Tuesday, 26 June 2012

James Bond and Alan Turing

Saturday 23rd June marked the centenary of Alan Turing's birth. Turing died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning, but his fame lives on as the father of modern computing and the mathematical genius who was so instrumental in cracking German codes at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. His birth has been commemorated with the unveiling of two blue plaques – one at St Leonards, Hastings at his childhood home, and the other at Manchester University, where he studied after the war and continued his pioneering work – and over the last week or so, there has been much media focus on his work and legacy.

A number of articles have been published on the BBC website. One, by Graham Moore, looks at how the incredible, but troubled, and ultimately tragic life of Alan Turing has been addressed by writers of fiction. For example, in 1980 Ian McEwan wrote a short play, The Imitation Game, which was inspired by Turing's experiences at Bletchley. Another play, Breaking the Code, written by Hugh Whitemore in 1986, featured Turing more directly, and was later filmed for the BBC with Derek Jacobi as Turing. More recently, 2007 saw the publication of the novel, A madman dreams of Turing machines, by Janna Levin.

There was, however, one book that Graham Moore forgot to mention. That was, of course, Charlie Higson's Young Bond adventure, Double or Die, published in 2007. At the end of the book (and stop reading now if haven't read the book and you don't want to know what happens), we are introduced to an older James Bond at the end of the war. He arrives at Bletchley to collect an important code-breaker and take him to headquarters in London. That man is Alan Turing (and indeed, Young Bond meets Turing as a Cambridge Student earlier in the book).

The coda elegantly closes the book, with its themes of codes, puzzles and danger, and gives us a glimpse into the life of Bond at the start of his post-war secret service career. It also nicely brings in a place with which Ian Fleming was himself associated, visiting Bletchley every few weeks during the war in his role as assistant to the director of the Naval Intelligence Division, Admiral Godfrey.


  1. Also, another indirect association; in FRWL the Spektor code machine's description matches the Enigma device, which Fleming only new about through his Naval Intelligence role as (I believe) Enigma was still classified when FRWL was written.

    1. Ah, yes, of course. Fleming was probably sailing very close to the wind in terms of the official secrets act when he wrote FRWL (even his description of snooping under the Russian embassy may have made SIS officers a little bit anxious, as I suggested in an earlier post).