In the 1980s, an exhaustive biography by Oxford scholar Andrew Hodges elevated Turing’s image further, and a play about Turing’s life hit London’s West End in 1986. But more recently, Turing has risen to folk-hero status, particularly on university campuses and at underground hacker conferences in Europe.
A controversial end
(Science Museum, London/SSPL) - Portrait of Alan Turing.
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In 2009, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered the first national apology to Turing. It set up the centennial of Turing’s birth last year, when universities from the United States to Peru to New Zealand held events honoring Turing. The first major retrospective on Turing’s life was extended through next month because of high demand at London’s Science Museum. A British postage stamp bearing his likeness went on sale last year, as did an Alan Turing edition of Monopoly — a board game he was said to be obsessed with as a child. Google has unveiled a “doodle” in his honor.
Led by Jack Copeland, director of the Turing Archive for the History of Computing at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, some scholars say the time is ripe to reopen the inquest into Turing’s death.
Copeland argues that evidence suggests Turing bore the burden of his sentence with a sense of humor and a strong will. He theorizes that fumes from an experiment may have accidentally killed Turing. Although two jars of cyanide were found in Turing’s home, the apple found by his bedside — long assumed to have been dipped in poison — was never tested.
Hodges paints Turing’s death as intentional, albeit sudden and deeply symbolic. The apple — whether prop or poisoned — nodded to “Snow White,” a film that had left a deep impression on Turing, while also suggesting the “forbidden fruit” that had branded him a criminal. Still, Turing gave little sign that he was preparing to take his own life, and at the time of the 1954 inquest, his mother insisted his death must have been accidental.
Today, however, some members of the Turing family are arguing against a new inquest. The body of evidence, they say, still overwhelmingly supports suicide.
“I think it’s much less awkward territory to focus on the achievements of his life and not the Shakespearean and rather unpleasant end to things,” said his nephew, Dermot Turing. “He would rather have had his legacy be about that.”
Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.