A World War II codebreaker, who worked at the famous Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, famous for being the location of the world's first computer and where the German Enigma machine was cracked by the British (although a certain Hollywood - U-571) movie shamelessly depicts Americans cracking it), has been killed in a car crash...

Wartime code breaker dies in motorway crash

8th July 2007

Respected professor Donald Michie who died in a car crash

Eminent: Dame Anne McLaren , who died with her husband

An academic who was instrumental in breaking enemy codes during the Second World War has died in a car crash.

Professor Donald Michie, 84, was killed when his vehicle left the M11 as he travelled home to London from Cambridge.

His ex- wife Dame Anne McLaren, also a respected academic, was in the car with him and also died.

Witnesses said that the pair's black Fiat Punto left the motorway, plunged down an embankment and hit a tree. Professor Michie worked at Bletchley Park, the Buckinghamshire base where scientists deciphered German war codes between 1942 and 1945.

He contributed to the effort to solve Tunny, a complex German teleprinter cipher machine.

It was at Bletchley Park the Enigma cipher was broken. Experts say this shortened the war by two years (though a Hollywood movie depicted American soldiers breaking it).

The story was later used as the basis for a best-selling book and film. Professor Michie later became director of the University of Edinburgh's Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception.

He was founder and editor-inchief of the Machine Intelligence series of journals and has been described as a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence.

Despite his advancing years he was still very active, continuing to give lectures on intelligence.

Dr McLaren was similarly eminent. A leading geneticist, she became the first female officer of the Royal Society, holding the post known as foreign secretary from 1991-1996. She was made a DBE in 1993 and, although she turned 80 this year, continued to tour the world to speak at genetics conferences.

She was also a member of the Warnock Commission, advising on ethical issues in the use of genetics, and a fellow of King's College and Christ's College, Cambridge.

The couple worked together at University College London during the 1950s, and although they divorced in 1959, remained close and still shared a home in Camden, North London.

Their son, Jonathan, said: "This is a tragic event, especially since Donald was preparing a major lecture to be delivered at the University of Edinburgh on the history of machine intelligence.

"The one consolation in the case of Anne is that her 80th birthday this year had been widely celebrated and honoured."

Professor Michie and Dr McLaren leave three children. He also has a son from another marriage.

Police said no other vehicles were involved in the crash, at about 4.20pm on Saturday, between junctions six and seven on the southbound carriageway in Essex.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Jul 9th, 2007 at 04:59 AM..