I was excited to visit Bletchley Park with interpretation colleagues, as part of the AHI 2019 Conference. The visit fed both my personal and professional interests. I have long been fascinated by the story of the code breakers, and like many, have enjoyed watching the likes of The Imitation Game. On a professional level, it resonates with my recent work in telling the WWII mapping story at the National Trust’s Hughenden Manor, near High Wycombe.
It would be fair to say that I employed some of the same interpretive techniques at Hughenden (aka Hillside), albeit unknowingly. But there again it would have been hard not to given that Bletchley Park offers such a wide variety of experiences, there is something for everyone:
- immersive films
- digital interactives
- first person guided tours
- self-led multimedia tours
- reconstructed huts, including Alan Turing’s office
- fascinating permanent and temporary exhibitions
- and that’s just the stuff I managed to see!
Even though we visited on a weekday during term-time, the site was busy, not least with excited school children, who were also well catered for. Perhaps not surprisingly, I encountered some very familiar themes emerging from the two sites:
- secrecy was of paramount importance, with those involved not even spilling the beans to their nearest and dearest – for upwards of 50 years!
- the people who worked there were selected for their skills, many of whom were women
- for those involved, it was no picnic, although not being on the front line and social activities, were some compensation, no doubt.
The visit was also eyeopening in terms of dispelling some myths but also in the mind boggling scale of the operation, with 10,000 people having worked there, deciphering thousands of messages every day. Yet while Bletchley Park enjoyed anonymity, somehow Hughenden managed to appear high on the Germans hit list, even though ‘Hillside’ was a tiny operation by comparison. The verdict from myself and AHI colleagues seemed to be unanimous in congratulating the team at Bletchley Park for a first rate telling of the story and excellent visitor experience. So if you haven’t visited yet, let Bletchley be top of your target list!