Saturday, 26 April 2014

Alan Turing


The logo of Apple Computers (and i-pods and mobile phones and the Lord knows what else) — a silhouette of an apple with a bite out of one side — is thought by many to be a sly homage to Alan Turing, who was found dead in bed with a half-eaten apple beside him. Cyanide poisoning, always said to be suicide, but it’s quite possible it was an accident: he had a schoolboy fondness for chemistry experiments and was known to be careless about washing his hands afterwards.

But why might Turing have wanted to kill himself? Well the war, in which he had done work of unrepeatable value, was over, so he might — like T.E. Lawrence after the previous war — have been in a sort of prolonged post-coital depression: if not suicidal then ‘an accident waiting to happen’ — a poisoned apple, a motorbike crash. And Turing had recently been found ‘guilty’ of homosexual activity, and subjected to the barbarous and humiliating punishment — touted at the time as ‘Humane “Treatment” for a “Pathological Disorder”’ (the hypocrisy of the times needs a plethora of inverted commas) — of chemical castration.

Now that homosexuality is positively fashionable — it’s as well to claim bipolarity too, though that is becoming passé — Turing is being turned into a Gay Hero; something this shy, reticent man who had never thought his homosexuality in any way remarkable would have hated. At the next Proms the Pet Shop Boys will be performing a number about him, (should sit well next to massed singing of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’) and someone else is writing a choral work about him. Even the British Government has got in on the act — he joins the growing list of people whom they first hang or hound to death, and then give a (posthumous) pardon.

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