US CTO on Representation of Women in The Imitation Game

It’s so great to see the awesome US CTO Megan Smith speak about representation of women in the film “The Imitation Game” as not being representative of what actually happened at Bletchley Park during WW2.

White House CTO calls for open source APIs, visibility for women

“Smith pointed out that Joan Clarke, the code-breaker depicted in the recent film The Imitation Game, was just one of numerous female mathematicians who worked at the U.K.’s World War II lab known as Bletchley Park. Likewise, Smith observed that women’s contributions to the development of the Mac were been scrubbed from the movie Jobs, and from the space mission in Apollo.

The upshot, Smith suggested, is that a perceived dearth of women in STEM professions can be partly addressed by ensuring the proper depiction of those who are already working in them.”

Go Megan! 🙂

In November 2011 I was honoured to take Megan, along with Reid Hoffman, Julie Hanna and DJ Patil around Bletchley Park with then Bletchley Park CEO Simon Greenish. I met Megan when I approached her after she spoke on a panel at NESTA in 2010 and asked her to help Bletchley Park to buy the Turing papers which were then up for auction.

Megan Smith, Reid Hoffman, Julie Hanna and DJ Patil checking out the Turing exhibition at Bletchley Park

Megan Smith, Reid Hoffman, Julie Hanna and DJ Patil checking out the Turing exhibition at Bletchley Park

We had a wonderful day together, Google stepped in to help save the Turing papers for Bletchley Park, and went on to support Bletchley Park and The National Museum of Computing in many ways  🙂  #serendipity

The Imitation Game + Alan Turing + Joan Clarke: reviews, facts, books, links, useful information

Have you seen The Imitation Game starring Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch? Have you wondered what is historically accurate in the film, what is true and what false? Is Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Alan Turing accurate? Does Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Joan Clarke get over her true character?

This blog post is a collection of links to information that is related to The Imitation Game and will hopefully go some way towards answering questions that you may have about Turing, The Imitation Game and Bletchley Park.

I have been involved with Bletchley Park and known about Alan Turing for over 10 years. I spearheaded a campaign to save Bletchley Park in 2008 which I write about in detail in my forthcoming book Saving Bletchley Park: the story of Bletchley Park and the campaigns to save it. Bletchley Park is now a museum open to the public, do visit if you can and don’t forget The National Museum of Computing next door.


I wrote a review of The Imitation Game that @pubstrat on Twitter said is

One of the most thought provoking film reviews I have ever read.

Here’s my review written after seeing the film and being on a panel afterwards at the Phoenix Cinema in London: The Imitation Game: Art Imitating Real Life?

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There are many other reviews including:

“Broken codes, both strategic and social” The New York Times

“Why you should watch The Imitation Game and why you might want to skip it” Tech Republic

An engrossing and poignant thriller” The Guardian

What’s the best review that you have read and why? Do post a comment below and I’ll add it to the list 🙂

ruth bourne phoenix panel

Veteran Ruth Bourne, 2 Turing experts and me on stage after a screening of The Imitation Game in London


The book that inspired the film is Andrew Hodges Alan Turing: The Enigma a definitive biography of Turing. Very few of us would have heard of Alan Turing if it were not for Andrew.

Alan Turing: his work and impact by Barry Cooper who relentlessly promoted and campaigned for more recognition for Turing and his work by organising the Turing Centenary celebrations in 2012.

Alan M. Turing written by Turing’s mother Sara Turing.

There’s also Alan Turing e l’intelligenza delle macchine by Teresa Numerico in Italian.

I’m eagerly awaiting a book by Kerry Howard “Women Codebreakers at Bletchley Park” the story of three female codebreakers: Mavis Batey, Joan Clarke and Margaret Rock. Kerry has recently had contact with Joan Clarke’s relatives which is very exciting news. The book will be out later this month (January 2015).  There’s also lots of info on Kerry’s “Bletchley Park Research” website.


Steve Colgan and I put together

10 things you need to know about The Imitation Game“, which looks at what was true and false in the film.

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We also did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) session which is a public Q and A about The Imitation Game and Bletchley Park: “IamA Dr Sue Black, I started a campaign to save Bletchley Park as featured in The Imitation Game. I am joined by co-author of my book Saving Bletchley Park and QI Elf Steve Colgan and we are experts on the history of Bletchley Park and Alan Turning AMA!


I, of course, have not met Alan Turing, but have met several people who did over the years of my involvement with Bletchley Park. Turing’s mentor at Bletchley was the codebreaker Max Newman. Newman also testified for Turing when he was sentenced and prosecuted. I’ve spoken several times to William Newman, Max Newman’s son about Alan Turing and what he remembers of him. William told me stories of when he was a child and Turing used to visit. I relate two of these in Robert Lewellyn’s Carpool interview with me from a few years ago about Turing and Bletchley Park and it’s significance.


I will be updating this page regularly, this is just a start with information that I know of. Please do add useful links in the comments below and I’ll add them to the page as we go.



The Imitation Game – art imitating real life?

Having spearheaded the most recent campaign to save Bletchley Park and being part of the campaign to get Alan Turing on a banknote I was very apprehensive about seeing the new film “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. The Imitation Game is based on Andrew Hodges biography of Alan Turing and his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park during WW2.

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I spent several years of my life trying to raise public awareness of Bletchley Park and the contribution of the more than ten thousand people who worked there and have learnt a lot along the way. I’ve had conversations with several people who knew Turing, including his nephew and nieces and have spoken to many Bletchley Park veterans over the years.

I was apprehensive about seeing the film because I really didn’t want to see a film like “Enigma” again, a film which I’ve never actually managed to stay awake through despite being intensely interested in its subject matter. Apart from the fact that “Enigma” is not a particularly engaging film, I also found it preposterous that the character who is quite obviously supposed to be Turing is heterosexual in the film.

ruth bourne phoenix panel

I was delighted to be invited to sit on a Q+A panel after the showing of “The Imitation Game” at the Phoenix Cinema in Finchley, North London. I was even more delighted when I found out that the other members of the panel were Bletchley Park veteran and Bombe operator Ruth Bourne and Bletchley Park experts John Gallehawk and John Alexander who had brought along his three Enigma machines. What a treat 🙂


It was my first trip to the Phoenix Cinema, the oldest purpose built cinema in London. I will definitely be going back, what a lovely place. Adam Gee who I think I met on Twitter in around 2009 when I started using it to raise the game in the save Bletchley Park campaign is a trustee of the Phoenix and asked me to be part of the panel. It was great to meet up with him again after not seeing each other in person for several years.

So, now to the film. My expectations were low, so I suppose it was quite easy to meet them. The film started and I settled down apprehensively, what sort of a shambles would it be?

The film starts with the setting up of Bletchley Park at the beginning of the war and Alan Turing amongst others arriving there. I have to say that the recreation of Bletchley Park was pretty good, though it was obvious that it was not filmed at Bletchley as the mansion house was much larger and looked different. The huts were well done and the feeling that you get as you walk onto the grounds of Bletchley Park did come through to me as I watched the film.

As a film The Imitation Game is reasonably watchable. The acting is good and the script OK, but unfortunately pretty poor in parts. As I watched the story unfold all I could think of was bubblegum. The film is a clichéd bubblegum version of the story of Bletchley Park and Alan Turing with many scenes that really made me cringe with their gross over simplifications. Turing’s character is so much a stereotypical English eccentric that I found it insulting to his memory. Cumberbatch’s acting is excellent, especially considering the sometimes ham-fisted script. I got the feeling that the scriptwriter had sat down with a list of the key scenes that need to be in any blockbuster film and then crowbarred them into the story and script. The English eccentric that doesn’t get on with anyone in his team is hounded by his boss to produce a solution to a problem, everyone has a go at him for not producing the goods, he nearly loses the right to continue working on solving the problem, but then at the last minute his team start to realize that he is on to something and then defend him from his boss blah blah blah blah blah. Eugh! The scenes in the script like this were disappointing in the extreme, my heart sank as I watched them.

imitation game

The story of Turing physically building the Bombe machine, or “Christopher” as it was called in the film, formed a large part of the central story of the film. This is, to my knowledge, completely inaccurate.

Turing produced the design for the Bombe, building on the design of the original Polish Bomba which had been produced by Marian Rejewski in 1938. The Bletchley Park Bombe designed by Turing, was refined by another Bletchley Park codebreaker Gordon Welchman and actually built by engineer Harold Keen who was based at the British Tabulating Company, not at Bletchley Park.

The story running through the film of one main codebreaker, Turing, with a team of four or five, producing a machine that won the war, is a ridiculous oversimplification of what actually happened. More than ten thousand people worked at Bletchley Park, more than eight thousand of them were women. We didn’t really get a flavor of that coming through at all from the film. There were many teams of codebreakers working on different areas of codebreaking.

The German High Command used an encryption machine called Lorenz which was broken by Bletchley Park codebreaker Bill Tutte. Captain Jerry Roberts often told the story before he unfortunately died earlier this year of sharing an office with Bill Tutte who for three months just sat there every day with a pencil and paper staring into space before finally writing down the exact workings of the Lorenz without ever having seen one. It was this breakthrough and the subsequent invention and building of the world’s first programmable digital computer Colossus by Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers which mechanized the breaking of the messages sent using Lorenz that has been said to have shortened the war by approximately two years. A wonderful memorial to Bill Tutte was unveiled earlier this year in his home town of Newmarket, he didn’t receive any recognition of his fundamental work in his lifetime, and died in Canada his adopted homeland in 2002.

At the end of the film the war being shortened by two years was completely attributed to Turing and his work on Enigma, which is not true. The shortening of the war by two to four years was attributed to “Ultra” by historian Harry Hinsley, Ultra was the codename for all of the top secret codebreaking work carried out at Bletchley Park by the ten thousand people that worked there.

As you can tell, there are many things that I didn’t like about the film. Gross over simplification of stories, people and facts, focusing on Turing’s one (platonic) heterosexual relationship and not giving any time to his homosexual relationships, attributing work carried out by several people who still have had almost no recognition for their enormous contribution to Turing, I could go on, and on, the film has many faults.


But, I have to say that overall I loved it. Thinking about The Imitation Game from the point of view of how it presents such an important part of our history in a user friendly and easily digestible way to the average person in the street gets me very excited. I, and many others, have campaigned long and hard to get Bletchley Park and the codebreakers greater recognition for the amazing work carried out there. The work that those ten thousand people did, day in, day out, around the clock, in complete secrecy, some of them as young as sixteen when they arrived there, is an incredible story that needs to be told over and over in many, many ways. Unfortunately most veterans from Bletchley Park are no longer with us, but that doesn’t mean that it’s too late for everyone to appreciate the amazing contribution that they made to the peace that we enjoy today.

The Imitation Game is probably the most fundamental contribution we have so far to the public understanding of the importance of Bletchley Park. I hope that it wins Oscars, breaks box office records and brings the story of our wonderful British hero Alan Turing into the public consciousness. It’s never too late to celebrate our national successes, lest we forget…

You can see a working rebuild of the Bombe machine at Bletchley Park and a working replica of Colossus at the National Museum of Computing next door. Please go and visit, you will not be disappointed.

My book Saving Bletchley Park published by Unbound is available now through Amazon UK and Amazon US and in all good bookstores 😀👍🎉

If I have made any errors in this post please let me know.

If I can do it, so can you


What did you want to do when you were five years old? I wanted to be a driver of a big red London bus. I thought that would be the best job in the world. As I got older my thoughts changed slightly. When I was seven or eight I absolutely loved mathematics, I used to long for the weekend when I could go to the shops to buy maths textbooks to keep me occupied in my spare time. By the time I was eleven or twelve I wanted to be a psychiatrist, both my parents were mental health nurses and I used to enjoy reading all of their textbooks. I was very interested in why people behaved the way they did, and wanted to help people who were finding it hard to live a normal life due to mental health issues.

My world fell apart….

When I was twelve my world fell apart. My mother died from a brain hemorrhage. Now it was just the four of us, my Dad and my younger brother and sister. After a year my Dad remarried, we moved away and started a new life with my stepmother and three stepbrothers. It was not a good life. Emotional and physical abuse were common. I left home as soon as I could at sixteen, moved in with my friend’s family, and then after a year moved to central London on my own. I was seventeen.


Me and my mum

I worked for a few years: with refugees from Vietnam, as a student nurse and then for a record company in the accounts department. I got married at twenty and had three children by the age of twenty-three. After a couple of years at home with my children I started a ‘return to study’ course at the local adult education college. I absolutely loved it. We learnt about politics and philosophy, psychology, literature, drama and much more. I adored being at home looking after my children, but I needed something else.

Unfortunately my ex-husband wasn’t happy with me studying, he became violent and one morning at 6am I had to flee our home with my children: my three year old daughter and twin one year old sons. We found a safe haven in a women’s refuge for six months and then moved to a new home in another part of London. My life began anew.

My life begins anew….

Once we had settled I applied to study maths at a local college. They ran a course called Polymaths which ran for six hours a week on two evenings, twenty hours a week home study. If successfully completed was equivalent to two maths A levels, sufficient for university entrance. I signed up.


Me aged 23 and my three lovely kiddies

The first time I walked into the classroom I nearly died from shock. I had bushy dyed black hair and was dressed in a mini skirt, a black leather jacket and black Dr Marten’s boots. Almost everyone else in the class was male and dressed in a suit. I was horrified, but managed to find a space to sit down and try to contain my nerves. The teachers were great and soon put me at ease.

I loved those classes. After several years of no real learning or hard problem solving type thinking my brain absolutely soaked all of it up. They became the highlight of my week.

At the end of the year I came joint top of the class with another female who had become a great friend over the year. I applied to study computer science at the local university, London South Bank, and was accepted.

University life…

The first year at university was hard. Classes ran 9am-6pm. I had one child at school and two at kindergarten. Their hours were 9am-3.10pm. The university was half an hour from their school, so I went to all classes that I could, which was those scheduled between 10am-2pm. Not ideal, but I was happy, learning lots of new stuff, making new friends and becoming a more confident and fulfilled person.

After four years I gained a BSc (Hons) in Computing Studies and was offered a place to study for a PhD in software engineering at the same university. My dream job then was to be a consultant in the IT industry, but that would have meant very long hours and the children were still young, and I was still a single parent. A PhD was an interesting and exciting option, it also allowed me to work flexibly, take the kids to school at 9am and pick them up at the, now later, time of 5.30pm.


I get my PhD aged 39

My PhD was hard but fun. Before I finished it I was encouraged to apply for a full time lectureship at the same university, I applied and got the job. I had a salary for the first time in many years. To celebrate I threw away all our clothes with holes in them, and went shopping to buy us all new outfits. It was a great feeling to be earning a proper amount of money, to choose which food to eat rather than having to buy the cheapest of everything all the time. Finally I was providing properly for my children and taking us all out of poverty.

Feeling insecure…

Carrying out research for a PhD in computer science and going to academic conferences I was very much in a minority as a woman. The ratio was around 2:8 female to male, or lower, and sometimes this made things a bit uncomfortable. I remember going to one conference where, after being told by my supervisor that I needed to network at conferences, I approached a couple of guys during a break to discuss the previous session. I plucked up courage and said something friendly about the last speaker to start a conversation with them. They looked me up and down, and then started talking to each other as if I hadn’t said anything. I stood there feeling really silly, realized after about thirty seconds that they were going to continue to ignore me, and then walked away feeling absolutely mortified.

I had a few other encounters similar to this, and of course some good ones too, but I never felt completely at ease in that type of situation. That was until I went to a conference in Brussels for women in science. This time there were about one hundred women and two men. As I walked into the conference room and stood looking around wondering where to go and sit, a woman came over and started talking to me. We had a great chat and joined a conversation with some other women, probably about why we were at the conference and what we hoped to get out of it. What an amazing difference. I met some truly amazing, inspiring and supportive women. That conference changed my life.

I had thought that it was me, and my lack of social skills, that was preventing me from enjoying academic life to the full. Now I realized that wasn’t the case.

A changed woman…

I went home from Brussels a changed woman, and a woman wanting to help make that same difference to other women. With the help of the British Computer Society (BCS) central London branch I set up an online group for women in computing. I asked the women in the group what they wanted from it, they said “free training in internet technology” it was 1998. The BCS central London branch kindly agreed to fund this training, specifically for group members, we ran the training and it was a tremendous success. In fact, so much of a success, that we were featured in the Daily Mirror, a UK national newspaper.


BCSWomen launch of “The Women of Station X”

After the feature I was inundated with women wanting to join the group. As it was a London based group I needed to set up a national group for the BCS. To do this I had to become a chartered member of the BCS and get board level approval. This took me some time, but eventually in October 2001 (one month after finishing my PhD) I set up a national group for women in computing called BCSWomen.

BCSWomen has grown in size over the last ten years, there are currently aound one and a half thousand members, who all communicate with, and support each other. I stepped down as Chair of the group in 2008, handing over to a new, younger, Chair and a very capable management committee. I’m so proud that this October BCSWomen will have been running for ten years.

Bletchley Park

In 2003, while I was Chair of BCSWomen I went to a BCS meeting at Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park is the place where the codebreakers worked during the Second World War, their work was said to have shortened the war by two years, potentially saving twenty two million lives. After the meeting I went for a walk around the twenty six acre site which is now a museum. On my walk around I discovered that ten thousand people had worked at Bletchley Park during the war, and that more than half of them were women. I went away determined to highlight this fabulous contribution from more than five thousand women, and eventually managed to raise some money for the ‘Women of Station X’ project. Bletchley Park was also called Station X during the war.

At the launch of this project in 2008, I gave a talk about how it came about. This was followed by a talk given by the Director of Bletchley Park. He told us about the history and contribution of Bletchley Park, the contribution of women in particular and ended with a plea for help. Bletchley Park received no government funding, money was tight, and he was worried that they would have to close. Their main income was from the money taken on the gate for museum admission and if visitor numbers dropped, so would their income.

A few weeks later I was invited to a garden party at Bletchley Park. This time I went on a full tour of the site, with a veteran as guide. Standing in front of Hut 6 and listening to the veteran I had an epiphany. He told us about some of the major codebreaking achievements that had happened in the hut in front of us, and what those achievements meant. It was strong stuff. If it weren’t for the work carried out at Bletchley Park we might not have won the war.

The Mansion, Bletchley Park Museum, Milton-Keynes, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 6th August 2013

I went away from that visit determined to do something about Bletchley Park’s unfortunate situation. At the time I was head of a computer science department at the University of Westminster. When I got home I emailed all of the heads and professors of computing in the UK asking them to sign a petition on the 10 Downing Street website which asked the government to help save Bletchley Park. When I checked the online petition a few hours later lots of well known UK computing profs had signed it. Wow! They thought the same as me. This gave me the courage to take it further. A friend at work suggested that a good next step would be to write a letter to The Times newspaper. We wrote a letter and I sent that around asking the heads and profs to sign it. Within a few days 97 had signed. I emailed a few journalists that I knew with the story and twenty minutes later got a call from the BBC. A week later, on 24th July 2008, the letter was published in The Times and I was on BBC news asking people to help save Bletchley Park.

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Me on the BBC News in 2008 saying we must save Bletchley Park

This was the beginning of my campaign to save Bletchley Park, which is now saved, Bletchley Park recently announced just that.

After a talk by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in London last year I approached Google Vice President Megan Smith who had been speaking. Undeterred by my previous experience in approaching people at conferences, I asked Megan if Google would be interested in helping Bletchley Park. She very kindly asked me to email her some details which I did that evening when I got home.

Google are now involved with building Bletchley Park. Earlier this month we had a fundraising garden party there which was a fabulous success. If you would like to read more about what I, and many others did and the situation now for Bletchley Park please read my campaign blog and my blog post about the recent acquisition of the Turing papers by Bletchley Park.

Meanwhile, at home and work….

At home: I had another gorgeous daughter in 2004, twenty years after having my first daughter. I highly recommend a twenty year age gap between children, it provides you with great babysitters. I have also now met a wonderful man that I adore.

At work: I became a Lecturer (Professor), Senior Lecturer, then Reader at London South Bank University. In 2007 I became head of department at the University of Westminster. I worked there for three and a half years before moving to an honorary position at University College London.

The value of mentors

I was helped enormously through this by my mentors. Over time I gradually built up a group of fabulous mentors, people who I respected greatly, with strengths in various areas, that I could have a chat with when I wasn’t sure what to do in a certain situation. We all need great people like these around us. If you don’t have a few mentors already, start thinking about who you know that you respect and admire, that might be able to give you their time. The amount of time may be as little as one hour per year, that’s what I asked one of my mentors for when she said that she didn’t have time, and then she agreed.

Treasure the good times….

From some very difficult circumstances when I was younger I have managed to work my way through to one of the top universities in the world. I have had many, many tough times and had to battle with all different sorts of hurdles. But I’ve made it. I try to focus on and treasure the good times and great things that have happened, rather than dwelling on the difficult times. When I feel unhappy, which of course we all do from time to time, I think about my fabulous children, and the wonderful people that I have met over the last twenty or so years. There are so many of them.

For several years when I was younger I truly believed, and I was possibly right, that no one in the whole world cared about me. That was an awful thing to have to come to terms with, and especially at such a young age. But, I think that is part of what has given me the strength to do the things that I have, to keep on going when things have been almost unbearably difficult. I managed to keep myself going when things were that bad, so surely I must be able to keep going through whatever life throws at me now, right?

That awful feeling of loneliness has turned around and created in me a massive pleasure, gratitude and love for people. I get so much joy from talking to people, finding out about them, their experiences, their lives and discussing shared interests and passions. Connecting with like minds.

Making things better…

I also have a great drive to make things better. Bringing up my children mainly on my own, setting up a support network for women in tech, contributing to the saving of Bletchley Park, all of these things have given me confidence. My three older children are now all grown up and leading great lives. I’m ridiculously proud of them. They have made my life worth living.


At my sons graduation in 2008 with my four children

I honestly could never have imagined fifteen years ago when I was a shy PhD student, scared to talk to people at conferences that I would now feel confident speaking in front of hundreds of people, approaching company Vice Presidents and Government Ministers and appearing on live TV (OK, that one still scares me, but I do it).

Be good to yourself…

So I didn’t get to be a big red London bus driver, well, nevermind. I got to have a great career, a great family and wonderful friends in abundance. I got all that by believing in myself, surrounding myself with people who encourage me and give me the confidence to be myself, by determination and not getting put off when things go wrong. It’s been a very long road for me, but the ups have been far more than the downs.


Me in Brazil on the second day of my Turing lecture tour, September 2012

So please, be good to yourself, surround yourself with people who appreciate you for who you are, realize that we all have bad days, we all have bad things happen to us. Keep going, keep jumping those hurdles, making things better, enjoying your life.

If I can do it, so can you 🙂

This blog post was commissioned by PepsiCo Women’s Inspiration Network when I won their PepsiCo WIN award in 2011.

PepsiCo WIN award 2001 – Dr Sue Black

Addition 2017: I’ve now written a book about the campaign to save Bletchley Park called “Saving Bletchley Park” with my great friend Steve Colgan.

Saving Bletchley Park has been a number one bestseller on Amazon UK and has 60 five star reviews. Buy yourself a copy now 🙂 Saving Bletchley Park

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The Universal Machine

I had a fabulous night out last night at the New Diorama Theatre near Warren Street. We were there to watch a new musical The Universal Machine all about Alan Turing, his life and work. Although at first skeptical about what a musical about Turing would be like we decided to go.


Here I am with my friend Professor Dame Wendy Hall and Richard Delaney who did a fabulous job as Alan Turing in the production.

We all throughly enjoyed the show. In the audience were quite a few notable people. Prof Barry Cooper from Leeds who chaired and ran the Turing Centenary campaign last year. He did such a fabulous job and was there last night with his daughter. Prof Simon Lavington, Bletchley Park veteran Ruth Bourne, two of Alan Turing’s nieces.

Some of these great people are in the photo below along with the cast. If you are even slightly interested in Bletchley Park and/or Alan Turing please do go along and see The Universal Machine. You will be glad that you did.