Alan Turing has been named the greatest icon of the 20th century by the BBC.
The gay scientist and World War Two codebreaker won the public vote in the live final episode of BBC Two’s Icons series on Tuesday 5 February, being named ‘The Greatest Person of the 20th Century’.
He beat out competition from fellow finalists David Bowie, Ernest Shackleton, Dr Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela and Pablo Picasso.
— BBC (@BBC) February 5, 2019
Advocating for Turing to win was presenter Chris Packham, who gave a passionate speech about how Turing cracked the Nazi’s Enigma code during World War Two and inspired modern computing.
“The Nazi’s Enigma machines were not match for his cunning and wit. But all he got for all of his toil and all of our trouble was a poisoned apple.
“[He was] a genius, a saviour, but he was also autistic and gay, so we betrayed him and drove him to suicide. Shame. Writ large his death, an unforgiving tattoo on humanity’s conscience.”
Packham argued that all modern-day scientists are “armed with Alan Turing’s legacy”, and then asked members of the audience to hold up their mobile phones with the screen lit up as proof of his enduring impact.
“In each of your hands, you hold a little bit of Alan Turing. He’s with us when we wake up, he’s with us when we go to bed at night, and he’s with us when we talk to our loved ones. He’s beautiful, isn’t he?
“You see, Alan Turing’s legacy hasn’t passed. It’s not a relic of the 20th century. His gift to us is our future.”
The speech – and the decision to crown Turing the greatest 20th century icon – went down well with viewers, who took to social media to share their praise.
I think Chris Packham’s incredible speech helped sway the British public to vote for Alan Turing but he is a worthy winner. A remarkably clever man who was punished for who he was rather than lauded as he should have been. #Icons
— Daniel (@zotwot) February 5, 2019
— Bill Markham (@billmarkham99) February 5, 2019
Turing is best known for his efforts to crack the Nazi’s Enigma code, an achievement which is credited with bringing World War Two to an end years earlier than expected. Turing is also widely regarded as the grandfather of modern computing.
However, due to his sexuality, he was chemically castrated and barred from working for GCHQ, and eventually driven to suicide.
After a major campaign by LGBT activists, Turing’s sentence was officially repealed in 2013, and he was given a posthumous Royal Pardon.
A new campaign began last year to get Turing to be the new face of the £50 note, the result of which will be announced in summer 2019.
— Science Museum (@sciencemuseum) February 5, 2019