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.