Cracking Bletchley’s code

Bletchley Park: The Secret Archives by Sinclair McKay
Bletchley Park: The Secret Archives by Sinclair McKay
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Bletchley Park: The Secret Archives by Sinclair McKay and Bletchley Park. Aurum Press, £30.

A few years ago, Aurum published Sinclair McKay’s Secret Life of Bletchley Park. Everything about the book suggested it would have a niche audience, but in fact it raced up the bestsellers chart.

Now Joe Public gets a whistle-stop tour behind the scenes of Britain’s Second World War code-breaking nerve centre in this official history.

It is less an examination of the top secret work than an introduction to the place and the people who made the magic happen, and how they lived their covert lives. It takes in the transformation of the park from pre-war society destination to a vital espionage hub wreathed in secrecy (which carried on for decades) as it broke Axis codes and played a vital role in the Allied victory.

The book is at its best when it describes the human collision of Oxbridge classicists, introverted mathematicians, society debutantes and ordinary servicemen and women brought together in what is now a nondescript suburb of Milton Keynes.

The story is not told through Alan Turing-tinted glasses, introducing a wide range of people working at the park and also those living around it, who were totally kept in the dark, including some who thought it was a special lunatic asylum.

This isn’t a book for someone wanting an in-depth history of Enigma code-breaking or Turing’s disgraceful post-war treatment, but is a tactile dip-in-and-out primer on a fascinating time and place in British history.

Beautifully presented, this is a comprehensive illustrated history of this remarkable place, from its pre-war heyday as a country estate to its rescue towards the end of the 20th century as a museum.