British Council

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Group.png British Council   WebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
British Council logo.svg
FounderUnited Kingdom Government
HeadquartersLondon, United Kingdom
TypeCultural Institution
The British government's cultural propaganda body.

Official Narrative

The Council used to carry a discussion of the its own history on its website which states:

The British Council was founded as an organ of international propaganda. During the late 1920s an influential group of civil servants became convinced that ‘British’ values of parliamentary democracy could be subsumed by the rising tide of fascism. Their response was the British Committee for Relations with Other Countries, which became the British Council. Particular Council initiatives included the teaching of English, but political messages always came along with the language tuition[1]

Its Chair is Neil Kinnock, the former leader of the Labour Party. It answers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


The British Council aims to build mutually beneficial cultural and educational relationships between people in the United Kingdom and in other countries, and increase appreciation of the United Kingdom's creative ideas and achievements. Its overseas network extends over 110 countries. British Council libraries have however been closed in a number of countries judged of little strategic importance to the Council as it refocussed its activities on China and The Gulf. Council offices were closed in Lesotho, Swaziland, Ecuador and provincial Lander in Germany in 2000/2001 - as well as Belarus - prompting Parliamentary criticism; and there is currently a threat to British Council operations in Peru. Around 65% of its income is self-generated through teaching English, conducting examinations and managing aid and development projects. The remainder of the funding is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is providing a grant of £186.2 million for the year beginning 2005.

Founded in 1934 as the British Committee for Relations with Other Countries, the British Council was inspired by Sir Reginald ("Rex") Leeper's recognition of the importance of "cultural propaganda" in promoting Britain.

Board of Trustees 2005

  • Neil Kinnock The Rt Hon Lord (Neil) Kinnock of Bedwellty Chair of the British Council
  • Gerard Lemos CMG, deputy chair of the board of trustees, Lemos and Crane Consultancy training, research and publishing Generalist Member of Audit Commission
  • Zeinab Badawi, member of the board of trustees, Broadcaster and journalist
  • Professor Timothy O'Shea BSc Phd, member of the board of trustees, Principal and Vice-chancellor, The University of Edinburgh
  • Charles Grant, member of the board of trustees, Director, Centre for European Reform
  • Rick Haythornthwaite, member of the board of trustees, Chief Executive, Invensys plc.
  • Sir Michael Jay KCMG, member of the board of trustees, Permanent Under-Secretary of State and Head Diplomatic Service, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • Jude Kelly OBE, member of the board of trustees, Founder and Artistic Director of Metal
  • Professor Lord Robert May of Oxford OM AC Kt PRS, member of the board of trustees, President, The Royal Society
  • Rabbi Julia Neuberger DBE, member of the board of trustees, broadcaster and project consultant
  • Dr Andrew Cubie CBE FRSE, Partner, Fyfe Ireland WS Solicitors

Past Chairs

Past Chairs of the British Council have been:

  • 1934 – 1937 Lord Tyrrell
  • 1937 – 1941 Lord Lloyd
  • 1941 – 1945 Sir Malcolm Robertson
  • 1946 – 1955 Sir Ronald Adam
  • 1955 – 1959 Sir David Kelly
  • 1959 – 1967 Lord Bridges
  • 1968 – 1971 Lord Fulton
  • 1971 – 1972 Sir Leslie Rowan
  • 1972 – 1976 Lord Ballantrae
  • 1977 – 1984 Sir Charles Troughton
  • 1985 – 1992 Sir David Orr
  • 1992 – 1998 Sir Martin Jacomb
  • 1998 – 2004 Helena Kennedy
  • 2004 – Lord Kinnock


In 2005, along with the Alliance française, the Società Dante Alighieri, the Goethe-Institut, the Instituto Cervantes and the Instituto Camões, the British Council was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for outstanding achievements in communications and the humanities.


Among the initiatives conceived by the British Council is the Connecting Futures programme.

The British Council also has its detractors and is seen in some quarters as being one of the least accountable public bodies in the United Kingdom. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee is amongst recent critics.[2]

Elton Awards

Since 2003 the British Council has awarded the "English Language Teaching Innovation Awards" ("Eltons"). These awards tend to be presented to academics and publishers for their latest ELT-related work. In 2006, a school was presented with this prize for the first time. Camden College of English was awarded an ELTON for English Language Cultural Experience, a course where all the lessons take place in London's museums and galleries.

Business partners

Referred to as 'clients' on the British council website

Accenture | Air India Ltd | Allied Domecq plc | Anglo American plc | Alsop Architects Ltd Arup | AstraZeneca plc | BAE Systems plc | Balfour Beatty | Barbican Centre | Barclays Group plc | BG plc Binnie Black & Veatch Ltd | Bloomberg LP | Bovis Lend Lease plc | BP plc | British Airways plc | British Sky Broadcasting Group plc | BT Group plc | Cable & Wireless plc | Cadbury Schweppes plc | Cambridge University Press | Cox & Kings Travel Ltd | Daimler Chrysler | Davis Langdon & Everest | Deutsche Bank | DHL International Diageo plc | EMI Group | Ericsson Ltd | Ernst and Young | Eurostar Group | Foster Wheeler Group | GKN plc | GlaxoSmithKline plc | Halcrow Group | Hilton International Hotels | HSBC Holdings plc | Hyder Consulting | IBM | ICI plc | J C Bamford Excavators Ltd | Jaguar Ltd (Ford) | KLM | Royal Dutch Airlines | KPMG | Kvaerner Group plc | Lloyds TSB | London Stock Exchange | MacMillan Publishing Ltd | Marconi Corporation plc | Marks and Spencer plc | Marriot Hotels and Catering | MG Rover Group Ltd | Millennium & Copthorne Hotels Group | Motorola Ltd | Mott MacDonald Group Ltd | NM Rothschild and Sons Ltd | Nortel plc | Northern Electric plc | Oberoi Hotels | Oxford University Press | Pearson plc | Pirelli plc | PowerGen plc | Pricewaterhouse Coopers | Prudential plc | Renault | Reuters Holdings plc | Rio Tinto plc | Rolls-Royce plc | Ronald Joyce | Royal & Sun Alliance Insurance Group plc | Shell Group of Companies | Sheraton Hotels | STA Travel | Standard Chartered plc | Thames Water plc | The Telegraph plc | TRW Automotive Systems Ltd | University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate | Virgin Group | Visa International | Vodafone plc | Volkswagen AG | Xerox[3]




  1. Nicholas J Cull Propaganda? British Council Website. Accessed 29th January 2008
  2. See: for details of some recent Council scandals.
  3. British Council client List