if they make it compulsory next I’m leaving the country!" I think this was around the time of the scandal over another gay mp, Jeremy Thorpe, but that came into the news because he allegedly tried to kill his ex-boyfriend rather than his sexual habits in the 60’s. That would also be about the time Quentin Crisp’s autobiography, ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ was made into a film.
The battle for his pardon has been going on for a few years now and as Unjustices* and others points out, was recently blocked by a SINGLE opposition, from Tory mp Christopher Chope. Note that it’s not by a single vote, as in 249 for, 250 against, but one solitary opponent. Amazing the way parliament works – when it suits them.
*(Is that even a word?)
Also, as other sites have pointed out, if he is being pardoned, why not all the other people criminalised by what they agree was an unjust law? Has anyone else thought about the irony of this old law? If you were guilty of a same-sex offense you were a deviant villain and for the safety of others you were locked up with a bunch of other lonely people of the same gender, some of whom were probably imprisoned for the same offense. Well locking up two queer men (or women) together for night after night in a cell together is clearly a deterrent, eh!?
Meanwhile politicians jump on this is now popular bandwagon and heap praise and recognition on Alan Turing. They agree his conviction for homosexual activity was ‘a sentence we would now consider unjust and discriminatory and which has now been repealed.’ And how
Dr Turing deserves to be remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science. A pardon from the Queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.
What about the other 50,000 or so jailed for the same ‘offense’. How is it an offense if you can choose to turn a blind eye to it when it’s your associates in government?
I’ll finished with this section from wikipedia, added today, because really it’s a back-handed compliment, using words like ‘mercy’ and then pointing out he’s still a criminal in our eyes. If they applied the law to their own actions they would have to build a prison just for politicians.
The Government decided to proceed under the royal prerogative of mercy. On 24 December 2013, Queen Elizabeth II signed a pardon for Turing’s conviction for gross indecency, with immediate effect. Announcing the pardon, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said Turing deserved to be "remembered and recognised for his fantastic contribution to the war effort" and not for his later criminal conviction.
Even then his pardon took pressure from a sustained campaign by scientists, including Stephen Hawking, and a petition to Government signed by more 37,000.
Links of interest
- The Guardian Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing receives royal pardon
- The Telegraph Alan Turing granted Royal pardon by the Queen
- The Daily Mail Queen gives royal pardon to Alan Turing, the WWII codebreaking hero who was convicted for being gay then sterilised by the state
- Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Bill [HL] 2013-14
- TV movie Codebreaker (2011)
- Thriller The Turing Enigma (2011)
- Thriller The Imitation Game (out 2014)
- Needless to say there are a number of books about Alan Turing via Amazon or your own favourite book store.
- If you want to head to Buckinghamshire, you can also visit Bletchley Park
Once Britain’s best kept secret, now a heritage site and tourist attraction.
There’s no official trailer for The imitation Game yet so I’ve chosen this youtube news item about the film: ‘Keira Knightley to join The Imitation Game.’