Benedict, Keira and Bletchley Park

By | Category: Travel destinations

actors, extras but no Benedict or Keira

The headline grabbing title is less interesting than you might hope. Although Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly were at the WWII code-breaking centre of Bletchley Park yesterday, I saw neither of them. What I saw was a stream of actors, extras and backroom people pouring from the mansion at lunchtime to grab their sandwiches, drink their tea from plastic cups and while away time until the next “take.”

At Bletchley Park it was the backroom people that were the stars and they will be forever linked with the cracking of the Enigma codes. The role of the spy has been glamorised, of course, by Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The actual work was more methodical, painstaking and took place over long periods. But there are more elements of glamour than you might think. Some of those recruited were society debs coming from nobility or wealth because they were from an age when the ordinary person didn’t learn languages. Other figures like John Tittman are just annoying to non-linguists like myself as he, being moved to Japanese code-breaking, promptly sat down and learnt the language in a few weeks!

Found on the outskirts of Milton Keynes, the buildings at Bletchley Park have been refurbished but, to those of us of a certain age, they seem a reminder of school days in the fifties as the architecture, the paint and the feel of the place were just what we had. But whilst we played at being spitfire pilots and winning the war in the playground, the people here were doing it for real. The concentration needed to stare endlessly at a jumble and see patterns must have taken enormous patience. As one who as doesn’t have the patience to even attempt a soduko or finish the easy crossword, the thought that it took someone weeks or months to crack the structure of codes let alone the codes is astonishing. How for, example, did Bill Tutte work out that a cypher system required 12 different wheel systems operating in separate but linked groups?

These are the sort of titbits that you pick up from wandering in and out of the many huts as you see how different parts of the armed services operated. At £15, the adult entry fee seems steep but that does give you entry for an entire year; great if you are within visiting distance – less so if this is probably just a single trip from far-away. On the same site is the National Computing Museum and a special exhibition collected by one couple of Churchill memorabilia. Be quick to see the latter though as it leaves at the end of this year for a new home in North America.

Stephen Kettle's, slate sculpture of Alan Turing

Incidentally Cumberbatch is playing Alan Turing, surely one of the most important people in code-breaking, maths and computer development, in a film called The Imitation Game which is due for release in 2014 or even later if one report is to be believed. The film is taking nearly as long as it took the code-breakers to crack some codes. Indeed, one enigma machine development, SG4, which came out in 1944 had still not been cracked by Bletchley Park by the time the war ended.

For more about Bletchley Park, click here.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
Tags: , , ,