Sir Reginald ('Rex') Leeper was a British government propagandist with the Foreign Office News Department and then the Political Warfare Executive. He is recognised as the founder of the British Council.
An Australian by birth, he entered the UK Foreign Office in 1920 and in 1929 joined the News Department, which was responsible for information work overseas.
Persuaded of the importance of what he termed 'cultural propaganda' in promoting Britain, he persuaded Foreign Office colleagues to fund this work, and in 1931 arranged lecture tours and book donations to nearly 30 countries. In 1933 he contributed to the setting up of a Cultural Relations Committee - with the Board of Education and the Department of Overseas Trade, and in 1934 founded the organisation which was to be renamed the British Council.
Leeper continued to promote the the new organisation within the Foreign Office until 1938, when he was appointed to head the Political Intelligence Department and was thus in charge of the Political Warfare Executive.
After his retirement in 1948 till his death in 1968, he held the honorary position of Vice President of the British Council, and continued to take an interest in its work and development.
Pressuring the BBC
In 1935, during the last months of the coalition National Government, the BBC’s Adult Education Advisory Committee recommended a 12-part series to explain the political system. It was to be called The Citizen and his Government and was to include seven general talks and five party political ones. Three of these would be by Conservative, Labour and Liberal spokesmen, but there would also be contributions from Sir Oswald Moseley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, and Harry Pollitt, founder-member and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
The BBC’s Board of Governors under its Chairman Ronald Collet Norman gave formal approval and an outline of the series was sent by Colonel Alan Dawnay, Controller of Programmes, to the Foreign Office, which objected to Pollitt. Ten years earlier, Pollitt had been jailed for seditious libel. And, at a time when there was still widespread fear of Communism, he had just come back from Stalin’s Moscow, where he had addressed a meeting of the Third International. On 13 September 1935, Rex Leeper, of the Foreign Office’s News Department, contacted Dawnay and urged him to drop Pollitt.
Arguing for a 'Reactionary' policy in Greece
- While the British hoped to use ELAS against the Germans, they also attempted to build up a right-wing counterbalance to the Left. Rex Leeper, the British ambassador to George II, sent a memorandum in July 1943, arguing that Greece could be saved for the British Empire and that Britain's "postwar influence in the Eastern Mediterranean may depend very much on our success in doing so." To achieve this he insisted that "we must pursue a somewhat reactionary policy."(4) This was, of course, not something with which British Governments have ever had a problem! On this occasion, however, British difficulties were increased by Churchill's personal commitment to George II, who was deeply unpopular in Greece for his association with Metaxas. Churchill insisted on a royalist restoration, even though this drove much of the Greek middle class (republican in sympathy) into the arms of EAM and the Communists. Indeed, British support for the monarchy eventually provoked a mutiny in the Greek army and navy units serving with the British in the Middle East. This provided an excuse for a purge of unreliable left and liberal elements (thousands of Greek servicemen were interned for the duration of the war), leaving only one loyal reactionary unit, the Mountain Brigade.
- ^ David Wilby The Citizen and His Government 1935 With its Charter up for renewal, the BBC backs down in a confrontation with the government about giving Communists and Fascists a chance to explain their political beliefs.
- ^ John Newsinger Churchill, Stalin, and the Greek revolution - British Prime Minister William Churchill; Joseph Stalin, Monthly Review, April, 1999