Making History inside the Doughnut
by Vitali Vitaliev
I am happy to report that yesterday, on the 8th of October 2015, a bit of history was made inside the legendary Doughnut building in Cheltenham – the HQ of GCHQ –forgive my unintended pun. For those who do not know, I have to explain that GCHQ stands for Government Communications Headquarters (hence the pun) and that it is, alongside MI5 and MI6, one of the three UK Intelligence and Security Agencies.
Due to its nature, this serious organisation is bound to be secretive and not easily accessible. Nevertheless, yesterday – for the first time in their history – GCHQ conducted a public event in their doughnut-shaped HQ, to which a couple of carefully selected (not sure how exactly) journalists were also invited. I was lucky to be one of them, because the event in question was a book launch. To be more specific, it was the launch of a new biography of Alan Turing “”Prof: Alan Turing Decoded”, published by the History Press and written by his Alan Turing’s nephew Sir Dermot Turing. A bibliophile of many years standing, I am now a proud owner of the book’s special GCHQ edition, “available only to GCHQ staff”, according to the GCHQ’s own press release. As far as I know, I am not a member of GCHQ staff, but am definitely a member of E&T’s, yet the book, with an autograph of Mr Turing himself (I mean Sir Dermot Turing, not Alan Turing), was nevertheless presented to me by the hospitable GCHQ organisers. With an introduction by GCHQ Director Robert Hannigan (who was also present at the launch), it is destined to become a bibliographic rarity soon.
What’s the book about? It is about the life of Alan Turing of course! If you want to know more, please keep reading E&T magazine where we’ll soon review the biography (its mass market edition, to be precise) in some detail. We are also planning to interview Sir Dermot Turing, who told me after the launch that his main aim in writing this book was to challenge some wide-spread stereotypes about Alan Turing’s life, which he compared to a “Shakespearean tragedy”.
I also spoke with some GCHQ employees, including the organisation’s own staff historian, but am not sure if I am allowed to reveal their names. So, to be on the safe side, I’d better not… One thing I can do, however, is strongly recommend the book to E&T’s and this blog’s readers as containing lots of hitherto unknown revelations about Alan Turing’s truly amazing life and career.