Tag Archives: Alan Turing

Captain Jerry Roberts: A person of Real Quality

Captain Jerry Roberts 1920-2014

Captain Jerry Roberts 1920-2014

Captain Jerry Roberts was a senior cryptographer at Bletchley Park and worked on Tunny (the Lorenz cipher).  In recent years, Jerry campaigned tirelessly for recognition of the Testery, including the great intellectual feat demonstrated by Bill Tutte.

Yesterday I had the privilege to attend the memorial service for Jerry, who passed away in March.


The service was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields church, Trafalgar Square, a perfect setting in the heart of London.  It was a lovely service organised by Jerry’s devoted wife, Mei.  Moving tributes were paid by Sir John Scarlett, Lord Charles Brocket and Professor Susanne Kord. Jerry’s daughters Dora and Chao gave beautiful readings and his talented grandsons Ben and Sammy provided music and song.

St Martins-in-the-Field, London

St Martins-in-the-Field, London, yesterday.

Following the news of Jerry’s death back in March,  Tweets went out across the globe in many languages.  Jerry was described in these Tweets as a ‘hero’, ‘one of the greats’, ‘incredible’, ‘remarkable’, ‘amazing’, a ‘genius’, ‘warm’, ‘funny’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘modest’.  It is the description of Jerry as modest that I find most apposite.  Jerry was always quick to turn attention away from himself and talk about the Testery as a team. Those long forgotten colleagues who were of equal importance.


In December 2013, I spent the day with Jerry and his wife Mei. We discussed Tunny (of course) and what it was like to read messages sent by Hitler.  Jerry said that it was quite exciting the first time he saw a message signed “Adolf Spacer Hitler Spacer Führer” but after that he became very blasé about it.  “And another one”, he said chuckling as he gestured flinging an imaginary message (signed by Hitler) over his shoulder into a pile of discarded messages.  We laughed a lot that day.

Jerry had a great sense of humour and a sharp mind.  He didn’t stop talking about his Bletchley Park colleagues and wanting to promote the hand methods of the Testery.   “It is all about the machines” Jerry complained in response to the long-awaited publication of the General Report on Tunny in 2000.

A true gentleman who said he never had a day of boredom in his life, Jerry was grateful for every single day.  He spoke of the lovely people he had met through telling his code-breaking story, and the difference that it had made to his and Mei’s lives.  Jerry also spoke of how he treasured every month in the garden, even the winter because everything looked so tidy.

With Jerry, December 2013

With Jerry, December 2013

If you were liked by Jerry, you were considered “A person of real quality” and I am honoured to have been included in this group. Jerry admired the people of Newmarket for their recognition of  Bill Tutte and I know that Jerry will be smiling down on us when we unveil Tutte’s memorial on 10th September this year.

At the age of 93, I asked Jerry what advice he could offer to young people today. Jerry responded with these wise words:

“Don’t be afraid to take risks.  Sensible risks.  Because something will work out.  If you’ve got talent, something will work out.  But if you say, as I could have said, my father went in to the bank and what’s good enough for him is good enough for me…you can’t live life like that.”

Si dios quiere (as Jerry would say) we all have happy and fulfilling lives.

Rest in peace Jerry, you truly were a person of real quality.

 Author: Claire Butterfield



Merry Christmas, Dr Turing

Alan Turing Sculpture at Bletchley Park

The Alan Turing Sculpture at Bletchley Park

Yesterday morning, I woke to the news that Alan Turing had been granted a pardon.


Driving to work, I cheered and punched the air as the news item on Turing was read, a big grin breaking out across my face.  I parked up at work and stayed in the car to listen to Professor S Barry Cooper and Baroness Trumpington discuss Turing and Bletchley Park (Today, BBC Radio 4, 24/12/2013).

Walking into the office, I received cheery greetings of Merry Christmas, to which I replied “It is a Merry Christmas indeed, especially for Dr Turing”.  I took the slightly puzzled looks as an invitation to educate and spoke about “On Computable Numbers”, the Universal Turing Machine and the ten month blackout from reading Naval Enigma in 1942 (deciding not to continue into Artificial Intelligence or Morphogenesis).   I then sat at my desk, and smiled at my brand new Universal Machine that the IT department had installed for me the day before. How apt, I thought.

I’m well aware of the controversial nature of this pardon and I can understand this view point.  Turing was legally convicted of a crime that he had committed.  Further, Turing was just one of thousands to be convicted of the crime of gross indecency.  To pardon one raises the question that surely we must pardon them all?  Another question raised, is whether it is right to pardon anyone convicted of acts that were once criminal but are no longer so?  This is something that will no doubt be subject of endless debate. 

Hut 8 at Bletchley Park where Alan Turing Worked

Hut 8 at Bletchley Park where Alan Turing Worked

A perpetual problem for those trying to get recognition for someone is that there are always those who think differently or those who feel that others have been forgotten.  Everyone has their heroes/heroines and their own opinions as to who should be recognised and how they should be recognised.

If credit is given to Turing for the breaking of Enigma, we are reminded that the Polish broke Enigma first.  Professor Brian Cox featured Bill Tutte on Science Britannica and was questioned as to why he did not feature Turing.  Similarly, those who campaign for the arts, history or heritage often find that their causes are deemed less significant than those that tackle illness or poverty.  We live in a complicated world of endless good causes, but we can at least be thankful that our world is a more tolerant one.

I believe that history is important.  I believe that the story of Bletchley Park is important.  I believe that Turing is important, but I also think the same of Bill Tutte and Tommy Flowers (and others, the list too endless to reproduce).  They were all unique and I am grateful to them for their unique contributions, which as part of the team effort at Bletchley Park contributed to shortening the Second World War.  

Members of the Bill Tutte Club learning about Enigma

Members of the Bill Tutte Club learning about Enigma

Tutte is not as well known as Turing.  That is why we  strive to raise awareness of this ‘forgotten hero’ through education, which is the principal aim of the Bill Tutte Memorial Fund  http://www.billtuttememorial.org.uk/education.htm .

This year, the fund has established a Bill Tutte Club in Newmarket to educate young people in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) http://www.billtuttememorial.org.uk/club.htm and fundraising continues to provide a scholarship to encourage the study of mathematics or computing at university.  You can donate here:  https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/billtuttememorialfund

For me, 2014 will be the year that  the Bill Tutte memorial is unveiled in Newmarket.  The memorial is at the heart of our education programme and it is something that I am immensely proud of.  In 2014, Tutte will finally have the recognition that he deserves.

So today, Christmas Day, I would like to say Merry Christmas to all those who in whatever way, strive to make this world a better place.  I would like to say Merry Christmas to those who give their time for causes in which they believe so passionately and I would like to say Merry Christmas to all those who donate to such causes.  But most of all, I would like to say:

“Merry Christmas, Dr Turing”.

Author: Claire Butterfield 




Bill Tutte-Worthy of Remembrance


“In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best.”

Winston Churchill, 8th May 1945

As I sat watching all the pomp and circumstance in Whitehall this morning, I considered all those whose contributions are not so recognised on Remembrance Day.  It would be an impossible task (and indeed a very long blog) to list all those who contributed to the war effort; so today I chose to think of those who through intellect and determination used their brilliant minds to break codes that were believed unbreakable.  Naturally, my mind turns to Bill Tutte and his fellow code breakers at Bletchley Park

(c) BBC

Professor Brian Cox and Captain Jerry Roberts
(c) BBC

Captain Jerry Roberts frequently recounts his experience of being in the same office as Tutte:

“I saw him staring into the middle distance, twiddling his pencil, and making counts on reams of paper; and I used to wonder whether he was getting anything done.  My goodness he was.  It was an extraordinary feat of the mind”. 

Captain Jerry Roberts

Tutte applied the Scientific Method to deduce the logical structure of Lorenz:

 “…by using logic, careful observation and by producing testable hypotheses, he managed to determine exactly how it worked.”

Professor Brian Cox


Simulation of Tutte’s Periodicity Examination
(c) BBC

Bill Tutte has been described as a shy and unassuming man.  It’s amazing to think of Tutte sat quietly with paper and pencil performing one of the greatest intellectual feats of World War Two. Tutte worked away on the problem for months.  He never gave in.  So today on Remembrance Sunday, let us remember those who fought with intellect and determination; Those who used their brilliant minds to achieve the seemingly unachievable; Those whose efforts contributed to shortening the war and saved countless lives.

For too long these great minds have gone without recognition, with your support we can give Tutte recognition he deserves.



Author: Claire Butterfield

Bill Who? The Lesser Known Codebreaker of Bletchley Park

The work of Bletchley Park during the Second World War is inspirational-numerous codes were broken and incalculable lives were saved. It is important to remember that code breaking at Bletchley Park was a team effort and not something that one person could have achieved alone. However, some people are prominent due to their unique contribution; Bill Tutte was one of those people.
W. T. (Bill) Tutte

W. T. (Bill) Tutte

“Bill who?” Is the standard response I receive whenever I mention his name. If I’m lucky, then the person to whom I am speaking has heard of Bletchley Park and Enigma, and if it is a really good day then they have heard of Alan Turing; but it is rarely the case that they have heard of Lorenz, Colossus, Bill Tutte or Tommy Flowers.
A Naval Enigma Machine

A Naval Enigma Machine

So let me clarify. Alan Turing cracked the Enigma code as used by the German Army, Navy and Air Force. It was a cipher transmitted via Morse code and was an important tactical code to break. The breaking of Enigma is widely remembered for its significance when tackling U-boat threat during the Battle of the Atlantic. When we talk about Tutte, Flowers and Colossus, this is in reference to the Lorenz cipher-an enciphering attachment to a teleprinter machine. Lorenz was used by the German High Command, so a break into Lorenz revealed the strategy of Hitler and his generals-highly significant communications during World War Two.
Lorenz SZ42

Lorenz SZ42

So what was Bill Tutte’s contribution to the breaking of Lorenz?
Very simply, Tutte deduced the structure of the Lorenz cipher through analysis of two pieces of cipher text where the original messages had been enciphered using the same settings, but with slight differences between the texts (e.g abbreviations and misspellings). This meant the encipherment could be removed and then Tutte could look for recurring patterns within the text, eventually deducing the entire structure of the machine. This enabled Tommy Flowers to design and build Colossus, the world’s first digital computer, which was used to break the Lorenz cipher. Tutte’s achievement has been described as the greatest intellectual feat of the Second World War, because unlike Enigma, Tutte deduced the structure of Lorenz with no information about the machine or what it looked like.
Surely that deserves a memorial?
Author: Claire Butterfield