Alan Turing: Codebreaker announced as new face on £50 note
Turing’s remarkable life is retold in tonight’s World War Two thriller, The Imitation Game, airing on BBC One at 10.40pm. Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch plays the scientist and mathematician as he arrives at Bletchley Park, Britain’s codebreaking hub during the war. Turing, who died at the age of 41 in 1954, recruited a crack team of specialists to break Germany‘s Enigma code.
The Enigma machine is a cipher device that was used to protect commercial, diplomatic and military communications from nations such as Britain.
It was employed across Nazi Germany during World War Two, and was considered so secure that it was used to encipher the most top-secret messages.
London-born Turing is often considered one of the most influential Britons for his role in cracking the code, which helped speed up the Allies’ victory in Europe.
But what is often forgotten is that prior to his time in Bletchley Park, Turing used his incredible abilities on breaking the bank at Monte Carlo.
Alan Turing’s incredible method to beat casinos before cracking Enigma code
Alan Turing died in 1954
Nearly ten years before his role in taking down the Nazis, Turing worked out an equation to understand the chances of winning at roulette.
In a letter unearthed last year, while Turing was a 21-year-old undergraduate at King’s College, University of Cambridge, the logician worked out how to make money off the gambling game.
According to the note, dated an incredible 89 years ago, Turing understood how he could assess the chances of winning at roulette.
His research began after becoming engrossed with the strip lighting inventor Alfred Beuttell, who reportedly told a young him of his ‘Monte Carlo’ method in winning.
Alan Turing’s Enigma machine
Reports show that Beuttell spoke with Turing about how the process had allowed him to live off his casino winnings for a month.
Hearing how lucrative it could be, he put the system to the test, working out the chances of winning after 150, 1,520, 4,560 and 30,400 spins.
His calculations found that it was possible to win “an unexpectedly large sum” in the short-term, but the longer a gambler played, the “more remote his chances”.
At the end of the letter, Turing added: “Regards to everyone and please don’t feel there’s any need to answer these ravings of mine.”
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Alan Turing being unveiled as the new face of the £50 note
The seven-page handwritten letter, on King’s College headed paper, was sent in February 1933 and has remained in the family until now.
Matthew Haley, Bonhams head of books and manuscripts, which sold the manuscript last year, said: “From the letter you really get the sense that Turing was enjoying himself doing all these calculations.
“In a polite way it appears his conclusion was [that] Beuttell’s success was beginner’s luck.
“It does underline Turing’s fascination with probability… although I don’t imagine Turing would have been at a roulette wheel in Monte Carlo.”
An Alan Turing memorial in Manchester
In later life, Turing sadly took his own life two years after he was prosecuted for performing homosexual acts, which was illegal at the time.
Decades later, the Queen granted Turing a posthumous pardon in 2013, a year before The Imitation Game’s release.
And in 2021, he made history by becoming the new face of the Bank of England £50 note, to coincide with his birthday.
A poll by the BBC in 2019 also secured his legacy by naming him the greatest person of the 20th Century.
The Imitation Game airs today on BBC One from 10.40pm.