A free lecture about the role of women codebreakers will be held at the University of Buckingham on Tuesday 2 September 2014 at 6.30pm.

Bryony Norburn, a PhD student will look at the role of women in codebreaking during the First World War and Second World War in London and at Bletchley Park.

 “It wasn’t until 1916 that women started codebreaking, but they soon proved to be a match for their male counterparts. In both wartime and peace, they showed they were every bit as good, if not better, than men.”

At its peak nearly 10,000 people worked at Bletchley Park and its outstation during the Second World War, with women equating to around 75% of that number.

Yet there were only a handful of women, including Mavis Batey, Margaret Rock and Jean Clarke, who were given the opportunity to break codes at the highest level in during the Second World War.

So why were so few women in leading roles? During the lecture Bryony will examine if it was discrimination that held women back.

Much has been written about the male codebreakers at Bletchley Park but there is a growing interest in the women who played an equally vital role cracking codes. Some research has started to appear about women in the Second World War but little is known about earlier women codebreakers. Bryony has been researching this fascinating subject.

“These women deserve to be recognised.”

The talk takes place at 6.30pm on Tuesday, September 2, in the Chandos Road Building at the University of Buckingham. Drinks and nibbles will be served.

Bryony Norburn women codebreakersBryony Norburn is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Buckingham. She completed an MA in Heritage Tourism Management at the University, then went on to run the National Trust Ashridge Estate Visitor Centre, Berkhamsted.

It was a meeting with codebreaker Mavis Batey in 2011 that inspired Bryony to study women codebreakers for her PhD.

Date: September 2, 2014
Time: 18:30-21:00
Event: The Secret Life of Women Codebreakers at Bletchley Park
Topic: The Secret Life of Women Codebreakers at Bletchley Park
Venue: University of Buckingham
+44 (0)1280 820230
Location: Ian Fairbairn Lecture Hall (IFLH), Chandos Road Building
Buckingham MK18 1EG GB
United Kingdom
Public: Public
More Info: Click here for more information.

Learn more about women codebreakers: http://www.bletchleyparkresearch.co.uk/research-notes/women-codebreakers/

Women’s Security Society Case Study

SC Magazine
1 July 2014
Bletchley Park Research

WSS board members at soft launch event, 26th February 2013 copyright WSS

I had the honour of meeting some of the inspirational women of the Women’s Security Society when they asked me to talk about Margaret Rock (codebreaker) at a special lunch held at Bletchley Park. You can also read my post about that event here – Inspirational Women at Bletchley Park.

After much anticipation film trailer for The Imitation Game is out.

Have you seen the trailer yet? If not enjoy…

Video not playing correctly? Watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

Benedict Cumberbatch (playing Alan Turing) and Keira Knightley (playing Joan Clarke) star alongside some well-known and respected British actors, including Matthew Goode (A Single Man), Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Rory Kinnear (Skyfall), Charles Dance (Gosford Park, Game of Thrones), Allen Leech (In Fear, Downton Abbey) and Matthew Beard (An Education)..

Part of the film was shot on site at Bletchley Park and I am looking forward to seeing how those scenes look.

Last year I gave a talk at Bletchley Park and I had a sneaky peek through the open door of the library to see it ‘dressed’ for filming. Unfortunately, there were no sneaky peek at actors as I think they may have finished filming on site the previous week.

The Imitation Game European première is on 8 October 2014 and released in UK cinemas on 14 November 2014.

Clare Stewart, BFI London Film Festival Director, comments:

We are thrilled to announce one of the most anticipated films of the year – The Imitation Game – as this year’s BFI London Film Festival Opening Night gala. Featuring extraordinary performances from the British talent in front of the camera and vividly directed by Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game does cinematic justice to Alan Turing’s vision, determination and personal story as well as his enduring impact on British history and contemporary life.

Click here to read more about The Imitation Game on the BFI website.

Bletchley Park Margaret Rock

Margaret Rock was one of the few women codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War 2.

Margaret was a bright mathematician, quiet and modest but with an adventurous streak. Within a few months of arriving at Bletchley Park in April 1940 she received a promotion after legendary codebreaker Dilly Knox recognised her abilities.

You can download a free copy of an original letter written by Margaret from Bletchley Park in September 1940. She describes her night-time adventure through a London bombing raid as she tries to get back to Bletchley. Enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page to get this fascinating letter.

Decoding The Bletchley Circle – Sinclair McKay, Charlotte Webb & Jake Lushington talk to Ann Fisher

Author Sinclay McKay joined Bletchley Park veteran Charlotte Webb and Jake Lushington, the Executive Producer of The Bletchley Circle on the Ann Fisher  ‘All Sides’ radio show on WOSU.

Listen to the 52 minute replay of the Ann Fisher All Sides episode ‘Bletchley Circle Code Breaking: Real and Imagined’ here. It is a fantastic and enlightening discussion about the true story of Bletchley Park and its influence on the fictional drama of The Bletchley Circle.

“It is poetic to me that at Bletchley Park back in the day before the war the people who owned it often invited the community to the grounds for festivals and that sort of thing. It was shut off to them for a long time and now they are back again…people know about it and its very popular .” 

All Sides with Ann Fisher is a two-hour, daily public-affairs talk show covering the issues and events that shape life in central Ohio. Listener involvement is an integral part of the show’s ethos with participation welcome via telephone, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

Ann has enjoyed a 30 year career in journalism and joined WOSU in 2009. You can read more about Ann here.


Sinclair McKay – Bestselling Author and Journalist

When asked what he thought of The Bletchley Circle by Ann Fisher, Sinclair McKay said “Any television show that does anything to honour what these women did can only be a brilliant thing.”

You can find out more about Sinclair McKay‘s books on Amazon UK, including his latest book The Lost World of Bletchley Park: The Illustrated History of the Wartime Codebreaking Centre. More than any book on Bletchley Park this book is brimming with previously unseen photographs of Bletchley Park. If you want to step back in time and get a good idea of that lost world then this is the book for you.

You can also find out more about the book and Sinclair McKay on Amazon US and Amazon CA.


Charlotte Webb – Bletchley Park Veteran, Author & Speaker

“Going back to civilian life was quite difficult. We still had rationing in this county and it was not easy to get a job if you could not tell your prospective employer what you had been doing because they viewed you rather suspiciously.” 

Betty has done over 100 talks about her time at Bletchley Park and written her story in Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon currently only available in print form in the UK. PDF copies are available worldwide on the premium reading service Scribd by clicking here.

You can also read more about Betty here.


Jake Lushington, Executive Producer of The Bletchley Circle and Head of Drama for World Productions

Jake has a long career in theatre and television. His sensitive approach to recreating the history of Bletchley Park from the look and feel of the show from its settings, fashions and characters is a testament to the popularity and devoted ‘Lady Nerds’ fan base that surrounds The Bletchley Circle.

You can read more about Jake on the World Productions website here.

The Bletchley Circle – Series 1 And 2 [DVD] is available on Amazon UK. Series 1 is available in US and Canada, with Series 2 available on pre-order. Happy watching.


Victory Roll of Honour at 1940s Boutique Day

On 15th March 2014 I attending Bletchley Park’s first 1940s Boutique day ran by Sarah Dunn, a talented vintage hair and make-up artist.

Sarah Dunn demonstrationThe day, hosted by Bletchley Park in the beautiful panelled ballroom started off with Sarah demonstrating the key elements of 1940s make up and hair on Jessica Duncan, MK web journalist. While expertly ‘setting’ Jessica’s hair with  curling tongs (a modern alternative to the wartime curlers and sugar-water setting lotion), Sarah entertained us with interesting anecdotes from the era to illustrate the variety of tricks used by resourceful women in times of enormous scarcity.

Sarah is very knowledgeable but also is mindful to show respect to the fact that although it is nice at look at the era through rose-tinted glasses, it is important to remember it was a very hard and tragic time.

Vintage enthusiasts fully realise that there is nothing glamorous in war, but what appeals to them is a desire to reignite the lost sense of style of gloves and hats and a hankering for the well-groomed and glamorous woman - there were no tracksuit bottoms for a 1940s gal! There is also a massive online community of ‘make do and menders‘ who challenge themselves to make and recreate clothing from the past.

It makes me realise that our fascination with vintage styles is also about a sense of ‘do it yourself’ creativity and self-expression that we have moved away from in our modern world of large-scale manufacturing and cheap throwaway goods.

Sarah and Jess with hat2

Sarah made many references to the book The 1940s Look: Recreating the Fashions, Hairstyles and Make-up of the Second World War, which is full of interesting facts and pictures about World War 2 fashion and make-up. I purchased a copy as it a useful resource as I research my novel, The Milliners Spy.

Interestingly, hats were not rationed during the war but became very expensive due to the lack of available materials. However, scarves were rationed and Sarah expertly demonstrated how one hairstyle could be accessorised with a simple scarf to make 3 different styles and the same hairstyle could take on a new look with a hat and snood.

As a researcher I found the easy blend of practical demonstrations and social history commentary a very lively and enjoyable mix. Let’s just say I was much better at taking in the information than I was at the practical application!

But, you know what, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t roll my hair despite fifty attempts or that my effort at minimal eyeliner was more attuned to a drawing done by a three-year old with a thick black crayon – I had a fabulous day. It also didn’t matter that I was there on my own.

There was a good mix of people who came as a mother’s day gift, birthday gift, a get together between friends and even a professional development day. There was a woman and her two daughters who were there to learn more about a family member who had worked in a top-secret job as a ‘cipher clerk’ during the war and visiting Bletchley Park brought them closer to her. You can hear the interview with them and the 1940s Boutique Day here on The Bletchley Park Podcast.

Victory Roll ReflectionThe day was brilliant with a genuine sense of community and group involvement. I enjoyed make up tips and hair styling help from my fellow boutique ladies, and Sarah was on hand to rectify the most wonky, flat victory rolls this country has EVER seen (aka my effort).

The day included tea, coffee and a light lunch. We also had free time to look around or go on a guided tour with vintage attired Bletchley Park guide, Philomena Liggins.

There are still a few tickets left for next Saturday (19th April 2014) or see the list below for the next available dates that Sarah will be running the Boutique days at Bletchley Park (click on the date you want to attend for booking information):

You can find out more about the talented Sarah Dunn and her brilliant vintage business at: www.sarahsdoowopdos.wordpress.com.

Sarah and Kerry

Kerry Howard & Sarah Dunn

The Bletchley Circle Series 2 airs in the US

The Bletchley CircleThe Bletchley Circle Series 2 finally hit the screens in the US last night after much anticipation.

There is always a spike of visitors to this website afterwards so I thought I would bring my reviews and The Bletchley Circle comments to the forefront – no sleuthing needed to find the content!

Truth be told, I am a little jealous of the US viewers because I remember my excited anticipation for the second series – you only get that anticipation for a series once and the painful teasing build up soon vanishes as the series starts.

Good news is that the series 2 lives up to the anticipation. It is an exciting and gripping series where we get to see more Bletchley Park wartime and post war antics blended with great drama – all I will say is that Episode 3 is my favourite by far.

Sophie Rundle (Lucy)  Copyright Mubsta.com

Sophie Rundle (Lucy)
Copyright Mubsta.com

So let’s talk about the start of the series. Millie, Lucy, Jean and Susan are reunited a year after the story line of Series 1 has ended. This time it is Jean who enlists the help of her Bletchley friends – one of their own is in trouble and Jean plans to help.

Let’s start with the tempting trailer:

Here are the articles I’ve posted about Series 2:

Video taster for Episode 3 & 4:

I have also been given some pointers on mistakes that viewers have spotted. I’ll be posting about these soon. You can find all my The Bletchley Circle Reviews for Series 1 & 2 here, which includes my popular articles about using facts in historical fiction.

If you’d like to read more about the real women codebreakers at Bletchley Park, you can check out my book Dear Codebreaker and read my Women Codebreakers page here.

Mansion Through the Lense Copyright Mubsta.com

Mansion Through the Lense
Copyright Mubsta.com

PBS have also put together a sneak peek page for video trailers and photo galleries covering the filming of the series. You can check that out here.

Don’t forget to check out The Bletchley Park Podcast episodes with interviews of the actors, writer and producers of the show. There is also coverage of the Bletchley Park staff who got to play extras.

The official photographs taken during the filming of the series  shown on these pages are reproduced courtesy of mubsta.com via Bletchey Park. View more photographs here.

Phew! That should keep you going. Why not take a few minutes to tell me what you think of the series. Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Bletchley Circle Series 2 – Finale

The Bletchley CircleThe exciting final episode of The Bletchley Circle Series 2 seems so long ago now for us in the UK, but for those in the US it is only a few more weeks until our vintage sleuths hit their screens on 13 April 2014.

When the show has been aired I will talk about some of the minor factual inconsistencies that knowledgeable readers have brought to my attention. It goes to show that writers and producers can’t pull a factual ‘fast one’ on audiences.

As watchers we want to take it for granted that facts are more or less right. The writer’s responsibility for portraying facts appear in my most popular articles about The Bletchley Circle – Did the writers get it right and Fact in Historical Fiction.

Something that was right in this finale of Series 2 its exciting and gripping story line was the post-war teacher training college at Bletchley Park. I love how the writer has touched on the post-war evolution of Bletchley Park. It’s certainly an area that is not well covered and it got my researcher’s fingers tingling.

While trying to find out more about the college I have found extracts of a long and very detailed report written by English Heritage about the history of Bletchley Park and its buildings.

On the first page of Section 3.4 – Wartime Building Operations at Bletchley Park there is a glorious picture of the mansion taken in the 1950s – just about the time The Bletchley Circle women led by Alice, return to visit Lizzie Lancaster. As visiting time ends the women  hide as everyone leaves then covertly find an abandoned Enigma machine in one of the blocks.

According to the English Heritage report, the Teacher Training College started at Bletchley Park in 1948 as an Emergency Training Centre then continued to use the site as a permanent training facility  from 1950 until the 1970s. The college wasn’t the only inhabitant of the park – the General Post Office (later British Telecom) and GCHQ also occupied some of the wartime buildings.

 Section 10.5 of English Heritage’s report records that the Teacher Training college mainly occupied Blocks A, B and E where it made minor alterations in 1950 to accommodate 50 students training to teach children and infants. The college also undertook more radical changes by demolishing Hut 7 and converting the wartime Teleprinter Building in 1957 into an assembly hall for the registered 119 students. Also from the mid 1960s the college constructed additional classrooms around Block B and Block E.

I strongly recommend you read it – perhaps not all in one go.

I am definitely going to take the report to Bletchley Park for a wander around the lesser known buildings to get a true feel for their part in the historical evolution of this site. Given the report’s size I am very thankful that I can rely on the lightness of technology to carry the report with me.

For those who just can’t get enough architectural history I’ve started to compile a list (and links) of all the other available sections of the report produced by English Heritage as part of this groundbreaking study. Click here to see read more of English Heritage’s Report on Bletchley Park.

Stepping back in time at Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park stepped back in time during February half term by giving visitors a glimpse of life at Bletchley Park during World War 2.

Actors dressed in wartime civilian and service clothing chatted to visitors as if they were starting work at Bletchley Park in World War 2. Watch the video to experience the fun.

For me filling the dressed rooms with people in costume with a story to tell captures the imagination and evokes a greater feel for how the space could have been. What a fun and interactive experience for visitors!

Watch the video to see for yourself. I particularly like the woman who is arranging the billets but best of all is seeing the visitors get involved with the story line.

I’d love to hear what you like best, so please leave a comment.

1940s Boutique Days at Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park EventsBack in June I did an excited twirl in my new deep red 1940s dress, slipped on some black seamed stockings and a faux fur bolero in aid of a special evening event at Bletchley Park. You can read about the launch of the codebreaker watch here.

Leading up to the event I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos about recreating victory curls and how to recreate the wartime makeup look.  It was all a bit overwhelming so I just applied suitably red lipstick and wore a vintage hat.

Kerry Howard Bletchley Park Research

Kerry Howard

How I wish that the new 1940s Boutique Days at Bletchley Park had already been running!

With expert tips from Hair stylist and make-up artist, Sarah Dunn during a full day training event, I could have done more than cover my usual straightened bob under the wide beautiful brim of a vintage hat.

The glamorous and exciting 1940s Boutique Days at Bletchley Park will run throughout 2014 and will include lessons in hair and makeup of the era. Sarah Dunn will teach students on each one day course how to create the famous victory roll hairstyle as well as other ‘dos’ of the decade.

Also within the ticket price of £65 is a practical make-up session, with demonstrations on Sarah’s models.

Let’s hope there is a backdrop of top tapping music and the ‘gals’ bring along a dress from the era.

The Three Belles execute hair & make up of the era beautifully. What glamour!

The Three Belles execute hair & make up of the era beautifully. What glamour!

Lunch is included as well as a tour of Historic Bletchley Park. There will be lots of advice and the chance to chat with like-minded enthusiasts about this most fascinating decade.

©Sarah Dunn

“As a vintage hair stylist I am inspired by the style and spirit of the 1940s, so it’s a real honour to be bringing the decade back to life at the Home of the Codebreakers. I imagine the women at Bletchley Park during World War Two were probably more preoccupied with the vital work they were doing than with their hair and make-up but I bet it was a different story on their days off, when they travelled into London and took up the offer of cheap entry to clubs and shows.

The hairstyles of the 1940s are wonderful as there is so much choice, they can be very dramatic as well as feminine and often quite practical. I love how glamorous people feel when they have had a makeover from this era, victory rolls and red lipstick can make anyone feel stylish and it’s amazing to think all this all came out of an age of such hardship and austerity.” Sarah Dunn

Friends of Bletchley Park can book now on 01908 272684. Tickets will go on general sale 1 February.

Office Glamour

Glamour at the office is a must

I’ll be attending the first 1940s Boutique Day at Bletchley Park on 15th March 2014. I will be video recording my progress (or clumsy hopelessness) and interviewing other participants for the Bletchley Park Podcast.

Click here to buy your ticket to 1940s fabulousness.

For more photographs recreating the mood of the era, check out my facebook photographs of the 1940s house exhibit in Block B at Bletchley Park by clicking here.

The Bletchley Circle Series 2 – Farewell Codebreaker

The Bletchley Circle In anticipation of the third episode of The Bletchley Circle Series 2 I have revisited what happened in the concluding part of this two-part storyline called ‘Blood On Their Hands’. It’s good to revisit because everything in the show is about to change.

Episode 2 starts at a pace to prevent convicted Alice from the hangman’s noose. There are some emotive scenes of the ‘hanging team’ measuring Alice’s neck and carrying out a practice run.

With some impressive paper shuffling and nerves of steel investigation the team realise that John Richards was killed by the Military and Lizzie is also being set up and framed for his murder.

778A6323 Lizzie

It becomes clear that the secret military documents found at Lizzie’s flat were planted to make sure the matter would fall under military juristiction rathen than being dealt with by the police. The team’s innovative research leads them to connect a chemical spillage to Porton Down, and prove that Richards was transferred there from Bletchley.

Most Secret

Susan is becoming more and more anxious. The secrets she keeps from her husband Timothy(Mark Dexter) and the harrowing experience with Crowley the year before are taking their toll. She doesn’t want to be involved but Jean pleads with her to help.

It turns out the military hospital where the men who were injured in the chemical spillage is the same hospital Timothy stayed in for his war injuries. What happened to these men a good enough reason for the murder?

But why?

Millie, Jean, Susan, Lucy

Millie, Jean, Susan, Lucy

Reluctantly Susan gains access and after a bit of sneaking about Susan is caught by the military police but not before she comes across a badly injured soldier who tells her the truth behind the chemical experiments at Porton Down and how he and others were used as lab rats.

Timothy is brought in. He looks at his wife questioningly. She’s not the woman he’s married. The secrets are coming between them. Exhausted, Susan is left with no option but to tell Timothy of her work at Bletchley Park. In doing so she breaks The Official Secrets Act but saves her marriage. Susan and Timothy’s relief is tangible.

For Susan the danger is over but for the other three as they track down Professor Masters (Paul Ritter), a name that has popped up as the connection between Richards and Porton Down – they think he can help.

Things don’t go quite to plan. One of our Bletchley Circle ladies is shot!

Is it too late for them, and can they save Alice after all?

I’ve given a lot of spoilers. If you’ve seen the episode you know the end but for those who have yet to see it, I’ll leave the end as a surprise. I will just say that it’s the end of the show for one of the four Bletchley Circle women. It’s sad but there are always new beginnings and can only help the show grow and evolve.

Confession:  I have a problem with one element of the storyline. It’s that there isn’t enough detail to explain the pre-war back story and connection between Alice, Richards and Lizzie. It felt a bit secondary, yet was crucial to the whole plot. I would have like this to have been covered in greater detail.

So what has episode 3 got in store. A new member of The Bletchley Circle? Perhaps.

A new mystery to solve? Definitely

Bletchley Park have posted some fabulous photographs of the war-time set at Bletchley Park. Click here to view them

Also, Check out this fabulous slideshow of The Bletchley Circle Series 2 images on MK Web’s news website.

Don’t forget to check out the Bletchley Park Podcast and the interviews of cast and production members. In the episode below you can hear Bletchley Park staff members talk about their part as extras on the show and the story of  Bletchley Park veteran, Audrey Wind. Remember you can pre-order the DVD (out at the beginning of Feb). I’ve just spotted that you can buy both series together see The Bletchley Circle – Series 1 And 2 [DVD].

My Mum worked for MI6 at Bletchley Park

Courtesy Nigel Nelson

Iris May Phillips reproduced courtesy of Nigel Nelson

Families of the Code and Cypher School veterans end their visits at Bletchley Park with a better idea of the World War 2 codebreaking operation that shaped the lives of their relatives. Suddenly a picture appears from the tales of the veterans’ hard relentless work in hastily built wooden huts, lasting friendships forged in concrete buildings filled with noisy bombe machines, and let’s not forget the occasional eccentric. The tales told of that time have a clear anchor and there is suddenly an ‘ah-ha’ moment of understanding when families can share in a secret life.

Nigel Nelson, reproduced with his permission

Nigel Nelson, reproduced with his permission

For Nigel Nelson, the Sunday People’s political editor, a visit to Bletchley Park left him with the distinct feeling that he did not know his enigmatic mother as well as he thought.

Iris May Phillips told her son that she worked in a boring job for the Foreign Office and was seconded to Bletchley Park in about 1943.

What Nigel Nelson found out at Bletchley was that young Iris worked for the Secret Intelligence Service – MI6.

“The news hit me as if James Bond had just thrown a martini in my face, “ he wrote in his article for the Mirror on 9 November 2013 titled ‘I knew my mum worked at Bletchley Park but not that she was in MI6′.

‘I was both shaken and stirred to be confronted with a truth my long-dead mother spent her life concealing from me.’

Since writing that article Nigel’s efforts to track down more information about his mother has led him to the formidable blast proof walls of MI6′s policy on releasing data about past employees. Despite the lack of official data, he has  pieced together memories of his mother and the guarded details she did share with him and written a recent article titled ‘I visited a tourist attraction and ended up finding out my mother was a World War 2 spy’.

The article hints at Iris’s work in Hut 4 at Bletchley Park plotting the location of predatory U-Boats in the Atlantic and her role in post war Germany tracking down scientists to recruit, witnessing the horrors of the concentration camps and the echoes of justice in Nuremberg.

What exactly was she recruited to do. What was she doing for MI6 before her transfer to Bletchley Park? I hope their are photograph albums, old letters that can be revisited for clues.

For a man who has spent his journalistic career revealing secrets rather than guard them Nigel has, quite literally, found the biggest secret story of his life.

 “The mother I will remember is no longer the one I thought I knew.” Nigel Nelson

The story of Iris’s war is a tantalising mystery suited for the women of the Bletchley Circle. It appears that there won’t be any further official information from direct channels anytime soon but I can’t help think of all the National Archives and its miles of shelves stuffed with the documents of other services and departments who have connections with wartime MI6. Their documents are not classified and there may just be something in a transfer paper, a finance document, a wartime memoir.

It can work. It is the exact approach taken by Professor Aldrich when piecing together his 600 page book on GCHQ without any access to official post war documents.

So there is a chance that there is more of this story alluringly hidden between the papers of a musty brown manilla file. It makes my research obsessive fingers tingle at the possibility. Like Susan from The Bletchley Circle it’s time to share the secrets with the family.

We just need Jean, who always looks after her own, to dig through files, think outside the box and find the way in to the papers that will breathe life this fascinating story.

My thanks to Nigel for letting me share his story.

Nigel Nelson is Sunday People political columnist and Fleet Street’s longest serving national newspaper political editor. You can follow him on Twitter @NigelNelson.

The Bletchley Circle Review Series 2 Episode 1

The Bletchley Circle Series 2A smoke filled room, lines of wooden tables stacked with trays of documents and lit by the yellow light of table lamps. A woman in civilan clothes concentrates on a machine in a wooden box. It is the Enigma and this is the Machine Room, Bletchley Park, 1943.

A blonde woman in a WRNS uniform (Women’s Royal Naval Service) stands by the Bombe Machine, the green, yellow and red wheels turn working to try to find the daily settings for the Enigma machine. There is a sparkle in the young woman’s eyes. Job up. 

The typewriter like letter keys of the Enigma are tapped, lighting the letters of the lampboard. Two men hover nearby, frowning in frustration. “If the Germans have changed their machines we may as well all give up and go home,” says John Richards. Jean stands by, watching.

The blonde woman in the uniform, Alice walks over, “They haven’t changed the machine,” she says, “they’ve changed the code.”

The Bletchley Circle Series 2, a new four part drama produced by World Productions for ITV has officially started [insert squeals of excitement here].

Like the first series, the opening scene is full of atmosphere and drama, evoking an colourful snapshot of how Bletchley Park could have looked in World War 2.

“Getting to film at Bletchley was magical. It feels a bit like hallowed ground. A very special experience as I had to do some work on an original machine and filmed a scene outside, in between the huts in moonlight.

“If you squint you could be back there in the war. Especially with the extras milling around in their costumes. I’m sure in many ways nothing has changed. It was very inspiring for playing the character of Alice.”  Hattie Morahan

Millie, Jean, Susan, Lucy

Millie, Jean, Susan, Lucy Copyright ITV.com

The night scene with Bletchley Park Mansion lit by moonlight is one of my favourites but all too soon the night closes on the war years and the show jumps forward ten years to 1953  (one year on from the haunting events from Series 1).

Mansion Through the Lense Copyright Mubsta.com

Mansion Through the Lense Copyright Mubsta.com

Stern, practical Jean is reading a newspaper article about Alice Merren’s forthcoming trial for murder of her former Bletchley Park colleague, John Richards (Paul McGann). Alice was one of Jean’s girls. Jean knows she will never turn her back on one of her girls so she reunites the circle to help one of their own.

“Jean is a straightforward, down-to-earth, pragmatic, practical person. She is very much a woman of her time. Someone like her would probably find it hard to adapt to modern society, as we know it now.  She’s very old fashioned with old fashioned values. But she’s incredibly kind, compassionate and smart.

Jean is the catalyst this time in bringing them all together again. When she learns of Alice’s case her gut instinct is that there’s something not quite right about it. So the only way to investigate further is to get the gang back together.” Julie Graham

Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) is reluctant to get involved after her near death experience with the Crowley, the serial killer. She is no longer the driving force of the circle, she’s jumpy, scared of putting her family into danger. In fact, it’s Susan’s response to the events in the first series that tempted Anna Maxwell Martin back into the role.

“One of the reasons I liked this story so much and returned to it is because sometimes with a series it’s easy to conveniently forget a journey a character has gone on a year before.  They decided to reflect the truth of how someone would feel a number of months after something bizarre, awful and extreme like that happening in their lives. So I really loved that aspect of the script and that Susan is genuinely having difficulty coping and getting over and recovering from it – in a life and marriage of secrecy. I found that really interesting.” Anna Maxwell Martin

Lucy (Sophie Rundle) has experienced enormous growth with the support of her friends. Free of her abusive husband she is now embracing a new start as an independent woman with a clerical job at Scotland Yard.

“Scotland Yard is very lucky to have Lucy, knowing what we know about her past at Bletchley Park. But obviously she’s keeping that all totally under wraps. In their eyes she’s simply a secretary. These women had to really play down their amazing abilities, their strengths and minds. They had to pretend they hadn’t done anything special in the war and that means Lucy has to downplay her intelligence. She is upholding the Official Secrets Act.”  Sophie Rundle

Sophie Rundle (Lucy)  Copyright Mubsta.com

Sophie Rundle (Lucy) Copyright Mubsta.com

Millie (Rachel Stirling) is still a sassy, thoroughly modern woman and an excellent linguist she has found work as a German translator, but trouble is never too far away from this street wise beauty.

“When we meet Millie again she is doing government translating work with the Germans. Pretty quickly after the war you had to re-assess who was and wasn’t the enemy and re-align. And Millie has always been a shade of grey rather than black or white. So she has to shift her perspective and stop thinking of the Germans as the enemy.” Rachel Stirling

What could be so secret that would make Alice face the hangman’s noose willingly? And who is Lizzie Lancaster?
Faye Marsay (Lizzie) Copyright Mubsta.com

Faye Marsay (Lizzie)
Copyright Mubsta.com

The true depth of the danger dawns on the circle as they investigate the mystery.

“What the hell have you got us into?” 

I am sure you’ll agree that this is a fabulous start to the second series of hugely popular The Bletchley Circle. Viewing statistics show that a whopping 4.5 millions viewers tuned in on Monday evening to share another mystery with Millie, Jean, Susan and Lucy.

Listen to the cast and production staff talk about their time filming The Bletchley Circle Series 2 on the Bletchley Park Podcast during interviews recorded at the official Press Screening with three of the stars of the series, Rachael Stirling, Julie Graham & Hattie Morahan. Executive Producer, Jake Lushington & series Writer & Creator, Guy Burt also shared their thoughts on the series.
If like me you will devour the series over and over again, you can get it on pre-order (release date 3 February 2014 in UK)

Click on the image or click here to buy The Bletchley Circle Series 2 [DVD] and if you want to read about the life of a real Bletchley Park Codebreaker, don’t forget to buy your copy of my book Dear Codebreaker. The ebook is at a low, low price while The Bletchley Circle Series 2 is airing.

Dear Codebreaker - The letters of Margaret RockYou will hear Rachel Stirling talk about Margaret briefly in her interview at the press screening. Margaret is the epitome of an enigmatic codebreaker.

Photographs reproduced with the kind permission of Bletchley Park. Read more about the show on Bletchley Park’s website by clicking here

Mavis Batey

Mavis Batey, one of the few women codebreakers of Bletchley Park during World War 2 passed away at the age of 92 on 12 November 2013.

Keith & Mavis Batey

Keith & Mavis Batey

Mavis Batey’s contribution to understanding the life of a woman codebreaker at Bletchley Park is unparalleled. Like so many of her Bletchley Park colleagues, she selflessly continued to educate and expand our knowledge of World War 2 codebreaking right up to the end of her life. Her passing is a great loss to her family, friends and our nation.

Mavis Lilian Lever was born on 5 May 1921 in London. After a convent education she attended University College London studying German Literature.

She was recruited from University College London into intelligence by her professor Leonard Willoughby, a former Room 40 colleague of Dilly Knox.

Her studies had given her good language skills that landed Mavis working for the Foreign Office’s Ministry of Economic Warfare (MEW) blacklisting companies in neutral countries working with or supplying material to the Germans.

Her logical thinking got her noticed and in June 1940 found herself at Bletchley Park meeting eccentric codebreaker, Dilly Knox for the first time. Here she and a team made up of women successfully broke into many of the untried Enigma machine variations, including the significant break into the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) Enigma machine in December 1941.

This break allowed the British Government to intercept, decipher and read Abwehr messages to ensure that misinformation fed through double agents was getting through. This information was critical for the D-Day landings deception, which led Hitler to believe the Allied invasion of France would focus on Pas-de-Calais, when in fact the target was Normandy.

After the war Mavis along with her husband Keith, and fellow ISK (Illicit Services Knox) colleagues, Margaret Rock and Peter Twinn wrote the definitive history to breaking the Abwehr Enigma cipher. This document is known as Batey, Batey, Rock and Twinn  ans was only released into the public domain in 2011. Since then Mavis has helped enthusiasts and scholars understand the mind bogglingly technical document despite having an initial fear that she had forgotten it all. Once she started to read the years melted away and she felt nineteen again.

The release of the document and Mavis’s knowledge has been a significant enhancement to the study of codebreaking and I know she has written an introduction piece to accompany the document.

Mavis has written extensively on garden history and in recent years written an insightful biography of Dilly Knox called Dilly: The Man Who Broke Enigmas. It is a good introduction to the Government Code & Cypher School codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park, a tribute to a brilliant and eccentric codebreaker as well as a modest personal account of her codebreaking successes. One of these successes led to the Battle of Cape Matapan, which put the Italian Navy out of World War 2. The book also provides a first hand account of the Abwehr break.

Both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail have written lovely pieces in honour of Mavis’s memory.

I have been lucky enough to correspond with Mavis and benefit from her memories of the Bletchley Park years. She has helped me to learn more about her colleague Margaret Rock. They remained friends right up until Margaret’s death at the age of 80 in 1983. They had once last get together to talk about old times at Bletchley Park just a few weeks before Margaret died.

Mavis also kindly wrote a short account on how Margaret Rock broke a new Abwehr Enigma cipher in May 1943. Click to see the account titled Canary Islands Service Enigma Break.

Listen to an audio interview with Mavis Batey by author Michael Smith hosted on Audioboo. It’s about an hour in length and is a wonderful tribute to Mavis’s contribution to the war.

Rest in Peace Mavis Batey, you will be missed.

Inspirational Women at Bletchley Park

A roomful of beautiful women will always turn heads. A roomful of beautiful women with first class minds will turn heads and inspire awe – especially when you know the women protect us from the cyber attacks that are increasingly threatening us as individuals, businesses and as a nation.

This roomful of women attending a special Today, Then and Tomorrow lunch at Bletchley Park on 11 October 2013 turned my gaze from its usual place in the past to the future helping me make the connection between Bletchley Park’s past and today’s cyber security industry.

It was also an opportunity for the present day cyber security professionals to turn to the past and learn more about inspirational women who worked at Bletchley Park during World War 2. There was my speech about Margaret Rock, one of the few women codebreakers at Bletchley Park and the chance to meet former Bletchley Park women - Charlotte Webb, Nanza Downey and Ruth Bourne.

The organisers have produced a fabulous video, which highlights the event beautifully.

The event was held in the beautiful, panelled drawing room of Bletchley Park. It was a fitting place as Margaret would have walked past the large bay windows on her way to Dilly Knox’s Research section in the stable yard. Had she been able to peer through the window she would have been embarrassed by all the attention, preferring to hide behind the veil of secrecy that bound the nearly 9,000 people who worked at the park during the war.

I think she would also have been proud to see some of the inspirational women who had followed in her footsteps and proud to know that the work the Women’s Security Society, the Cyber Security Challenge and Raytheon’s Women’s Network will continue to encourage and support women who choose a career in Cyber Security and Intelligence.

I have created a board on Pinterest showing some of the photographs from the day. You can view them here.

Here is the full link: http://www.pinterest.com/bpresearch/women-in-security-at-bletchley-park/

Women in Security, Today, Then, Tomorrow

Women In Security Event InviteI had the pleasure of attending the ‘Women in Security, Today, Then, Tomorrow‘ event at Bletchley Park last Friday to talk about one of the few women codebreakers at Bletchley Park, Margaret Rock. I was the ‘Then‘ part of the ‘Today, Then and Tomorrow‘. It was a brilliant and interesting event and an honour to have been asked.

Proof Communications have prepared a follow up story to the event, which you will find below. I will do another post about my experience of giving the keynote speech in a few days. 

Friday 11 October 2013 saw veterans, women in top security positions and the next generation of cyber defenders meet at the home of British codebreaking. Today, Then, Tomorrow, held at Bletchley Park, was organised by the Cyber Security Challenge UK and The Women’s Security Society and supported by Raytheon.

The event celebrated the history of women in cyber security and explored the need to encourage more women into the profession, which is facing an acute skills shortage.

Iain Standen Bletchley Park CEO

Iain Standen Bletchley Park CEO. Copyright Raytheon

Ian Standen, CEO of Bletchley Park, welcomed the attendees to the historic setting. “This was an industrial codebreaking facility” he explained. “During the Second World War there were over 9,000 people on site”.

Baroness Neville-Jones, a patron of the Cyber Security Challenge, then addressed the WWII veterans. “We owe these people a great debt,” she said, before highlighing the opportunities for women in cyber security today. “There’s a great career here with status and recognition across broad swathes of society” she explained, highlighting that cyber security jobs exist in a huge range of sectors, from the music industry to finance. “Let’s promote these opportunities to our sisters!” she added.

Baroness Neville Jones. Copyright Raytheon

Baroness Neville Jones. Copyright Raytheon

The stories of the Bletchley Ladies were kept secret for years but are now beginning to emerge.

Kerry Howard, historian and author, has brought to light the story of one of the top female codebreakers of WWII. Speaking about her research in to the life of graduate mathematician Margaret Rock, who worked on Enigma machine ciphers under the respected codebreaker Dilly Knox, Kerry said “Her department was 90% female – women were absolutely everywhere!”.

Margaret Rock

Margaret Rock

Margaret was described as “the 4th or 5th best of the whole Enigma staff and quite as useful as some of the professors,” yet was only ever referred to as a ‘linguist’, never a codebreaker. Her love of numbers and talent for codebreaking during the war years led to a long and successful career at GCHQ.

The UK’s strong history of women in codebreaking, however, is not reflected by the number of women working in the sector today. At present less than 10% of the workforce is female.

Dr Hoskins. Copyright Raytheon

Dr Hoskins. Copyright Raytheon

Raytheon’s Dr Brooke Hoskins explained the need to support women in a line of work that continues to be predominantlydominated by men. “The Raytheon Women’s Network is trying to change the underrepresentation of women – Bletchley Park was a prime example of how women can take leading roles in the security profession, and our sector can’t afford to miss out on this talent,” she said. Dr Hoskins also discussed the importance of mentoring for women in cyber security roles, drawing on her own career experience.

Natalie Black, Deputy Director of Cyber Defence at the Cabinet Office, then spoke about the Women’s Security Society. The active group has been giving women – and men! – from all streams of security the opportunity to meet and network through events and talks. Membership has already expanded faster than expected since launching at the beginning of the year with nearly four hundred members, and Natalie echoed the call to spread the word and encourage others to consider joining the Women’s Security Society and learn more about the industry.

Stephanie Daman. Copyright Raytheon

Stephanie Daman. Copyright Raytheon

Stephanie Daman, CEO of the Cyber Security Challenge, followed with an appeal for women working in cyber security to promote the opportunities in the sector to others. “Take the time to encourage women to see the profession as one they should consider,” she explained while highlighting the demand for Cyber Security Challenge competition candidates. “Their skills are hugely valued,” she said, explaining how they can become the next generation of cyber security professionals.

Lucy Robson, a second year undergraduate studying Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, concluded the speeches. “The cyber security challenge is relentless and we must step up,” she warned. Lucy, one of the first Cyber Security Challenge candidates, won one of the first competitions – the Small Business Network Defence challenge run by QinetiQ and has gone on to work with the company.


Lunch in the Drawing Room at Bletchley Park. Copyright Raytheon

Women's Security Society

Women’s Security Society. Copyright Raytheon





For more information about the Cyber Security Challenge visit https://cybersecuritychallenge.org.uk/

For more information about the Women’s Security Society visit http://www.womenssecuritysociety.co.uk/

For more information about Raytheon visit http://www.raytheon.co.uk/

For more information about Kerry Howard’s research on Margaret Rock visit www.dearcodebreaker.com

Bletchley Park Women

Bremont Codebreaker watch

Bremont Codebreaker watch

Back in June 2013 I attended the Bremont launch of their limited edition ‘Codebreaker’ watch.

I previously added a post about the event and have finally uploaded the video of Bremont owner, Nick English interviewing 3 Bletchley Park women veterans.

A copy of the video has been posted on YouTube and embedded in a page on this website (Resources/Bletchley Park Women) for you to watch.

It’s a bit shaky at the beginning so if you find that a bit annoying to watch, close you eyes and listen to the witty words of these fabulous women. They are:

  • Jean Valentine
  • Charlotte Webb
  • Ruth Bourne

I ran out of battery so was unable to record the interview with the other guest of honour, Captain Jerry Roberts. I post this one from TNMOC on the subject Jerry spoke of at the launch.


Kerry Howard Profile

Canary Islands Service Enigma break

Keith & Mavis Batey

Keith & Mavis Batey

Mavis Batey explains how Margaret Rock’s Canary Islands Service Enigma break in May 1943.

Anyone familiar with the Bletchley Park story has heard of Mavis Batey (formerly Mavis Lever) and her extraordinary role as one of the few women codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War 2.

She has written about her boss and mentor, legendary eccentic codebreaker Dilly Knox in her brilliant book Dilly – the man who broke Enigmas. The book is a fascinating insight into his quirky character and is a unique view of the groundbreaking work carried out by Dilly and his girls in Cottage No.3, including Mavis’ own codebreaking success that put the Italian Navy out of the war following the Battle of Matapan.

You can find out more about Mavis’ Dilly book in my post 5 Great Bletchley Books to buy.

Since the release of the official history of how the Abwehr (German Military Intelligence) Enigma machines ciphers were broken she has been assisting the codebreaking community and enthuasts understand its technical contents. The document was presented to Mavis in September 2011 and is known as ‘Batey Batey Rock and Twinn‘ (BBRT) after its four authors. They are Mavis Batey, Keith Batey, Margaret Rock and Peter Twinn, who were all part of Dilly’s Research Section in the Cottage and later, ISK (Illicit Services Knox).


Dilly Knox

I plan to visit The National Archives over the coming weeks to see the document and try to identify Margaret Rock’s contributions (not that I’m likely to understand it!). Mavis has kindly provided me with an outline of how Margaret broke a Canary Islands Service cipher in 1943, which pages are referred to in BBRT on pages 79-83.

In May 1943 Margaret succeeded in breaking the wheel wiring of a new Abwehr machine service from Paris to the Canary Islands . There were so few messages that it had not been tackled before but as with Dilly who had left the scene a problem was a problem and there to be solved.

Peter Twinn, who had replaced Dilly as head of the section, said it was done with ‘great mental dexterity’, considering the scanty amount of evidence. One routine daily  message of approximately the same length was identified as a weather report and as words always ended with an X an attempt was made to find these, bearing in mind that on the Enigma machine one letter can never encipher as itself.

As with everything Dilly’s girls did, it required infinite patience and it was a great shame that sometimes the messages turned out to be worthless. Margaret’s Canary Islands break did however add to the tricks of the trade and would have pleased Dilly greatly.

Mavis Batey, September 2013

You can listen to Mavis talk with author Michael Smith about her time at Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park Visits and Exhibits

Annual Veterans Photograph September 2013

Annual Veterans Photograph September 2013

During my visit to Bletchley Park’s annual veterans’ weekend I noticed the tell-tale signs of transformation throughout the site. In some areas there were small changes and in other places enormous areas of development.

One of these changes is the newly renovated Hut 11 (the Bombe Hut), which has been transformed from an empty shell to an interactive exhibition about the work of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) on the Bombe machines. It wasn’t quite finished when I saw it at the beginning of September but it is now complete and open to the public.

The fundraising for the renovation had been well underway when Bletchley Park Veteran, Maureen Jones left a £250,000 legacy. Her legacy was used to fully fund the exhibition.

(C) John Jackson

(C) John Jackson

This blast proof Hut, nicknamed ‘the Hell Hole‘ by the WRNS (nicknamed Wrens) who operated the Bombe machines, is located opposite Huts 3 and 6, which are also part of the ongoing renovation projects.

The Bombe machines helped speed up the process of finding the Enigma machine’s daily settings. This was a monumental task and thousands of Wrens were employed to get the job done.

Visitors can now try their hand at ‘plugging up’ the back of the Bombe machine and turning the drums to the correct position, illustrating the high level of knowledge and concentration required during long, monotonous shifts. You can read more about how the Turing-Welchman Bombes work in the Enigma Busting Bombe Machine article.

The veterans’ weekend is always a good place to meet new and existing friends.

This year was no exception. As well as some familiar faces I met Bletchley Park Research newsletter reader Eric Jacobson for the first time. Eric, who had travelled over from the States to visit Bletchley Park as well as Oxford.

Ann Keller, Charlotte Webb, Fred Hampe & George Keller

Ann Keller, Charlotte Webb, Fred Hampe & George Keller

Bletchley Park veteran, Charlotte Webb also met up with friends George and Anne Keller who travel from the States most years for the veteran’s weekend. George had a long career in the US Navy signals intelligence and is part of the US Naval Cryptologic Veterans Association. Fred Hampe also in the photograph, worked in the US Navy as a Cryptologic Technician, spending many years listening to messages sent in morse.

I finished off the weekend with a talk in the Mansion’s Ballroom about my research into Margaret Rock. The talk was given with a slideshow of some of the many photographs, documents and letters that made up Margaret’s personal papers. The letter about her adventures in a night of bombing in London felt more meaningful and had a powerful impact when read out loud.

At the end of the presentation a woman stood up and told me she was the neighbour and long time friend of Jean Perrin (formerly Hazlerigg), one of Margaret’s colleagues in The Cottage. I can’t wait to speak to here more. I am now gathering data about all those who worked in The Cottage. Mavis Batey is kindly assisting by adding surnames and snippets of information to help me along. I hope to share some of that with you soon.

Talking at BP

Kerry Howard presentation in the Ballroom 
photograph copyright Claire B @StationXBP