It’s exactly 100 years since the birth of Alan Turing. And just over 58 years since his death. An event which left scarcely a ripple in the media of the time, and which might have left none at all had it not been for the manner in which it happened.
Under the headline “Death Apple By His Bed”, the Daily Mail of 11 June 1954 covered the coroner’s findings that this “bachelor” who “lived alone” committed suicide by means of a cyanide soaked apple while the balance of his mind was disturbed. Although he is described as “one of Britain’s most brilliant mathematicians”, Turing’s name was not remotely well enough known to make it into the headline, and the piece takes up barely a couple of column inches, one of dozens of stories on that page alone. Brief as the Mail’s account was, they did more than most other national papers in at least reporting that Turing had died.
Fast forward to now, and Turing has gone from being a man whose life was seen as less interesting than his death, to one requiring 12 months to celebrate his achievements and influence. 2012 has been declared “Alan Turing Year” with an official organising committee and events across some 50 countries and organisations. There are exhibitions, conferences, TV and radio programmes, even a special UK postage stamp. That apple by his deathbed has become the most famous in science since Isaac Newton’s windfall, with claims that Turing poisoned it so he could mimic the one in his favourite fairy-tale, Disney’s Snow White, and – repeatedly – that it inspired Apple’s famous once-bitten logo. Although writer/actor/presenter/technophile Stephen Fry saysthat when he asked Apple founder Steve Jobs if the story is true, Jobs replied “It isn’t true but God, we wish it were”.