Fantasy Imitation of John Cairncross in “The Imitation Game”

Gayle Brinkerhoff found “The Imitation Game” to be the fantasy portrayal of her late husband John Cairncross who was an Enigma code breaker at Bletchley Park. John Cairncross was born in 1913 to a working class family in Lesamahagow, Lanarkshire. He completed his B.A. degree in two years at Trinity College, Cambridge. Later he went to University of Paris. He stood first in his class in the civil service examination as a result of which he was placed to a Foreign Office. At the age of 82 he got married to 39 years old American born Gayle Brinkerhoff who is an opera singer and a music teacher. He died in the year 1995.

Recently in a movie named “The Imitation Game” Gayle heard that her husband’s character is portrayed. Though she has yet not seen the movie but believes that the job which her husband did was not that easy to portray on small screen. It has nothing to do with fantasy. In fact his job was beyond fantasy.

John later in his life became an intelligence officer. It is because of him the Soviet forces could get more than 5000 documents during the Second World War.

The film revolves around the story of Alan Turing, an Enigma codebreaker whom Winston Churchill admired for his ways of work at top secret Bletchley Park whose single contribution helped to win the war beside Cairncross. According to Gayle it was just for showing the espionage story the film portrayed the character of her husband John Cairncross.

She said: “There is a whole chapter on Enigma, where he documented why he decided to deliver the ciphers left on the ground to the Russians. John’s memoirs allow him to speak for himself about what happened.” She said it was her husband’s memoirs “document the prolonged and torturous self-examination” that led him to pass USSR the information in 1943. And this process of passing information is described as a crime, the Daily Record reports.

The USSR got the updates of the location and the strength of the Luftwaffe by his using of Enigma decrypted papers. She said: “These enabled the Red Army to win the battle of Kursk, which proved a turning point in the war.”

“At Bletchley, John was in a unique position to affect the course of the war and told me he would have felt tormented in later years if he had led this opportunity pass.”

Here in this movie her husband’s character is played by Allen Leen who is a Downtown Abbey star. As described to Gayle in the movie the character who plays her husband’s role “becomes a great friend” to Alan Turing, played by Hollywood star Benedict Cumberbatch. And the tension started to develop only “when John’s idea of how to go out about winning the war is not in line with that of the others at Bletchley Park.”

Gayle said that the movie is completely based on fiction. She said: “I haven’t seen the film but his role in it, as described by Allen Leech, is fantasy.

“John was at Bletchley Park but did not work with Alan Turing. To my knowledge, John did not even know Alan Turing.

“Turing was a mathematician at Bletchley Park, while John was a linguist and worked as a translator.

“John worked in Hut Six as a translator or editor, recording corrupted text – Turing worked in Hut Eight. From what I know, the translators and mathematicians didn’t hang out with each other.

“People who worked on separate projects at Bletchley were kept apart. John is not a part of the Turing story.”

“He doesn’t deserve any fictional portrayal – his memoirs give the facts. I really am baffled as to why John would be included in this film.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE