The Bank of England is flying the rainbow flag Thursday to commemorate Alan Turing as the new face of Britain’s £50 note ($68), a mathematician celebrated for his work which laid the foundations of modern computing and helped end the Second World War but was persecuted and forced to undergo hormone treatment due to his homosexuality, contributing to his tragic death by suicide at the age of 41.      

Key Facts

The banknote’s design was unveiled Thursday ahead of its formal release on June 23, which is Turing’s birthday. 

The note is the last of the U.K. central bank’s collection to switch from paper to a new polymer material, which lasts longer and features advanced security features that make them more difficult to counterfeit.

The Bank said the new polymer set, which also features Winston Churchill and Jane Austen, is its “most secure” yet, fitting given Turing’s codebreaking legacy. 

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said people “are right to consider and celebrate the people on our banknotes” and that he is “delighted that our new £50 features one of Britain’s most important scientists.”

Key Background

Turing’s war hero status did not save him from being persecuted for being gay. Turing was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for a relationship with a man, losing the security clearance necessary for his wartime work. Rather than going to prison, Turing was chemically castrated, and he died from suicide two years later. Turing was one of thousands to be punished for homosexuality at the time and was granted a posthumous pardon in 2013. Three years later, the pardon was extended to all men convicted. His appearance on the £50 note was first announced in 2019.  

Crucial Quote

Director of Britain’s cybersecurity agency, Jeremy Fleming, described Turing’s commemoration as “a landmark moment in our history” recognizing not only “scientific genius” but his status as “one of the most iconic LGBT+ figures in the world.” Fleming said Turing’s “legacy is a reminder of the value of embracing all aspects of diversity, but also the work we still need to do to become truly inclusive.”


Further Reading

What Alan Turing £50 notes mean to the LGBT community (BBC)

How Alan Turing Helped Win WWII And Was Thanked With Criminal Prosecution For Being Gay (Forbes)

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