The Bletchley Circle Review – Did the writers get it right?

The Bletchley Circle Review asks the question – Did the writers get it right? Was the show factually correct?

There are many well written articles reviewing The Bletchley Circle in its entirety. Overall, it seems to have been well received and the numbers don’t lie. Approximately 4.5 million views tuned it to watch Susan, Lucy, Millie and Jean.

So I am going to pick up from my earlier post The Bletchley Circle Review – Fact in Historical Fiction,  where I discuss whether the fiction has a duty to accurately portray the fact. Click here to read that post. Today, I am going to look at the first section of the programme to help the reader relate to it to the real Bletchley Park.

I  also say that I can watch a programme from a purely entertainment perspective without worrying about the facts; which I did enthusiastically…

And then I watched the beginning again…

The styling was wonderful. The set, the fashion and in particular, the wartime work at Bletchley Park. The use of the spinning, colourful wheels of the Bombe machine, internal mechanisms of the Enigma cipher machine make the title sequence stand out. I also liked how images of  these machines and the simple pages of a knitted pattern seemed to represent the war and domestic lives that followed.

The styling of the working environment of the characters was also massively successfully. It created a picture that appealed to how I would like the inside of a Hut to appear during World War 2.

It was so successful at creating that picture in my head that I was instantly reminded of this photograph.

Crown Copyright. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Director of GCHQ

The Bletchley Park Trust  also recognise that creating a snapshot of the past is a key element to the museum experience and that the visual experience has a lasting effect on the visitor. That’s why part of the forthcoming restoration of Hut 3 and Hut 6 will focus on ‘authenticity’.

At the annual Veteran’s Reunion on Sunday 2 September 2012 the new CEO Iain Standen reported that each hut will be sympathetically restored to its original design, from fixtures and fittings down to the oppressive blast walls that kept out the light and made the Huts a dark and unpleasant environment to work. So if you enjoyed seeing Bletchley Park in The Bletchley Cirlce, you will enjoy visiting Bletchley Park as it is restored to former glory.

You may also have noticed that in the Bletchley Circle codebreaking scene that there are only women. It is true that civilian and Service women made up most of the work force. At its peak in January 1945 there were 6769 women working at Bletchley Park and its outstations compared to the 2225 men. There were only a handful of real women ‘codebreakers’, so much of the codebreaking work was carried out by men. This meant that there would not have been four women codebreakers working so closely together.

However, the term codebreaker is often used as a general term to cover the operation from interception through to passing the information to commanders, and of course, this process was dominated by women.  I will have more to say about Women Codebreakers in a later post.

I did notice something about the Hut. First, I am not so sure about the casual use by WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval) of the two Enigma machine on display in their distinctive wooden boxes. When legendary codebreaker, Dillwyn Knox broke the first Enigma key in January 1940, his work place in the Cottage was secured and cut off from the rest of the park to keep his work secret. Enigma was ‘need to know’ only.

Secondly, Susan spots something within the random letters typed in blocks of four letters typed on a sheet of paper. She dashes outside to speak to Millie, who is smoking. Millie is casually leaning against a brick wall on the left of the screen. In the shadows on the right side of the shot is a plaque marked ‘Hut 4’.

Hut 4 was built in 1939 and was used from 1940 by ‘Naval Section‘ for processing the decrypted naval message that came from Hut 8. From Hut 4 the messages were translated, analysed and sent to Naval Intelligence in the Admiralty, London. Messages were not decrypted in Hut 4.

Naval Section moved to Block A in 1942 and from the time The Bletchley Circle is set, the physical building of Hut 4 was used for other sections such as Military Section, Intelligence Exchange and W/T (Wireless Transmission) co-ordination.  However, when sections moved the kept their original Hut number, therefore its seems to me that Hut 4 would not have dealt with Army messages, In fact, in October 1943 Hut 4, Naval Section was successfully hunting down the U-Boat threat in the Atlantic.

Returning to the Hut, Susan and Millie are conferring with Lucy. Stern supervisor Jean queries why they aren’t working and we learn that Susan has spotted ‘a code within the cipher‘. My colleague at work told me she didn’t really understand the difference so I though I’d give an explanation here. My more knowledgeable readers may raise an eyebrow or two at the simplistic explanation.

Susan has identified ‘Dietrich’ within the enciphered message. Deitrich is the code, which in this case is a word substituted for another word, ‘deploy’. This coded word is within a message which has been enciphered using a process of substituting each individual letter within the message for another random letter. In simple terms, this is what the Enigma cipher machine did with much success. So, Susan has identified that the German army are sending battle orders within a enciphered message and deploying the commands with the use of code word ‘Deitrich’.

‘Ultra’ is the cover name given to all special intelligence sent using high-grade (high security) codes and ciphers, such as Enigma.

Back to The Bletchley Circle we now know what the German Army are up to and the girls have single-handedly helped the Allies neutralise the threat.  It is true that such breaks helped the Allied campaign and some say that the work of Bletchley Park help shorten the war by at least two years.

Overall, I think the presentation of Bletchley Park was perfectly acceptable and done with great style. I really enjoyed the brief but atmospheric introduction to the characters in their World War 2 work at Bletchley Park. I also like that it has created a wonderful and unique backstory for the characters to solve the crime in post-war Britain. I look forward to watching their personal stories of growth as well as the dramatic storyline that is promised for episode 2.

Millie (from Series 1)

Millie (from Series 1)


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