Monday, 21 November 2011

Bankers and Codebreakers

There are plenty of good history programmes to watch at the moment. On Tuesday Ian Hislop presents "When Bankers Were Good". He investigates some of the wealthiest Victorian bankers who were also very impressive philanthropists, donating much of the income to good causes and campaigning on social issues such as housing and care for deprived children. George Peabody, for example, provided a huge donation to build affordable housing for London's poor, and today over 50,000 people still live in homes supported by the Peabody Trust. Samuel Gurney used his banking wealth to support the work of his sister, Elizabeth Fry, who campaigned for prison reform. As you can guess from the provocative title, Hislop suggests that today's bankers could learn a great deal from these eminent Victorians if they wish to improve their image.

Also on this week (tonight in fact) on Channel 4 is a documentary about Alan Turing - "Britain's greatest codebreaker". Turing (shown above) was an exceptionally gifted mathematician who was instrumental in helping to break the Enigma code during World War 2 through his development of computer programmes which could run through thousands of possible code combinations every minute. He should have been recognised as a national hero but instead was arrested for "gross indecency" in 1952 - his crime was to be gay at a time when homosexual acts were illegal. Two years later he committed suicide because he had been driven to despair by his treatment - a terrible waste of a great talent.

Also recommended on iPlayer - "Double Agent: The Eddie Chapman Story" - a fantastic tale of a former safe-breaker who was recruited to spy on the Germans, while convincing the Germans he was spying for them at the same time - he was so good that they even awarded him with the Iron Cross, and all the time he was passing secrets back to the British.

If you spot any more good history programmes, please let us know!

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