Sir Robert Birley KCMG (14 July 1903 – 22 July 1982) was an English educationalist who was head master of Charterhouse School, then Eton College, and an anti-apartheid campaigner. He acquired the nickname "Red Robert", as even his moderate liberal politics caused concern for the conservative members of the Eton school of governors. His predecessor, Claude Aurelius Elliott was appointed provost and in his capacity as chair of the board of governors, living next door to Birley, he was able to keep an eye on Robert.
Birley was educated at Rugby and Balliol. He began his career as a history master at Eton in 1926 and in 1935 was appointed as headmaster of Charterhouse. During this time, he was the principal author of the Fleming Report of 1944 on the relationship between the public schools and mainstream education.
In 1947, after the Second World War, he became Educational Advisor to the Control Commission in the British Zone in Germany, responsible for educational reconstruction, and played an important role in the rewriting of Nazi history textbooks, removing their racist bent. From 1947 to 1949 he gave important support to Lilo Milchsack who formed the Anglo-German Association to improve post-war relations. Birley returned to support these efforts after he left Germany in 1949.
In 1949 he was appointed Head Master of Eton, where he remained until 1963. Also in 1949, he was invited by the BBC to deliver the annual Reith Lectures. The radio broadcasts were titled Britain in Europe: Reflections on the Development of a European Society.
Birley considered the history and future impact of Britain's increasing involvement with Europe. He subsequently became a visiting Professor of education at Witwatersrand University, South Africa from 1964 to 1967. In 1967 he was appointed Professor and Head of Department of Social Science and Humanities at City University a post he held until 1971. He wrote and lectured extensively on education, apartheid and human rights issues and the Robert Birley memorial lectures are a tribute to his contributions.
His biography, Red Robert: a life of Robert Birley, by Arthur Hearnden, appeared in 1984. A collection of his writings, History and Idealism: Essays, Lectures, Sermons and Letters of Robert Birley, appeared in 1990, edited by his son-in-law, Brian Rees.
- Routledge, Norman. "The Eton Headmaster – 'Red' Robert Birley". www.webofstories.com. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
- Anne Pimlott Baker, Profile: "Milchsack, Lisalotte 'Lilo' (1905–1992)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (2004), oxforddnb.com; accessed 26 November 2015.
- "The Reith Lectures". BBC Radio 4. 2016-02-02. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
- "- The Reith Lectures, Robert Birley: Britain in Europe: Reflections on the Development of a European Society: 1949". BBC Radio 4. 1949-11-14. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
- "gb193-bir - Sir Robert Birley; Papers, Mostly on South Africa". Archiveshub.ac.uk. 2005-04-18. Retrieved 2016-04-28.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on August 4, 2009. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
- "David and Linda Birley Genealogies". 2002. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 10 August 2007. - features references to primary sources
- Page on Birley family genealogy
- Robert Birleys papers regarding anti-apartheid campaign can be found at Borthwick Institute, University of York
- Newspaper clippings about Robert Birley in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)
Claude Aurelius Elliott
| Head Master of Eton College
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