HRH The Prince of Wales with British Ambassador Kate Smith CMG and British Council staff at the Higher Education Forum on Transnational Education on 10 May 2018
HRH The Prince of Wales with British Ambassador Kate Smith CMG and British Council staff at the Higher Education Forum on Transnational Education on 10 May 2018

The British Council is the world’s leading cultural relations organisation with over 80 years of history and more than 100 offices across the world. The British Council has been operating in Greece since 1939 and our Athens office is one of the oldest in the world.


  • In 1937 the British Council sends Professor H. V. Routh to Athens to investigate avenues of cultural exchange.
  • Professor Routh is appointed to the Byron Chair of English Literature at the University of Athens in 1938 and in the same year takes on the role of Director of the Anglo-Hellenic League, through whose premises at 9 Ermou Street much of the British Council’s operations are conducted.
  • In 1939, following an intense period of staff recruitment, the British Council inaugurates English lessons on the premises of the Anglo-Hellenic League, by now renamed the Institute of English Studies (IES). Demand for the Institute’s English language courses exceeds all expectations: 4,500 students are accepted and a separate annexe is set up in Filellinon Street for children’s classes.
  • Among the varied group of teachers and lecturers recruited during this period are a number of budding writers. These include historian Douglas Dakin; novelist, poet, dramatist and travel writer Lawrence Durrell; writer Robin Fedden; author and travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor; literary critic, biographer, novelist, travel writer and poet Robert Liddell; poet, translator and editor Bernard Spencer; and literary critic Terence Spencer.
  • A. R. Burn, the distinguished historian of ancient Greece, takes over from Professor Routh as Director of the Institute and later also becomes the first person to simultaneously hold the title of British Council Representative.
  • Further Institutes of English Studies are established in Thessaloniki, Corfu, Kavala, Patras and Samos.
  • During its brief functioning before the war (1939–41), the British Council expands its operations in Thessaloniki and Corfu, establishes bursaries for Greek students, provides books for Greek schools, sends theatre and musical companies to Greece, and even provides a football coach for the Athens team.


  • Following a gap in operations of over three years due to the Second World War, the British Council resumes its work in Greece in 1945, re-opening its Institutes in Athens and Thessaloniki, and establishing regional directorates in Patras, Corfu, Mytilene, Chania and Kalamata.
  • Shortly after re-opening, the Institute of English Studies in Athens is split up and a separate British Institute of Higher Studies (BIHS) is established in an elegant neoclassical building at 17 Plateia Filikis Eterias (Kolonaki Square) offering diploma tuition, lecture courses and study groups, while the main British Council office is relocated to 4 Vasilissis Sofias Avenue.
  • Although the British Council in Greece is short of staff, furniture and textbooks, demand for English language lessons is even greater in 1945 than in 1939: the Institute in Athens receives a record number of 7,815 applications in its first week – of which 3,651 are accepted – while the Institute in Thessaloniki registers over 3,500 students.
  • By the end of the decade the British Council is solidly established as the leading provider of English language instruction in Greece.


  • In 1951 the Anglo-Greek Cultural Convention is signed, aiming to strengthen relations between the two countries by promoting cultural, educational and scientific co-operation. The agreement further reinforces the British Council’s role as an educational and cultural organisation of the highest standards.
  • In 1958 the British Council becomes the first authorised examination centre in Greece for the Cambridge English Qualifications.


  • The British Council building in Kolonaki Square is completely renovated in 1962 to better meet the needs of its ever-expanding operations. The new premises open in 1964 and comprise offices, classrooms, exhibition and lecture halls, and a library. The British Council focuses on supporting English language learning and by the mid-1960s the teaching operation is again flourishing.
  • The British Council continues to operate successfully throughout the turbulent early 1960s and the difficult years of the 1967–74 dictatorship, when it even gains popularity as a safe haven. One of its primary tasks remains to strengthen the bonds of Anglo-Greek friendship and its cultural work continues with all its customary variety.


  • 1974 is a decisive turning point in the political life of Greece, with the collapse of the dictatorial regime and the restoration of democracy. The work of the British Council continues to flourish and enhance its reputation among the Greek people. The decade is characterised by a rich and varied cultural programme, which includes lectures, exhibitions, recitals, concerts and film screenings.
  • In 1977 Greece is in the throes of an important political event: its accession to the European Economic Community (EEC). There is an ever-increasing demand for learning English at the time and the English language teaching operations are expanded considerably.
  • The 1970s is also the decade when technology makes a decisive appearance at the British Council. In March 1973 the Athens office acquires its first photocopying machine. A few years later, it is equipped with state-of-the-art film and slide projectors, and in 1979 a telex machine and air conditioning are installed.


  • The 1980s is a decade of further steady expansion for the British Council. The demand for English classes continues to grow and there are occasions when people form long queues so as to secure a place on an English language course. At the same time, the cultural programme is thriving: the British Council brings – or assists in bringing – prestigious orchestras, theatre groups and ballet companies to Greece, many of which tour the provinces in addition to performing in Athens.
  • In 1984 the British Council celebrates its 50th anniversary worldwide. In Greece, the occasion is marked with a full cultural programme, which includes memorable performances by the New Shakespeare Company, a piano recital by Robert Brightman and a lecture by the renowned scholar of Byzantine Studies and former British Council Representative Sir Steven Runciman.
  • In 1985 Athens is proclaimed the first European Capital of Culture and the British Council contributes to the festivities with a variety of high quality events, including a performance of Coriolanus by the National Theatre and a British Council exhibition entitled A Woman’s Place: The Changing Picture of Women in Britain. Curated by acclaimed British writer Diana Souhami, the exhibition tours to thirty countries and Souhami later publishes a book based on the exhibition.
  • In 1985 the British Council joins the anniversary celebrations marking 2,300 years since the foundation of Thessaloniki by Cassander in 315 BC with a performance by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.
  • In 1989 IELTS testing and the first Study UK Exhibition are launched in Greece.


  • In 1990 the British Council becomes the exclusive administrator of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) examinations in Greece.
  • In 1995 education counselling and support services for studies and professional training in the UK are launched.
  • In 1997 the British Council takes part in the Thessaloniki European Capital of Culture programme with an exhibition of the sculpture series Trojan War by the British sculptor Anthony Caro and a performance of King Lear by the National Theatre. In the same year, the Thessaloniki office inaugurates its new Information Centre.


  • In 2002 the Athens office in Kolonaki Square is extensively renovated to meet the needs of a modern cultural and educational centre.
  • In 2004 the British Council trains over 300 English-speaking volunteers for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and is presented with a special award by the Athens 2004 Language Services department acknowledging the valuable work done towards the Olympic Language Volunteers Programme, the largest volunteer programme ever organised in Greece.
  • In 2006 the online Education Agent Training programme is launched.
  • In 2007 FameLab, the world’s leading science communication competition, is launched in Greece.
  • In 2008 the Advantage Member Scheme is launched, offering integrated services to private schools and language centres. In the same year, the Thessaloniki office moves to its new premises in the Platia Commercial Centre.
David Beckham, official ambassador for the London 2012 Olympic Games, meets school children at the University of Athens Experimental Primary School on 17 May 2012, the day after the Olympic Flame Handover Ceremony
David Beckham, official ambassador for the London 2012 Olympic Games, meets school children at the University of Athens Experimental Primary School on 17 May 2012, the day after the Olympic Flame Handover Ceremony



  • In partnership with Megaron (The Athens Concert Hall) and the British Embassy in Athens, National Theatre Live is launched, bringing the best of British theatre to Greece via satellite broadcast.
  • New Religion, acclaimed UK artist Damien Hirst’s first solo exhibition in Greece, opens in Thessaloniki and Athens.
  • The Artists in Dialogue with the Benaki Museum programme is inaugurated and artists are invited to create original works ‘in dialogue’ with the Museum.


  • The Made in Britain exhibition at the Benaki Museum features around 150 works by a wide range of artists from the British Council Collection, reflecting the breadth and diversity of British art throughout the thirty-year period 1980–2010.
  • The British Council joins the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of the great British writer Charles Dickens with a series of cultural events as part of the global Dickens 2012 programme.
  • London hosts the Olympic Games and the British Council in Greece welcomes Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London 2012 organising committee, and David Beckham, official ambassador for the games, to Athens for the Olympic flame handover ceremony and a series of educational and cultural events.


  • The UK is Guest of Honour at the Thessaloniki International Book Fair. The British Council invites a delegation of nine award-winning UK writers to the fair and organises a rich programme of literary and cultural events, including talks, book presentations, readings and workshops.
  • The International Creative Writing Summer School is launched in partnership with the Kingston Writing School and Kingston University.
  • The Athens office initiates its first partnership with a private school and now works with three schools in the wider Attica area in the provision of English language courses.


  • The Athens Science Festival is launched. Co-organised by the British Council, the festival has established itself as the leading platform for showcasing UK innovation in education, science and technology.


  • The British Council enters strategic partnerships with HSBC, Samsung and Microsoft, facilitating the implementation of an inspiring educational and skills development programme for more than 150,000 pupils in 1,000 schools.
  • The winner of the first IELTS Award in Greece is announced. The Award, which is worth up to a maximum of £10,000, aims to help high calibre individuals pursue undergraduate or postgraduate studies at institutions of higher education in Greece or abroad.
  • The Cambridge CELTA course – leading to a globally recognised professional qualification in teaching English – is launched at the Kolonaki Teaching Centre.


  • Shakespeare Lives, a year-long programme of cultural and educational events and activities celebrating William Shakespeare’s work on the 400th anniversary of his death, is launched.
  • The educational programme Language for Resilience, delivered in partnership with UNICEF at the Skaramagas Learning Centre, gives 600 children living at the Skaramagas refugee site the opportunity to learn English and develop essential life skills.
  • The professional development programme Transforming Future Museums is inaugurated with the support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The programme aims to boost the museum and heritage sector in Greece by enabling it to respond to the challenges and possibilities of a new era.


  • The winners of the first Study UK Alumni Awards in Greece are announced at a prestigious award ceremony at the British Ambassador’s Residence. The Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of alumni and showcase the impact and value of UK higher education.
  • The Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season launches, bringing screenings of opera and ballet productions to cinema audiences in Greece from the stage of the Royal Opera House in London.
  • As part of the National Strategy for Social and Solidarity Economy, the British Council provides technical support to the Greek Ministry of Labour in collaboration with the European Commission.


  • The British Council takes part in the UNESCO 2018 World Book Capital initiative with a programme of cultural events and activities in partnership with the Municipality of Athens.
  • As part of his official state visit to Greece, HRH The Prince of Wales joins the Higher Education Forum on Transnational Education, aimed at strengthening the longstanding educational relations between Greece and the UK.
  • HRH The Duchess of Cornwall visits Kaisariani Monastery in Athens and participates in an educational activity on the theme of children’s books along with primary school students from one of the British Council’s partner schools.
  • HRH The Duke of Kent visits Thessaloniki on the centenary of the First World War, which the British Council commemorates with the educational programme for schools Salonika Remembers in partnership with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).


  • The British Council marks its 80th anniversary in Greece.
  • Organised in partnership with Onassis Culture and Fashion Revolution, the Crafting the Future programme brings excellence and expertise in crafts together with UK innovation and new technologies as applied to fashion and design, paying particular attention to the issue of sustainability.
  • The computer-delivered IELTS test is launched.

‘In these eight decades, without exaggeration, the ties of both Greeks and Britons on personal, academic and professional levels would not be so strong and fertile without the key contribution of the British Council. Not only in Greece but throughout the world, the British Council brings together hundreds of thousands of people through culture, science, the arts, and, of course, the language of my country. And through all this, it accomplishes something more: it creates bonds, opens up horizons, cultivates interest and – dare I say – the love between our two countries.’

British Ambassador Kate Smith CMG

External links