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Arts & Culture

Codebreakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes

Bill Tutte
Courtesy of the BBC
Bill Tutte

Airs Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

The stunning achievements of mathematical whiz Bill Tutte, combined with the engineering genius of British engineer Tommy Flowers, were to change the course of the Second World War and usher in the age of computers.

British engineer Tommy Flowers
Courtesy of the BBC
British engineer Tommy Flowers
Colossus and two operators from the Women’s Royal Naval Service, Dorothy Du Boisson (left) and Elsie Booker.
Courtesy of the BBC
Colossus and two operators from the Women’s Royal Naval Service, Dorothy Du Boisson (left) and Elsie Booker.

Tutte’s code breaking skill and Flowers’ engineering expertise gave rise to Colossus, the world’s first programmable computer.

"Codebreakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Hereos" reveals how the talented Tutte was responsible for what experts have described as the single most important intellectual feat of World War Two – without this work, D-Day would never have happened.

His breathtaking genius was exploited by an amazing array of talent at Bletchley Park, the UK’s top secret intelligence base, who then broke into Hitler’s own communications network, changing the War and the world.

But unlike the well-documented story of the cracking of the Enigma code, their work in deciphering the codes of the more complicated Lorenz machine was hidden from public view.

At the time, neither man was credited with this work as it was covered by the Official Secret Act – Tutte in particular was essentially buried as the official history of Bletchley began to emerge, but continued to work in secret for his government right through the Cold War.

This was a man who did extraordinary things and was ahead of his time, but who put duty above personal glory, and died without ever being honored by his own country.

A BBC production.

Preview: Codebreakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Hereos