Film site re-cre­ates WWII Bri­tain

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Bletch­ley Park, Eng­land

As a tourist site, Bletch­ley Park has been some­thing of a well-kept se­cret. That’s be­cause it was a gov­ern­ment se­cret as well.

But the once-clas­si­fied home of Bri­tain’s World War II code-break­ers is fi­nally com­ing out of the shad­ows. Though eclipsed by attractions like the British­Mu­seum and Stone­henge, the mu­seum at Bletch­ley Park ex­pects a surge in vis­i­tors as a re­sult of The Imi­ta­tion Game, a movie about Alan Tur­ing, a com­puter sci­ence pi­o­neer and ar­chi­tect of the ef­fort to crack Nazi Ger­many’s Enigma ci­pher.

The film star­ring Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch was nom­i­nated for eight Academy Awards.

“It’s ab­so­lutely mar­velous,” says Char­lotte Webb, 91, who worked at Bletch­ley dur­ing the war. “Our story has been re­vived.”

Dur­ing the war, lo­cals just didn’t ask ques­tions about what went on at the one-time coun­try es­tate. The code­break­ers sworn to se­crecy just didn’t talk.

The site’s im­por­tance re­mained se­cret un­til 1974, when wartime in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer F.W. Win­ter­botham pub­lished The Ul­tra Se­cret about the ef­fort to crack codes once thought un­break­able. It was only when doc­u­ments about the pro­gram were de­clas­si­fied that Tur­ing’s con­tri­bu­tions be­came widely known.

His per­sonal story ended trag­i­cally. Con­victed in 1952 on a charge of “gross in­de­cency” stem­ming from his re­la­tion­ship with another man, Tur­ing was stripped of his se­cu­rity clear­ance and forced to take es­tro­gen to neu­tral­ize his sex drive. He killed him­self in 1954, aged 41.

The mu­seum opened in 1994 after lo­cal his­to­ri­ans banded to­gether to pre­vent it from be­ing bull­dozed to build a su­per­mar­ket. A $12.2-mil­lion ren­o­va­tion pro­gram com­pleted last year made it pos­si­ble to see the site as it was dur­ing the war.

For most tourists, how­ever, Bletch­ley Park has re­mained some­thing of an enigma it­self. About 148,000 peo­ple vis­ited the site in 2013.

Bletch­ley’s vis­i­tor count jumped almost 30 per­cent last year fol­low­ing the broad­cast of the The Bletch­ley Cir­cle, anITV se­ries broad­cast on PBS in the United States about fe­male code-break­ers who in­ves­ti­gate crime.

Kather­ine Lynch, Bletch­ley’s spokes­woman, ex­pects vis­i­tors to in­crease with the Os­carnom­i­nated film’s suc­cess, par­tic­u­larly be­cause the mu­seum is less than an hour from London.

To cap­i­tal­ize on this, the mu­seum has mounted an ex­hi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing the film. It in­cludes a sports coat worn by Cum­ber­batch, the bar used in a party scene and the film’s replica of Tur­ing’s pro­to­type Bombe ma­chine, de­vel­oped to help de­code mes­sages.

The mu­seum seeks to trans­port pa­trons back to the years when Tur­ing and his col­leagues worked around the clock to has­ten the end of the war.

Vis­i­tors can see Tur­ing’s of­fice, com­plete with the cof­fee cup chained to a ra­di­a­tor and poster of Win­ston Churchill urg­ing his coun­try: “Let us go for­ward to­gether.” The fur­nish­ings aren’t orig­i­nals — they would be be­hind glass cases oth­er­wise.

On the lawn, loud­speak­ers re-cre­ate the roar of a dis­patch mo­tor­bike and the drone of a Spit­fire over­head. The sounds il­lus­trate the back­drop of bus­tle and ten­sion faced by the 8,500 peo­ple­whoworked at Bletch­ley Park, and the 2,000 oth­ers at sur­round­ing out­sta­tions.

“You aren’t just at a mu­seum about some­thing, you are where it hap­pened,” Lynch says. “We hope you step back into the 1940s.”

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