Film site re-creates WWII Britain
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.”