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From witnessing World War II code-breaking to causing uproars at the House of Lords

December 4th, 2014
05:54 PM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

Jean Campbell-Harris could never guess that she’d end up at Britain’s top secret code-breaking headquarters during the Second World War at the age of 18.

“The man who interviewed me to go to Bletchley, asked, first of all - do you speak French? Yes. Do you speak German? Yes. Speak Italian? Well you don’t have to learn Italian, all you do is add 'io' to the end of every word. And, you know, I was in,” the now 92-year-old Baroness Trumpington told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

Trumpington worked as a cypher clerk at Bletchley Park’s naval intelligence department. She transcribed messages from German submarines for the code-breakers, the most important one being the British mathematician Alan Turing, who helped crack the Nazis Enigma code but committed suicide after being put on trial for his homosexuality.

His life is now being celebrated in The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which the Baroness thought “was absolutely excellent.”

She does, however, “have one absolutely minor criticism that the girl who played the part of the girlfriend,” played by British actress Keira Knightley, “was far too pretty.”

“He [Turing] was incredibly important. In fact, he was our only hope,” the Baroness said, adding that “he was that brainy.”

“And the sad thing was that his private life ended then. Should never have done and wouldn’t do so this day. And I am forever grateful to the Queen and the prime minister for pardoning him and, if only - if only, you know, they hadn't been so awful that he killed himself.”

The Baroness was part of the campaign to get him pardoned because, she said, what they did to him “was so unfair.”

“His private life had nothing to do with his work, for one thing. And the two got somehow rather mixed up… it never should have happened.”

The feisty Conservative peer has lived an extraordinary life, and became an internet sensation in 2011 after flicking the two-finger salute to her friend Lord King when he brought up her age in a speech in the House of Lords.

“I thought he was bloody rude, frankly,” she told Amanpour.

“The noble lord was… having me on, of course. But he was making fun of noble baronesses such as me. And I took exception to it. But I thought I'd been terribly discreet.”

She explained that she has “never yet discovered where the cameras are in the House of Lords. So I have no idea that they were filming, and no idea at all.” And so, in the end, her reaction “wasn’t so discreet, as I discovered.”

She is also known for her love for cigars, having even picked up a lifetime achievement at the Spectator’s Cigar Smoker of the Year awards a few weeks ago.

“I loved cigars. I think I'm very lucky to be alive and have a voice. But I loved the cigars, that was the ritzy side of life.”

Trumpington was brought into government and made a life peer at the House of Lords by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, with whom she “got along extremely well.”

“And I never gave into her because I had a role, really, and that was to argue with her.”

This role, she said, “was important because it gave” the Iron Lady “her ammunition for when she was going to talk to other people who might have similar views that I held.”

“So I had… a role in a rather funny way. But she was awfully good to me, awfully good.”

Trumpington, who’s half American, thinks women shouldn’t be separated from men in government and Parliament jobs. But as to whether the next U.S. President should be a woman, she replied firmly: “if she's up to the job!”

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