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Lord of the spy rings anybody?

By This is Gloucestershire  |  Posted: September 15, 2009

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A new display at one of the world's most exclusive museums reveals Lord of the Rings could have been Lord of the Spies.

Exhibits at GCHQ's museum showed that JRR Tolkien, creator of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, was 'keen' to join GCHQ's forerunner, the Government Code and Cypher School

Historian at the Cheltenham intelligence base, Tony said the GCCS started preparing for war in the late 1930s.

He said: "With the involvement of the Germans, Italians and Soviet Union on either side of the Spanish Civil war in 1936 war was coming and they could see the complexity of the electronic encryption that would be used.

"The GCCS moved to Bletchley Park in August 1939 from London to avoid the expected bombing.

"They had been inviting people from universities to come for courses so that when they were needed there would a be a cadre of trained people.

"Alan Turing was one person and the list shows that he had three courses just on Enigma in January 1939, so they knew what sort of skills they needed."

Tolkien, a professor in Anglo Saxon at Oxford, was also invited for courses in Scandinavian languages and Spanish, and although a pencilled note in the record books says he was 'keen', no records can be found to show that he went on to work for Bletchley Park during the war.

Tony joked: "We don't know why he didn't join. Perhaps it was because we declared war on Germany and not Mordor."

Tolkien's involvement with GCCS is revealed in a new exhibition about the preparation for the Second World War at Bletchley Park.

But it's not an exhibition that anyone can see - the top-secret museum is only open to the Doughnut's 10,000 staff.

The curator of the museum displays Annette said: "A lot of these papers have been lent to us by the National Archives. Almost everything on Bletchley Park up to the end of the Second World War has now been released, so is available to anyone to look at. In the National Archives, I hasten to add, not here."

The displays in the foyer and in the main central street of the 'doughnut' in Benhall range from the start of British Signals Intelligence right up to date.

Tony said: "We have the Jane's Fighting Ships used in Admiralty Room 40 in the First World War, and you can see every time a German ship was sunk they crossed it out.

"We also have a display on James Ellis who invented public key encryption. This is the technique that allows you to buy things securely on the internet. It was invented by James Ellis in 1969 though we didn't say anything about it until 1997."

GCHQ also lends many of its artifacts to other museums, with eight of its Enigma Machines, including the one stolen and returned to Jeremy Paxman on permanent display at Bletchley Park Museum in Buckinghamshire.

Chris Marshall, head of the press office at GCHQ, said: "The museum is important to give people a sense of the past and where they come from. We give tours to new entrants and we often see staff looking at displays and chatting about them

"It's about our past but also about where we go in the future."

Opinion, p8

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