Tag Archives: Alan Turing

The birth centenary of Alan Turing

Tomorrow is the birth centenary of Alan Turing the mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist who was highly influential in the development of computers and artificial intelligence.

A stamp from the Britons of Distinction issue, 23 February 2012. 1st Class – Alan Turing.

A stamp from the Britons of Distinction issue, 23 February 2012. 1st Class – Alan Turing.

Turing is perhaps most famous for his work during World War 2 at the code breaking centre in Bletchley Park. There he and others broke a number of German codes, including that of the Enigma machine.

At Bletchley Park Turing worked with a number of engineers seconded from the General Post Office’s engineering department, including Gordon Radley and Tommy Flowers. Radley and Flowers were both involved in the development of Colossus, the world’s first programmable electronic computer, which broke the Nazi’s Lorenz codes and convinced General Eisenhower to go ahead with D-Day. While Alan Turing was not directly involved in the development of Colossus his work fed in to the thinking behind it.

After the war Gordon Radley returned to the Post Office where he was involved in the development of the first transatlantic submarine cable, the invention the hearing aid, and projects to mechanise post sorting which led to the development of the postcode. He eventually rose to become Director General (Secretary to the Post Office), the first engineer to do so.

Tommy Flowers also returned to the Post Office after his time as a code breaker, where he was involved in developing the pioneering electronic telephone exchange at Highgate Wood, and ERNIE, the random number generator used by Premium Bonds.

Alan Turing’s post-war work and legacy are even more significant. Until his death in 1954 Turing undertook pioneering work in computer development and programming, mathematical biology and morphogenesis. He also developed the “Turing Test” for artificial intelligence, which states that a machine can only be said to be intelligent if its behaviours are indistinguishable from that of a human being.

A stamp from The Inventors' Tale issue, 12 January 1999. 63p – Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers).

A stamp from The Inventors’ Tale issue, 12 January 1999. 63p – Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing’s work on computers).

For this and his many achievements Alan Turing is often labelled a “genius”. A stamp from 1999, part of The Inventor’s Tale issue, is testament to this: it features E Paolozzi’s artwork Computers, portraying a computer inside a human head. It is one of many of Paolozzi’s artworks inspired by Alan Turing.

A stamp released earlier this year (pictured above) as part of the Britons of Distinction issue commemorates Turing’s work as a mathematician, computer scientist and code breaker. The stamp shows Turing’s “Bombe” code breaking machine at Bletchley Park.

2012 is Alan Turing Year, celebrating the life and work of Alan Turing.

Britons of Distinction

Royal Mail is celebrating the lives and work of ten prominent Britons with a new set of stamps launched today. The Britons of Distinction stamps celebrate ten distinguished individuals from the realms of science and technology, architecture, politics and the arts who have all made a major contribution to British society.

The ten 1st Class stamps feature a mixture of portraits and images of these individuals and their achievements.

1st Class – Sir Basil Spence – architect of Coventry Cathedral

Knighted for services to architecture, particularly his designs for the new Coventry Cathedral, opened in 1962, after the original was bombed. The image shows Coventry Cathedral.

1st Class – Frederick Delius – opera, choral and orchestral composer

The First Cuckoo stamp, British Composers, issued 14 May 1985

The First Cuckoo stamp, British Composers, issued 14 May 1985

Yorkshire-born composer of choral and orchestral works. Born in 1862 and most renowned for music evoking a timeless English pastoral idyll. Delius’ The First Cuckoo was commemorated on a stamp in 1985 (pictured right).

1st Class – Mary ‘May’ Morris – designer and textile artist

Textile artist and designer celebrated for her embroidery; daughter of the artist and thinker William Morris (whose work was featured on stamps last year). The image shows Orange Tree, designed and embroidered by May Morris.

1st Class – Odette Hallowes – SOE agent in occupied France

French-born British secret agent in wartime France, who survived solitary confinement in German concentration camps.

1st Class – Thomas Newcomen – inventor of the atmospheric steam engine

Devon ironmonger, engineer and inventor of the atmospheric steam engine, which helped power the Industrial Revolution. His first working engine was installed at a coalmine near Dudley Castle in Staffordshire in 1712.

1st Class – Kathleen Ferrier – contralto performer of opera and song

Lancashire-born contralto whose international opera and song career was prematurely ended by her death from cancer. Ferrier worked for the GPO as a telephonist on two occasions, and you can view her nomination papers for 1930 and 1934 on the Ancestry website.

1st Class – Augustus Pugin – Gothic revival architect and designer

Architect, designer and advocate of the Gothic style whose commissions included the interiors of the Palace of Westminster. The stamp shows Pugin’s interior of the Palace of Westminster.

1st Class – Montague Rhodes James – scholar and author of ghost stories

Cambridge academic and author of chilling ghost stories, originally written as entertainments for his friends.

1st Class – Alan Turing – mathematician and code breaker

Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers), Millennium Series. The Investors' Tale, issued 1999

Computer inside Human Head (Alan Turing's work on computers), Millennium Series. The Investors' Tale, issued 1999

Mathematician and computer scientist, whose work with the code breakers at Bletchley Park helped to speed up the end of the Second World War. The stamp shows Turing’s Bombe code breaking machine at Bletchley Park. Turing previously featured on a stamp in 1999 (pictured right).

1st Class – Joan Mary Fry – Quaker relief worker and social reformer

Quaker campaigner for pacifism and social reform, who organised food relief in Germany after the First World War, and then in Wales

Two different pictorial first day of issue postmarks are available.

Britons of Distinction first day of issue handstamps

Britons of Distinction first day of issue handstamps

Stamps and stamp products are available at all Post Office branches, online at www.royalmail.com/stamps, the Royal Mail eBay shop and from Royal Mail Tallents House (tel. 08457 641 641), 21 South Gyle Crescent, Edinburgh, EH12 9PB.

The Design is in the Post: Artists and the GPO podcast

Eric Gill’s un-adopted design for the British Empire Exhibition stamp of 1924

Eric Gill’s un-adopted design for the British Empire Exhibition stamp of 1924

In May, stamp designer Brian Webb and independent fine art consultant Peyton Skipwith spoke at the BPMA about the work of some of the artists who have been employed by GPO and Royal Mail over the years. Their talk is now available as a podcast.

Well known names such as Bertram Mackennal, Eric Gill, Edward McKnight-Kauffer, Edward Bawden, Eric Ravillious and David Gentleman produced some of their earliest work for the GPO, designing stamps, posters and other items. Brian Webb and Peyton Skipwith discuss these designs, as well as other works by the same artists.

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamp design, issued 1913

David Gentleman’s role in revolutionising British stamp design is well known and has been discussed on this blog before, but Peyton Skipwith notes that many of the design difficulties highlighted by Gentleman in Essays in Stamp Design were also encountered by earlier artists. The problem of how to include the monarch’s head and the value of the stamp into the design was anticipated in Bertram Mackennal’s “Seahorses” stamps, he argues.

Other artists discussed include some of those who worked on the Millennium stamps, such as David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake and Craigie Aicheson.

The podcast The Design is in the Post: Artists and the GPO is free to download. While we couldn’t include the designs discussed within the podcast, many of them can be found by searching our online catalogue.