Monday, September 14, 2009

Alan Turing and Harry Golombek

Gordon Brown's apology for the treatment of Alan Turing has reminded me of the time in the early 1980s when I was working in London selling chess computers.

As part of this work I went out to Chalfont St Giles to visit Harry Golombek, then the chess correspondent of The Times. He had been British champion three times in the forties and fifties, and had been a member of the British team at the 1939 chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires, which was abandoned when war broke out.

Like several top chess players, Golombek was then recruited to Bletchley Park to help break German codes. Recruits from other fields there included Roy Jenkins and the future novelist Angus Wilson.

I remember that Golombek talked about Alan Turing and what a brilliant man he was. This was quite unprompted by me: I doubt I had heard of Turing in those days. Hugh Whitemore's play Breaking the Code, which had much to do with his modern rediscovery, did not appear until 1986.

Golombek died in 1995 and his Independent obituary (dodgy Java script and all) records that he would play chess against Turing in quiet moments at Bletchley Park, giving the computer pioneer a queen start and still winning.


Manfarang said...

Turing's death was hushed up at the time.The other day I asked someone who worked for him at Bletchley Park what he was like.He was a very strange person apparently.

Frank Little said...

The late Donald Michie reminisced about Turing in a few of his "Computer Weekly" columns in the 1970s. He confirmed that in spite of Turing's contribution to computer chess, the man himself was a poor chess player.

Then there was the story about the buried silver - but you can tell it better than I can.

Matthew Huntbach said...

Turing's contribution has always been well-known and recognised in the field of Computer Science.

It should be noted that the "Turing machine" was a piece of mathematics, and not a physical machine. I have seen recently a few howlers from people who clearly do not realise that.

Anonymous said...

Andrew Hodges, Turing's biographer, has an interesting website.

dreamingspire said...

I know a lady who worked in Turing's hut. She didn't talk about it until the second round of publicity (I had known her family for a long time, but didn't know about her involvement).