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Heritage watchdog objects to statue of gay hero Alan Turing at Kings College Cambridge

Heritage watchdog objects to statue of gay hero Alan Turing at Kings College Cambridge

  • Steel tribute to World War II hero codebreaker ‘threatens the existing character’ of the famous college.
Alan Turing.

A sculpture to honor gay World War II hero Alan Turing by one of the world’s foremost sculptors ‘threatens’ the historic landscape of King’s College in Cambridge.

That’s according to Historic England which is responsible for protecting England’s historic buildings and monuments.

Sir Antony Gormley has designed the 12 foot high steel sculpture. It is set to be constructed at King’s College in Cambridge where Turing studied mathematics from 1931 to 1934.

But Historic England says the abstract work of 19 steel slabs wouldn’t fit in.

Claire Campbell, from Historic England, said: ‘We recognise that the proposal would deliver some enhancement to the significance of the King’s College through the introduction of a sculpture by a renowned contemporary sculptor and the visible commemoration of Turing.

‘These could also be considered as public benefits.

‘However, we consider the introduction of an eye catching sculpture in a prominent position within the landscape at King’s would be at odds with the existing character of the College.

‘This would result in harm, of a less than substantial nature, to the significance of the listed buildings and landscape, and by extension the conservation area.’

The Chapel at King's College.
The world famous gothic Chapel at King’s College. Dmitry Tonkonog

Alan Turing, the persecuted hero

Alan Turing is most famous for his work at Britain’s secret codebreaking center Bletchley Park during World War II. He and his colleagues broke the Nazi Enigma Code used to send orders. Experts estimate they shortened the war by two years and saved 14million lives.

He is also famous for his Turing Machine, a model of a general purpose computer. Today, people widely consider him to be the ‘father’ of modern computers and artificial intelligence.

However, during his life, Britain didn’t recognize him – partly because his war work was an official state secret.

But worse, Britain prosecuted him for homosexuality in 1952. He chose to undergo chemical castration rather than facing prison. Just two years later in 1954, aged 41, he ate an apple dipped in cyanide and an inquest ruled he had committed suicide.

‘Very best sculpture’ from world famous artist

Antony Gormley's design for the Alan Turing sculpture.
Antony Gormley’s design for the Alan Turing sculpture. Antony Gormley, Cambridge City Council

Sir Antony Gormley is most famous for his Angel of the North statue outside Newcastle, northeast England.

His bold, abstract representations of the human form have marked him out as one of the world’s leading sculptors.

He said: ‘I am in debt to King’s College and its committee for giving me an extraordinary opportunity to think about this very particular person who unlocked the door between the industrial and the information ages.

‘In honouring Alan Turing and reflecting on his remarkable contribution to the way we live now I do not want to make a statue but the very best sculpture that I can make.’

King’s College says it has been planning a Turing sculpture for some time. However, it now has to wait to see if Cambridge City Council will grant planning permission for the artwork, despite Historic England’s concerns.

Turing honored after his death

Meanwhile, it is not the first time that modern Britain has honored Alan Turing. Indeed the UK celebrated an Alan Turing Year in 2012 to mark the centenary of his birth.

In 2013, nearly 60 years after his death, the UK government agreed to pardon Turing for his homosexuality ‘offense’.

Most significantly, that opened the floodgates to a pardon for up to 50,000 men who were convicted of consensual, adult gay sex.

Meanwhile the BBC conducted a public vote last year which named Turing ‘the greatest person of the 20th century’.

Moreover, in 2021 Turing’s face will be printed on the reverse of the Bank of England’s new £50 note.

Hollywood has also recognized Turing. Benedict Cumberbatch secured a best actor Oscar nomination for his role as Turing in The Imitation Game. However historians roundly criticized the film for being inaccurate.