Code-breaker Alan Turing new face of £50 note

Mar 30, 2021

The WWII code-breaker and mathematician Alan Turing OBE FRS has been chosen as the new face of the British fifty pound note. The central character of the 2014 movie The Imitation Game, which saw Turing and his team crack Nazi codes using his Enigma machine, Turing is a perfect choice to be honoured on the Tails side of the note which is being called “the most secure version” to date.

Why the £50 note is changing

In addition to Turing’s portrait, the note also includes the mathematical formula from Turing’s influential 1936 paper “On Computable Numbers”, technical drawings of the World War Two British Bombe code-breaking machine, and a quote about the rise of machine intelligence. The ticker tape of the machine shows Turing’s birthday in binary code, and the note itself will be issued on the 109th anniversary of his birth, 23 June 2021.


How Turing went from convicted criminal to national treasure

The mathematician was convicted for gross indecency in 1952 for being a homosexual, for which he lost his job and received experimental “chemical castration” as an alternative to a prison sentence. His conviction was overturned posthumously in 2013 when Turing received a royal pardon, 59 years after his death. He was appointed an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1946, and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1951, before his death by cyanide poisoning in 1954.

The decision to immortalise Turing on the fifty pound note was made after a public nomination process in 2019, similar to those held for the £5, £10 and £20 notes. In 2017, a new law, informally nicknamed the “Alan Turing law”, was brought in to pardon men who had been previously cautioned or convicted under historic legislation that outlawed homosexuality. A number of petitions have been started in recent years asking for Turing to be posthumously knighted for his contributions to mathematics, modern computing and his part in saving lives during WWII.


Why big change has come to our pockets and purses

The fifty pound note is the final one to be given the polymer treatment, after the £20 note bearing J.M.W. Turner’s self-portrait released in Feb 2020, the £10 note depicting Jane Austen launched in 2017, and the £5 with Winston Churchill on the Tails side released in 2016.

And it’s not only our paper currency that has been completely overhauled in recent years. In 2017, the new hexagonal £1 was revealed with a Tails side designed by fifteen-year-old David Pearce from Walsall. The design combines the rose, thistle, leek and shamrock, rising from one single stem within a crown, symbolising the four nations of the British Isles, united under one monarch.

The old £1 coin is thought to be the most counterfeited currency in circulation, whilst the old £50 note is believed to be primarily used by criminals in money laundering, hidden economy activity and tax evasion, and rarely for ordinary purchases. Rather than choose to scrap the £50 note, the Bank of England decided to give it every security measure at their disposal in order to reduce counterfeiting and improve traceability.


New commemorative coins are coming

In January 2021, the Royal Mint released a new commemorative 50 pence coin to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Decimal Day. February 15th, 1971 was the day the UK currency moved from pounds, shillings and pence to the decimal currency we use today. This year will also see four other celebratory coins, including a new £5 coin to celebrate the Queen’s 95th birthday on April 5th, and two new £2 coins for the 250th anniversary of the birth of Sir Walter Scott and the 75th anniversary of the death of H.G. Wells.

A new 50p coin to mark Brexit entered circulation in January 2020, bearing the quote “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations”.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that the Royal Mint has suspended production of the 2p and £2 coins due to a huge excess, in part due to declining cash usage and the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown restrictions meaning we’re all spending more online.


What are your thoughts on the Bank of England’s choice for the Tails side of the new £50 note? Will you be buying a commemorative 50p coin to celebrate the anniversary of decimalisation? Let us know on our Linkedin page.


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