Alan Turing, the scientist famous for helping to crack the wartime Enigma code and pioneering the modern computer, has been chosen to appear on the Bank of England’s new £50 note.

The mathematician was chosen from a list of almost 1,000 scientists in a decision that recognised both his role in fending off the threat of German U-boats in the Battle of Atlantic and the impact of his postwar persecution for homosexuality.

The announcement – made by the Bank’s governor Mark Carney at the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester – completes the official rehabilitation of Turing, who played a pivotal role at the Bletchley Park code and cypher centre during the second world war.

William Shakespeare was the first historical character to appear on a Bank of England note in 1970. Here’s the full list of the historical characters that have appeared on banknotes issued by the central bank in England and Wales over the last five decades.

Past banknotes

1970 William Shakespeare, playwright (£20)
1971 Duke of Wellington, soldier and statesman (£5)
1975 Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing (£10)
1978 Sir Isaac Newton, physicist and mathematician (£1)
1981 Sir Christopher Wren, architect (£50)
1990 George Stephenson, engineer (£5)
1991 Michael Faraday, scientist (£20)
1992 Charles Dickens, author (£10)
1994 Sir John Houblon, first Bank of England governor (£50)
1999 Sir Edward Elgar, composer (£20)
2000 Charles Darwin, naturalist (£10)
2002 Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer (£5)

Current banknotes

2007 Adam Smith, economist (£20)
2011 Matthew Boulton and James Watt, steam engine industrialists (£50)
2016 Winston Churchill, prime minister (£5)
2017 Jane Austen, author (£10)

Future banknotes

2020 JMW Turner, artist (£20)
2021 Alan Turing, mathematician (£50)

While at Bletchley Park, Turing came up with ways to break German ciphers, including improvements to pre-war Polish methods for finding the settings for the German Enigma machines.

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Carney said: “Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today. As the father of computer science and artificial intelligence, as well as war hero, Alan Turing’s contributions were far ranging and path breaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

The Bank praised Turing both for his role as a scientist and for the impact he has had on society. Prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952, an inquest concluded his death from cyanide poisoning two years later was suicide.

A Bank of England mock-up of the new £50 note featuring Alan Turing



A Bank of England mock-up of the new £50 note featuring Alan Turing. Photograph: Bank of England

The Bank acknowledged Turing’s pivotal role in the development of early computers, first at the National Physical Laboratory and later at the University of Manchester.

“He set the foundations for work on artificial intelligence by considering the question of whether machines could think,” the Bank said. “Turing was homosexual and was posthumously pardoned by the Queen having been convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man. His legacy continues to have an impact on both science and society today.”

Turing’s face will appear on the new £50 polymer note when it goes into circulation in 2021 following a public consultation process designed to honour an eminent British scientist.

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The Bank said it had received a total of 227,299 nominations, covering 989 eligible characters. These were narrowed down to a shortlist of 12, with Carney making the final choice.

The shortlisted characters, or pairs of characters, considered were Mary Anning, Paul Dirac, Rosalind Franklin, William Herschel and Caroline Herschel, Dorothy Hodgkin, Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Stephen Hawking, James Clerk Maxwell, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Ernest Rutherford, Frederick Sanger and Alan Turing.

Sarah John, the Bank’s chief cashier, said: “The strength of the shortlist is testament to the UK’s incredible scientific contribution. The breadth of individuals and achievements reflects the huge range of nominations we received for this note and I would to thank the public for all their suggestions of scientists we could celebrate.”



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