The Codefather

PUBLISHED: 17:26 27 October 2014 | UPDATED: 17:29 27 October 2014

The memorial to Bill Tutte is unveiled in Newmarket.

The memorial to Bill Tutte is unveiled in Newmarket.


A Suffolk war hero finally gets the recognition he deserves, though not in Hollywood, writes Martin Chambers

Bill TutteBill Tutte

As the latest blockbuster film dealing with the World War Two codebreakers at Bletchley Park makes its appearance in the cinemas, a Suffolk born man is only now getting the recognition he merits for his work in deciphering secret German signals.

The Imitation Game, which hits the screens this month, stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the brilliant English mathematician and logician Alan Turing, who helped crack the Enigma code during the war.

It deals with Turing’s work at the Buckinghamshire HQ of the Government Code and Cipher School early in the war. In 1939, at the age of 27, Turing started working on the decryption of the seemingly ‘unbreakable’ German cipher machine called Enigma, used by the Nazis to encode all military radio transmissions, from weather reports to crucial military manoeuvres.

The film begins in 1952 with Turing’s arrest on charges of gross indecency stemming from his affair with a 19-year-old male. At that time, practising homosexuality was illegal. Two years later, he killed himself at the age of 41.

Benedcit Cumberbatch as Alan TuringBenedcit Cumberbatch as Alan Turing

The film title gets its name from Turing’s 1951 paper, which proposed a test called The Imitation Game where one had to judge whether the intelligence shown was that of a computer or a human. If the decisions are less than 50% accurate then the computer must be a passable simulation of a human being and therefore, intelligent.

While Turing was hailed for his outstanding work in codebreaking, and is described as the ‘father of the computer’, the work of Newmarket born Bill Tutte has remained in Turing’s shadow.

Tutte, and another Bletchley colleague Nigel de Grey, a Copdock rector’s son, do not even figure in the film. De Grey was the codebreaker behind the Zimmermann telegram in 1917, which offered the Mexican government the return of the states of Arizona, Texas and New Mexico as an inducement to Mexico to side with Germany against the United States. The revelation of this secret Mexican-German pact brought the US into the First World War. He went on to work with Turing on Enigma, but clearly was not ‘Hollywood’ enough for a part in the film.

A unique tribute to Second World War codebreaker Tutte, by Cambridge sculptor Harry Gray, has been created in Newmarket.

The sculpture was unveiled in September, along with relatives of the mathematician, by memorial patron Professor Dan Younger, who worked with Tutte at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

It consists of four flat punctured metal columns, depicting the teleprinter tape used in the deciphering machines, in which Tutte’s face can be seen from a specific angle. A circular area on the ground has the words ‘One of the greatest intellectual feats of World War Two’.

The phrase refers to a quote from former security services engineer Tony Sale, who was given the go-ahead in 1996 to rebuild the massive computer Tutte helped create during the war. For so long Tutte’s heroic exploits had been buried under the Official Secrets Act, but his contribution to codebreaking was finally revealed in 1997, just before his 80th birthday, when Sale described his work as “the greatest intellectual feat of the whole war”.

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