The YouTube video Alan Turing's lost radio broadcast rerecorded contains a re-enactment of Alan Turing's lecture broadcast by the BBC.

In the introduction, the narrator (James Grimes, also of the Numberphile series of videos) states:

His lecture was titled “Can Digital Computers Think?” and was a part of a series of lectures which featured other leading figures in computing at the time. The other speakers being Douglas Hartree, Max Newman, Freddie Williams and Maurice Wilkes. Together they represented major new projects in computing at the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester. Unfortunately, these recordings no longer exist, along with all other recordings of Alan Turing.

Was there an intentional purge of all audio recordings of Alan Turing, or is this loss more likely to be accidental/unintended? If intentional, what might have been the reason, and was it restricted to him alone, or included recordings of others relating to mathematics and the future of computing science?

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    $\begingroup$ Note that many TV shows from the 50's or even later are lost to us (The BBC - again - and Dr. Who come to mind) - tape was expensive, so tended to get reused, and nobody thought of (or would fund) archiving everything under the sun... $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Jun 26, 2018 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @JonCuster - Tapes from first moon landing were reused and are lost too. Tapes were expensive. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterMasiar you're being ambiguous with your wording here. There are some missing originals of the Apollo 11 slow-scan tapes, though certainly lower-quality copies of those same events do exist. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh - I agree with you completely. I was not trying to hint that we have no proof on moon landing :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Turing's BBC broadcast was one of five in a series broadcast on the BBC between 5 May 1951 and 5 June 1951 - the others being Hartree, Newman, Williams, and Wilkes . It may be helpful to know if any recordings of the other lectures in the series have survived. Regarding the general case, I believe that Turing had a pronounced stammer / stutter. This may have led to him being reluctant to participate in recordings, so the absence of other recordings may not be that surprising. $\endgroup$
    – nwr
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 17:39

1 Answer 1


There is no evidence for an intentional purge of all audio recordings of Alan Turing. The BBC recordings seem to be the only ones ever made by Turing, so there wasn't really anything to "purge".

According to Alan Jones article on "Five 1951 BBC Broadcasts on Automatic Calculating Machines ", the 1951 series was recorded on acetate discs, but all five of them - not just Turing's - have been lost. Only their BBC transcripts survive.

For comparison, Bertrand Russell, who was a far more famous public intellectual of the same era who regularly appeared on the BBC, has only 14 recordings prior to 1959 in the British Library. Alexander Fleming, discover of penicillin, was also much better known than Turing at the time but has only one saved recording in the collection. The archive has no recordings of Francis Crick prior to him being awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Turing was not a media star during his lifetime. During the years 1944-1954, the British Newspaper Archive has only one story where a reporter talked to him. It appears that the two 1951/1952 lectures were his first (and only) appearances on the BBC. As far as I can tell, neither the expansive biography, "Alan Turing : the enigma", by Andrew Hodges nor "Prof: Alan Turing Decoded" by his nephew Dermot Turing mention any other recordings - either public or private - made by Turing.


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