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I’d only had fictional accounts of Bletchley Park until yesterday. I’m really glad that I took the opportunity to go up and sample it first hand for one of the StationX social media cafe events.
I first heard of Bletchley Park in 1986 when I saw the pre-west-end run of the stage version of Breaking the Code with Derek Jacobi as Alan Turing at the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford. It’s a hugely touching human story of course but also intriguing that so much was going on during the war that we had no idea about.
I went at some point around 1991 I think, to a Computer Conservation Society open day at the Science Museum and Tony Sale was talking about the prospect of rebuilding Colossus. Some people were looking at him clearly thinking he was bonkers, but he did it nonetheless.
Then I read Robert Harris’s Enigma about ten years later when I was in need of fiction to read just after my finals. It is fiction, it is a bit Ripping Yarns but it’s also thrilling and brings the whole story to life.
So I was not at all surprised at what I saw when I arrived yesterday morning. It was good to see Christian as always and Bill Thompson was there, recording some stuff for his Digital Planet show. Highlights were the ever growing National Museum of Computing with it’s mainframe room, new PC gallery and nascent supercomputing room with a stonking great CRAY YMP-EL sitting in the middle of it. Adam Bradley is working on getting it going, apparently. He’s 14.
Then we popped over to the mansion and a special treat to be allowed to see and photograph inside Station X itself, an MI6 transmission station, high up in the tower. I heard yesterday that the X is like the X in OS-X it just means Station Ten, rather than being anything particularly top secret, although of course it was, y’know, particularly top secret.
Another unexpected treat was the cinema and film projection museum. Real geekgasm material here, mainly because it was such a surprise to find it all in such a small nondescript building. Great place for a solobasssteve gig, I think. By the time we got to the reconstructed bombe machine, I was running short of time and blood sugar. But there’s still an awful lot more to see. I’ll be back.
One particular idea that Christian floated was to turn some of the derelict concrete buildings into a geek warren – make it safe, run in a big fat net pipe, add some soft furnishings and get some use out of the space again at least for a few years, with a use that’s congruent with the place’s history for housing the sharpest mathematical and computing minds.
And if you haven’t done so before or recently, chuck some money in the pot to keep them going.