Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

News > Alumni Stories > Remembering Bill Tutte

Remembering Bill Tutte

The "legendary code-breaker" Bill Tutte was a student at Hills Road - then known as Cambridge and County High School for Boys

Bill Tutte (14 May 1917 - 2 May 2002)
Bill Tutte (14 May 1917 - 2 May 2002)

Only recently have the astonishing achievements of Bill Tutte during the Second World War come to light. Bill Tutte was responsible for one of the greatest codebreaking achievements of Bletchley Park during WW2 when he cracked the Lorenz cipher, also known as the Tunny, which was used to communicate by the highest ranking German generals including Hitler. He was also a pupil at Hills Road, then called Cambridge and County High School for Boys.

Tutte was born in Newmarket on 14th May 1917.

He won a scholarship in 1927 but for family reasons did not attend that year. The next year he took the same examinations and again won a scholarship, leading him to start his study at Cambridge and County High School for Boys.
When remembering his time at the school, Tutte quoted:

“I remember with pleasure my courses in English history. But I was chiefly interested in the scientific subjects, including mathematics. One stimulus that seems to me supremely important came from outside the regular curriculum. In the school library I came upon a copy of Rouse Ball’s Mathematical Recreations and Essays [Ball 1892]. There I found much information about graph theory and more general combinatorics. I read the basic theory of the Four Colour Problem and a discussion, without proofs, of Petersen’s work on cubic graphs. This was my first encounter with the subject in which I was later to specialize.”

“In 1933, at the age of sixteen, I had to decide whether to leave school or to stay on for another two years, preparing for University. I stayed on, my scholarship continuing.”

After finishing at Cambridge and County High School for Boys - now Hills Road Sixth Form College - in 1935, Tutte went on to study Natural Sciences at Trinity College, Cambridge. He regularly attended the lectures of the Trinity Mathematical Society and it was here that his interest grew. His Professor referred him on for an interview at Bletchley Park and he started there in 1941.

At Bletchley Park, Tutte contributed immensely to their achievements. Despite never having seen the machine before, Tutte was able to deduce the structure of the Lorenz cipher. This machine produced Tunny ciphers, which converted messages into cipher by their attachment to the output of a teleprinter. It was Tutte who worked out the theory for breaking the Tunny ciphers (some say this was a greater achievement than Turing's!). This was critical as it provided the Allies with top secret information on Hitler’s military strategy!

Tutte's work all led to the construction of the "British Tunny", a replica of the Lorenz machine, which was later replaced by the Colossus. This machine was designed by Tommy Flowers, with major input from Max Newman and others. However, without the work of Tutte this would not have been possible.

Tutte later went on to become a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) and sadly died on 2nd May 2002. 
A memorial was unveiled in September 2014 in Tutte’s hometown of Newmarket to publicly recognise and commemorate his achievements as a ‘legendary codebreaker’.

D. H. Younger, Royal Society Publishing, 2012
Biographical Memoirs, William Thomas Tutte. 14 May 1917-2 May 2002  [pdf]  [Accessed 11th November 2015]

Similar stories

Stable Block

Farewell to the ‘Stable Block’

A new three-storey building, which is planned for completion in spring 2016, will replace the out-dated huts, otherwise known as the ‘stable block’. More...

Georgia (in green jacket) with Friends
5 Questions with Georgina Elsey

Georgina answers 5 questions and shares some interesting stories and photographs from her time at Hills Road. More...

Cambridge and County School June 1924
College records have been archived

Bringing the Cambridge and County School for Boys and Hills Road Sixth Form College’s archives together into a catalogue… More...

Les enjoying nature and taming the wildlife in Australia
Greetings from Down Under!

Les Zietara (alumnus 1949-1955) talks about his life since Hills Road and his new life in Australia More...

New Building Frame
New Building Update

An update on how the new building at Hills Road is progressing. More...

Most read

Max Rushden with current Hills Road students
Interview with Max Rushden

An interview with successful 'Sports Journalist', Max Rushden. Rushden, speaks about life at Hills and how he managed to make a simple interest in foo… More...

Ollie Perry (2014-2016)
5 Questions with Hills Road Alumnus Ollie Perry

Aspiring marketing professional Ollie shares some stories from his time at Hills Road and his plans for the future More...

Jack Merritt
The tragic loss of former Hills student, Jack Merritt

We are deeply saddened by the sudden and untimely death of 25-year-old Jack Merritt, former Hills Road Sixth Form College student from 2011 to 2013. More...

Have your say

This website is powered by