Robert Birley

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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.


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.[1]

In 1949 he was appointed headmaster of Eton, where he remained until 1963. Also in 1949, he was invited by the BBC to deliver the annual Reith Lectures.[2] The radio broadcasts were titled Britain in Europe: Reflections on the Development of a European Society.[3]

Birley considered the history and future impact of Britain's increasing involvement with Europe. He subsequently became a visiting Professor at Witwatersrand University, South Africa from 1964-1967, and was Professor and Head of Department of Social Science and Humanities at City University from 1967-1971.[4] He wrote and lectured extensively on education, apartheid and human rights issues and the Robert Birley memorial lectures are a tribute to his contributions.

From 1968 to 1982 Birley was professor of rhetoric at Gresham College, London. He was President of the Bibliographical Society from 1979-1980.[5]

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.

Birley family[edit]

His grandfather, Arthur Birley (1834 - 1912), was the brother of Hugh Birley, who served as Member of Parliament for Manchester from 1868 to 1883.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anne Pimlott Baker, ‘Milchsack , Lisalotte [Lilo] (1905–1992)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 26 Nov 2015
  2. ^ Reith Lectures, BBC
  3. ^ Britain in Europe: Reflections on the Development of a European Society, BBC
  4. ^ - The Borthwick Institute for Archives, holds many of his lectures and research whilst visiting Witwatersrand University and City University
  5. ^
  6. ^ "David and Linda Birley Genealogies". 2002-4. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-10.  Check date values in: |date= (help) - features references to primary sources

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Claude Aurelius Elliott
Head master of Eton College
Succeeded by
Anthony Chenevix-Trench