The Faces of Britain’s Banknotes

A comment on a prior post said that Alan Turing would be the face on a new £50 Bank of England note:

From NPR:

The Bank of England’s new 50-pound note will feature mathematician Alan Turing, honoring the code-breaker who helped lay the foundation for computer science.

Alan Turing, the father of computer science and artificial intelligence who broke Adolf Hitler’s Enigma code system in World War II — but who died an outcast because of his homosexuality — will be featured on the Bank of England’s new 50-pound note.

The new note will be printed on polymer and will bear a 1951 photo of Turing, the bank announced Monday. It’s expected to enter circulation by the end of 2021. It will include a quote from Turing: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be.”

Turing was just 41 when he died from poisoning in 1954, a death that was deemed a suicide. For decades, his status as a giant in mathematics was largely unknown, thanks to the secrecy around his computer research and the social taboos about his sexuality. His story became more widely known after the release of the 2014 movie The Imitation Game.

“Alan Turing was an outstanding mathematician whose work has had an enormous impact on how we live today,” the Bank of England’s governor, Mark Carney, said in unveiling the new note. “Alan Turing’s contributions were far-ranging and pathbreaking. Turing is a giant on whose shoulders so many now stand.”

Link to the rest at NPR

From a 2016 edition of The Guardian, other non-politicians featured on British banknotes:

The new £20 note will feature artist JMW Turner, and will be available in 2020.
£10 note featuring Jane Austen, issued in 2017.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

8 thoughts on “The Faces of Britain’s Banknotes”

  1. In practice, ATMs normally issue £10 and £20 notes (Jane Austin and Adam Smith) and we are moving towards a cashless society so most people will rarely or never see one of these new £50 notes. And the £5 is also relatively uncommon as you are most likely to get one as change from a shop, always assuming that you pay in cash which is becoming much rarer given the rise in the use of contactless debit cards for small bills.

  2. Turing’s status was largely unknown? Maybe to English majors! Mathematicians, computer scientists, anybody who was capable of understanding Turing’s work knew of him as a giant in the field decades before that movie came out! Well, now we know where NPR writers get their world knowledge… they have to wait for somebody to make a movie!

    • Anybody who read SF from the 50’s on knew who he was because the Turing Test was quoted all over the place. The least of his achievements.

      He is right there with Charles Babbage and Vannevar Bush as computing pathfinders. He’ll long be remembered and celebrated.

  3. Turing… but not Abraham Darby, who started the entire Industrial Revolution? Richard Trevithick, who invented the locomotive? Edmund Cartwright, who invented the power loom? Thomas Savery, whose dewatering pump started the Age of Steam? Charles Babbage, who invented the programmable computer? Tim Berners-Lee, who began the World Wide Web?

    Isaac Newton? Ernest Rutherford? John Napier? James Maxwell? Michael Faraday? Crick and Watson?

    I suspect Turing’s sexual orientation was more important to the selection process than his accomplishments.

    • TRX, the notes change fairly regularly and this new £50 note replaces that launched in 2011 which showed Matthew Boulton and James Watt, so not the names you suggested but redolent of the industrial revolution and the age of steam. As is George Stephenson (the £5 note from 1980).

      They tend to be a mix of the arts, sciences, warriors and those who did good works. I approve of all your scientific suggestions but Sir Isaac Newton (£1, 1978) and Michael Faraday (£20, 1993) have already had their day, as have Charles Darwin (£10, 2000) and Sir Christopher Wren (£50, 1981).

      I’d have liked the new £50 note to included Tommy Flowers and maybe Bill Tutte to give it more of a Bletchley Park vibe but this was never going to happen and Turing is a good choice (though I’m hoping for James Clerk Maxwell next time).

      • And I should have noted that your suggestion of Crick and Watson will never fly. Now if you added Rosalind Franklin to make a trio …

  4. Don’t forget that the Poles cracked Enigma first, and the Americans at NCR cracked the four rotor Enigma, under the leadership of a hardware/engineer guy, Joe Desch. Turing met with Desch in Dayton at one point,and basically they were on totally different approaches to the same problems.

    Ironically, Turing would have done a lot better to come work for NCR after the war. He’d probably have lived longer.

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