Steak and kidney – and Alan Turing

Yesterday at City Diggers:


An excellent winter meal, and a great book, Andrew Hodges’ biography of Alan Turing.


Andrew Hodges is a mathematician himself, but also a very good social historian and biographer.

Penetrating, sympathetic, poetic, this life by a fellow-mathematician was hailed as “one of the finest scientific biographies”.

Along with a lucid exposition of Turing’s achievements, Hodges reveals an amusing, honest man who saw no reason why he should hide his sexual orientation.

Despite his massive contribution to the war effort, Turing was found guilty of gross indecency in 1952 and subjected to a drug that produced “gynaecomastic response”: he grew breasts.

This idiosyncratic genius ate the Socratic apple.

I am drawn most to the personal story, but Andrew Hodges writes so well about the mathematical that I almost understand what he is saying! See here for a summary view.


Alan Turing (front) in 1939

I haven’t seen the movie The Imitation Game, based on this book, yet. The Guardian punctures it rather.

One hundred years after his birth Alan Turing was granted a royal pardon on the charge of “gross indecency”. See Gay men call for equity following Alan Turing pardon.

For Terry, the trauma of being arrested for the crime of being in love with another man is still profound. Some six decades after his entanglement in Britain’s 1950s anti-homosexual “witch hunt”, it remains an experience he would prefer others not to know about.

Now aged 89, Terry (not his real name) was a young man when he was arrested in central London following an admission from his then boyfriend that the pair were in a consensual, private – but under the law of the time, criminal – sexual relationship.

But unlike Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and wartime code breaker, neither Terry nor an estimated 50,000 other men who were convicted under a Victorian law of indulging in “gross indecency with an other male person” have received a royal pardon for being gay.

Terry, a retired civil servant, said: “It was by far the most terrifying experience of my life. The police came to my flat in the early morning. I think they were hoping to find me and my boyfriend in bed together but he happened to be out of town that week. He was arrested later.

“They turned the place upside down and I remember one of the constables saying to his colleague that they’d got ‘another effing queer’. I was given a suspended sentence on the basis of my boyfriend’s statement. They were scary times. A real witch hunt was going on. Even now it’s pretty hard to talk about it – I told no one for years and lots of people still don’t know.

“I think it’s good that Turing has been pardoned. He was a great man and cruelly treated. But if he should have his ‘crime’ officially overturned, then the same should apply to the rest of us. We might not all be of his calibre, but we also did nothing wrong.”…

While many have been heartened by the progress of equal marriage in the anglophone world particularly, we must never forget the way things have been – and in much of the world still are. See:

79 countries where homosexuality is illegal