Full NameJoan Elisabeth Lowther Clarke Born24 June 1917 (1917-06-24) West Norwood, London, UK Other namesJoan Clarke Murray (1952-1996) Known forCodebreaking at Bletchley Park in WW II
Numismatism AwardsBritish Numismatic Society Sanford Saltus Gold Medal (1986) DiedSeptember 4, 1996, Headington, Oxford, United Kingdom SpouseJohn Kenneth Ronald Murray (m. 1952–1986) Alma materNewnham College, Cambridge ParentsWilliam Kemp Lowther Clarke, Dorothy Clarke Similar PeopleAlan Turing, Conel Hugh O'Donel, Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley
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Joan Elisabeth Lowther Murray (neeClarke; 24 June 1917 – 4 September 1996) was an English cryptanalyst and numismatist best known for her work as a code-breaker at Bletchley Park during World War II. Though not personally seeking the spotlight, her important role in the Enigma project against Nazi Germany's secret communications earned her awards and citations such as being appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1947.
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Early years and personal life
Joan Elisabeth Lowther Clarke was born on 24 June 1917 in West Norwood, London, the youngest child of Dorothy (nee Fulford) and the Rev. William Kemp Lowther Clarke, a clergyman. She had three brothers and one sister.
Throughout her life, Clarke had a number of hobbies that became passions such as chess, botanical work, and knitting.
Clarke attended Dulwich High School for Girls in south London and won a scholarship to attend Newnham College, Cambridge where she gained a double first degree in mathematics and was a Wrangler. She was denied a full degree, however, which Cambridge awarded only to men until 1948.
At Bletchley Park
In June 1940, Clarke was recruited by her former academic supervisor, Gordon Welchman, to the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). She worked at Bletchley Park in the section known as Hut 8 and quickly became one of the practitioners of Banburismus, a cryptanalytic process developed by Alan Turing which reduced the need for bombes. Hugh Alexander, head of Hut 8 from 1943 to 1944, described her as "one of the best Banburists in the section". Alexander himself was regarded as the best of the Banburists. He and I. J. Good considered the process more an intellectual game than a job. It was "not easy enough to be trivial, but not difficult enough to cause a nervous breakdown".
Clarke became deputy head of Hut 8 in 1944. She was paid less than the men and believed that she was prevented from progressing further because of her sex.
Relationship with Alan Turing
Clarke and fellow code-breaker Alan Turing became very good friends at Bletchley Park. Turing would arrange their shifts so they could be working together, and they also spent a lot of their free time together. In the spring of 1941, Turing proposed marriage to Clarke and subsequently introduced her to his family. After admitting his homosexuality to his fiancee, who was reportedly "unfazed" by the revelation, Turing decided that he could not go through with the marriage and broke up with Clarke in the summer of 1941.
Clarke and Turing had been close friends since soon after they met, and continued to be until Turing's death. They shared many hobbies and had similar personalities.
After the war
After the war, Clarke worked for GCHQ where she met Lieutenant-Colonel John Kenneth Ronald Murray, a retired army officer who had served in India. They married on 26 July 1952 in Chichester Cathedral. Shortly after their marriage, John Murray retired from GCHQ due to ill health and the couple moved to Crail in Scotland. They returned to work at GCHQ in 1962 where Clarke remained until 1977 when she retired aged 60.
Clarke was a gifted numismatist. She established the sequence of the complex series of gold unicorn and heavy groat coins that were in circulation in Scotland during the reigns of James III and James IV. In 1986, her research was recognised by the British Numismatic Society when she was awarded the Sanford Saltus Gold Medal. Issue #405 of the Numismatic Circular described her paper on the topic as "magisterial."
Later years and death
Following her husband's death in 1986, Clarke moved to Headington, Oxfordshire, where she continued her research into coinage. During the 1980s, she assisted Sir Harry Hinsley with the appendix to volume 3, part 2 of British Intelligence in the Second World War. She also assisted historians studying war-time code breaking at Bletchley Park. Due to continuing secrecy among cryptanalysts, the full extent of her accomplishments remains unknown.
On 4 September 1996, Joan Clarke Murray died at her home in Headington.
1947: Appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).
1986: Awarded the British Numismatist Society's Sanford Saltus Gold Medal for her research into coinage in circulation during the reigns of kings James III and James IV of Scotland.
Portrayal in adaptation
Clarke was portrayed by Keira Knightley in the film The Imitation Game (2014), opposite Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing. Turing's surviving niece Inagh Payne described Clarke as "rather plain". Payne thought that Knightley was inappropriately cast as Clarke. Biographer Andrew Hodges criticized the script for having "built up the relationship with Joan much more than it actually was."
However, an article by BBC journalist Joe Miller stated that Clarke's "story has been immortalised." In terms of the film itself, director Morten Tyldum has argued that it shows how Clarke succeeded in her field despite working in a time "when intelligence wasn't really appreciated in women."