Bletchley Park and why preserving our heritage is still an enigma – Tom Richmond

IT is frightening, in more ways than one, to think that it is 30 years since I discovered, as a trainee reporter, what would, ultimately, be one of the most significant stories of my career – plans to demolish the wartime codebreaking huts at Bletchley Park.

Wrens operating the 'Colossus' computer, 1943. Colossus was the world's first electronic programmable computer, at Bletchley Park. Photo:  Northcliffe Collection : WWII
Wrens operating the 'Colossus' computer, 1943. Colossus was the world's first electronic programmable computer, at Bletchley Park. Photo: Northcliffe Collection : WWII

Leaked by a concerned councillor, the subsequent outcry over plans by British Telecom to develop the historic site into housing led to a national and international outcry – and even persuaded codebreakers to come forward and speak of their work cracking the Enigma code and foreshortening the Second World War. Millions of lives were spared.

This, believe it or not, was a generation who believed that the Official Secrets Act was sacrosanct and they were still terrified of divulging any information that might compromise Britain’s national security. Their confidence speaking out did make a difference.

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Only the passage of time has added to the significance of the original campaign to save the huts. And while the buildings are modest, their place in history – and preservation – is assured after the formation of Bletchley Park Trust and the opening up of the site, the birthplace of the modern computer, to tourists.

A Second World War Enigma decoding machine at Bletchley Park.

I remember meeting Mick Jagger there, he was on a recce for the film Enigma which he went on to produce. Even President George Bush senior’s staff sent a statement of support from the White House.

Given this, thank you to Facebook for making a £1m donation to Bletchley Park to support its work for the next two years, and preserve the legacy of geniuses like Alan Turing, after the charity and museum lost 95 per cent of its income because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is in addition to £500,000 made available by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – and this, too, is acknowledged. But it still perturbs me that this ministry, responsible for national heritage and tourism, is not more proactive or dynamic when it comes to preserving our history.

Nearly three decades after the Department for National Heritage was founded by John Major, partly in response to the threat to Bletchley Park, this battle is still to be won.

Steve Hatch, Facebook VP for Northern Europe, announces the company's £1m donation to Bletchley Park to support its work for the next two years after the charity and museum said it had lost 95 per cent of its income because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A SIGNIFICANT call by Welcome to Yorkshire – its latest newsletter includes a prominent link to a piece headlined “Single council for North Yorkshire”.

Ostensibly it is a chance for NYCC, which has been propping up the tourism body with a £500,000 taxpayer-funded loan, to promote the benefits of a single council taking charge of England’s largest county.

Some ask whether funding should equate to influence while others say WtY should be non-political. Some point to cronyism as NYCC leader Carl Les is on the WtY board, though I very much suspect he had no involvement.

But the content has been noted by North Yorkshire’s seven district councils who have expressed reservations about WtY’s effectiveness and future funding, and who also favour a two-authority solution for their county’s future. Watch this space.

Manchester United footballer Masrcus Rashford is now a leading child food poverty campaigner.

IN the interests of fairness following last week’s column, it is not just Boris Johnson who is guilty of over-promising and under-delivering on social care.

Just as culpable is the PM’s 2019 Tory leadership rival Jeremy Hunt who bemoans social care’s status as a “Cinderella service” and now wants a 10-year plan.

What Hunt, now chair of Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee, won’t say is that he was Health Secretary from 2012-18 and had a chance to put in place the reforms he now advocates. Such holier than thou hypocrisy leaves him diminished and he should not be heading the Parliamentary committee marking his own homework on issues like care. Or pandemic planning.

IT is established that Britain’s farming and food standards are the envy of the world – and rightly so. I wish labelling laws were even more strict to recognise this. This explains, in part, the Government’s grudging decision to set up a Trade and Agriculture Commission to scrutinise any post-Brexit trade deals.

Yet, given Cabinet ministers George Eustice (Defra) and Liz Truss (international trade) say standards are not compromised, why are they limiting this watchdog’s jurisdiction to just six months – and restricting its powers?

During the Agriculture Bill debate, Victoria Prentis, a Defra minister, said she could not answer certain questions because they fell within the trade remit and Ms Truss was not present.

However, Ms Truss was in attendance for the Commons vote later that night. No wonder trust is so low when joined-up government is beyond the competence of so many ministers.

A GREAT aside from Nick Robinson, the Radio Four Today presenter, when a sports administrator used the phrase “honest and transparent” to describe the status of talks on football’s future. These words, he told his listeners, were “code for a bloody big row” when he was BBC political editor. Now you know.

FINALLY a few words to all those guilty, myself include, of criticising pampered Premier League footballers – Marcus Rashford.

You don’t even have to agree with him to respect him, but the 22-year-old has already done far more proactive work to highlight the scandal and shame of child food poverty than any politician in decades. Now he’s launched a petition on Parliament’s website, calling for further action. “Not having access to food is never the child’s fault,” he reminds us. Forget his new MBE, he also deserves to be the 2020 BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson