The Turing Teddy Bear


This morning, I drove my son to school and pulled up in the school road.

And we were in a tearing hurry. But everything stopped for quite a minute, as Felix strapped Bumpy The Elephant into his passenger seat.

It was a solemn business. It took a good while, because Bumpy is a tiny  fraction of Felix’s height, and a seat belt didn’t come naturally. But he succeeded. And for the rest of the day- an unbelievably trying one – I would look at the passenger seat and nod to Bumpy, my partner in crime.

But Kate, I hear you say, he’s just an amalgam of stuffing and velour, a once glorious child’s toy which has been loved into shabbiness. And I would answer: Mate, this morning at 9am, in a very posh suit indeed, I was roasted in a very important meeting. And as a consequence, no-one is prizing that small blue elephant from my car. He’s Bumpy, and he’s in my team.

Back off.

I mention this because I am not the only grown up who occasionally sets store by the strange menagerie of cloth creatures who inhabit the houses of man.

I was wandering the huts of Bletchley Hall on Saturday. Bletchley: the place where the government’s Code and Cypher School was run during the war. Here, some of the finest minds of the time tackled challenges which ultimately helped win the war. Here, the codes generated by the German Enigma Machine were decrypted.

And in this bastion of grown up-ness, what should I come upon but a great big teddy bear.

Porgy sits in a glass case, and I can’t help thinking he must be a little lonesome in there. He is there because one day, long ago, that genius and inventor of the first computer, picked him up in a toy shop. And he was not a youngster when he bought Porgy. He was all grown up.

He used to practice his lectures in front of Porgy, it is said, while at Cambridge. And one Christmas, say the signs at Bletchley Park, he delighted a niece – Shuna Turing –  with a gesture of pure childlike elation.

“My mother, “she recalls, “Alan’s sister-in-law, made me a little skirt with braces and red buttons and as a surprise, I woke up the next morning to find Porgy wearing matching trousers, braces and buttons.

“Porgy has worn them ever since – approximately 67 years.”

Just occasionally, a cuddly toy can acquire significance, even when we are grown up.

As Bumpy and Porgy so ably demonstrate.



35 thoughts on “The Turing Teddy Bear

  1. The adventures of Bumpy and Turing. Wouldn’t that make a fitting book title? Or, How Turing Helped Win the War. It is late here on the Cutoff. My mind gets all stuffy this time of day, especially when thinking about stuffed bears. Fun, Kate.

    1. Yes: peers can be unforgiving, especially at public school.
      Shame: I know several high powered executives with major companies who have a small battered teddy bear at home.

  2. Lovely post – my mom has a pooh bear that is indispensable, and I’m not above having a few of my childhood teddy bears (and an elephant, too) perched on shelves to watch over me!

  3. The harder the mind works the more it needs toys. Sometimes the simplest things mean the most to us when the world beats us down. Bumpy sounds great. And so does Porgy.

    Of course this is coming from an old guy who plays with trains and has Doctor Who toys lined up behind his desk. And yes, I have a bear. Winnie the Pooh. Have had him forever and he is still my hero.

    1. You are in great company, Michael. I spent the first eight years of our marriage helping Phil kit out a tiny ‘n’ gauge railway for our small house in Kent. We love trains. And Dr Who is just a way of life. Phil walked in and informed me this morning that this is the 40th anniversary of the death of Roger Delgado, the man who played the first Master in Dr Who. Sigh.

      1. I had not realized that. Will have to lift a glass in his honor this evening. The Master is one of my favorite characters.

        And as a combination, I do have a t-shirt with a Tardis on it with Doctor Pooh emerging! 🙂

  4. Surely Babbage is the inventor of the first computer?
    I still have two bears, a zebra, and have just added Mother’s sheep and giraffe to the soft toy menagerie.

    1. Isobel, thank you – of course I meant the first electronic digital computer. I shall be communing with Babbage about publishing an apology and settling out of court presently 🙂

  5. Bumpy the Elephant! I love that name. Porgy must have heard quite a few interesting lectures in his day. And he looks very dashing in his braces and trousers and fancy red buttons.

  6. You and Phil are both softies when it comes to stuffed animals, eh? Hope your day today is a bit less trying.

    BTW: How’s your 4-3 diet plan working? Have your switched it for a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 plan with alternating days of diet and digging in?

  7. Hope you’ve recovered from your nasty meeting.
    All the best people have a bear – or in my case a panda!

  8. And, indeed, reports from the Amateur Radio service were received and interpreted 🙂 Love the ” Mate, this morning at 9am, in a very posh suit indeed, I was roasted in a very important meeting. ” bit. They try that with me and they get very short shrift but then they’ve all been to university and I haven’t so they’re suddenly off their patch and find themselves caught out! Oh, and the fact that I’m an engineering grade rather than a manager helps too 😉 I think it’s good that you have a little friend to lend you support – I trust my instinct most of the time but I always have the fallback of my hobbies and interests if it’s a really bad day. Boys Toys and Girls Toys may differ in shape, cuddleability, etc (and can be interchangeable between the sexes) but we all need them 🙂

  9. A stuffed animal is a wonderful way to hold onto a bit of the child in each of us…my grandmother occasionally bought a bear or bunny, saying they were for the children, but I don’t think that was the whole story. 🙂 I love the image I’ve created of Felix and Bumpy. It’s a very sweet friendship!

  10. Lovely story… and somehow, knowing that Alan Turing had the comfort of a teddy, slightly eases the ache of knowing how miserable he must have been…
    I love the way children take them so seriously… when my daughter-in -law moved house, I had to take my eight year old grand-daughter’s numerous dollies, and put them in the back seat of the car to drive them to the new house. She wouldn’t hear of them being packed up – they had to have fresh air – so there they all were in the back of my ca, breathing fresh air!

  11. Hello, I was wondering if you have a reference for the story about Alan Turing’s bear. I’m writing a paper and have seen this story a lot but no one references where it came from. I have also seen a conflicting story in a few places that states that Alan’s mother bought him the bear… Thanks you any help you can give.

    1. Hi Melissa, apologies – I write this a very long time ago! My information comes from interpretation at Bletchley Park, where the bear is held. A quick communication with them should clarify things. Keep me posted!

  12. I write this on the verge of my 86th Birthday. My late wife, Barbara and I collected Teddy Bears and other cuddly toys, especially Pandas.I find that they constantly remind me of the happy days I spent with Barbara. Also, I am a Friend of Bletchley Park and a great admirer of Alan Turing – not forgetting all the other code-breakers who helped win the War. Robert Worley.

    1. Robert, Happy Birthday when it arrives, and what a wonderful convergence of concerns. The teddy bear is a lasting symbol to so many of us of comfort, security, and the childlike in us all- the panda , for me, even more so. I’m taking a moment to celebrate the time you and Barbara had together, and the collection which remains to remind you of your nearest and dearest. Relationships in which two people are so aligned are rare. Peace 🙂

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