Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech at dinner celebrating 50th anniversary of the British Council

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: THCR 1/17/117 f3: speaking notes
Editorial comments: 2000.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 916
Themes: Arts & entertainment, Foreign policy - theory and process, Terrorism

It has been said that life begins at 40 and that when you reach the age of 50 your troubles are over. Many of us would confirm that this is an over-optimistic view. I dare say that the British Council will have to face many challenges in the years ahead.

But that does not detract from the solid achievement of the past 50 years. The Council is right to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It has much to be proud of. And I am proud to host this dinner tonight in the Council's honour. [end p1]

The celebrations of the anniversary have been splendid. The Queen has graciously consented to visit the Council headquarters and to meet the staff. The Prince of Wales gave a reception at Kensington Palace. Music was celebrated by a Royal performance at the Festival Hall. English language and literature has been remembered by a special conference, as have the library services. [end p2]

The celebrations have taken place not only here but abroad. The Royal Shakespeare Company's tour is one example. I have no doubt that those in Prague who were able to see the first production of Shakespeare since the 1968 uprising will remember it as a unique experience and will have taken hope from it.

That is one example of many notable events which the British Council has organised in pursuit of its purpose to promote an enduring image of Britain abroad. It has been a memorable first fifty years. I much look forward to reading the history of the Council that Lady Donaldson has [end p3] researched. We are delighted that she is here tonight.

The distinguished guests here this evening all have connections with the British Council in one way or another. Some of you may even know by heart the original words of the Council's Charter, which referred in its first paragraph to the promotion of English language abroad and the development of closer cultural relations with other countries. As you know, following the Seebohm Report, a simpler interpretation of the Council's aims was agreed—to “promote overseas an enduring understanding and appreciation of Britain through cultural, educational and technological cooperation.” [end p4]

We British are aware of our history: we know of the long struggle for freedom and the establishment of the rights of the individual and of the democratic process.

When we project the image of Britain abroad we are imparting our values, our beliefs, our faith, our matchless language and literature.

In the last 50 years the Council, through its great programmes involving the exchange of peoples and ideas, has distributed our beliefs very widely. [end p5] There must be men and women in every country of the world who have spent time in Britain as students or visitors and received an insight into our way of life: or who have learnt about Britain and our ways through the work of British Council Representatives abroad: or who have leart to speak English through the Council's English language teaching programmes.

This is certainly to Britain's advantage. It is also to the advantage of the whole free world. In far too many countries there is no freedom. In others, freedoms are a privilege not a right. [end p6]

Though we have had our moments of doubt and difficulty, we have kept the flame of liberty alive. Our country remains an example to those who are less fortunate. The job of passing on the values of Britain and our society is and will remain of fundamental importance.

It is not always easy. The terrible instruments of international terrorism have been used against the Council abroad as they have been used against us here. In the midst of our celebrations tonight we should remember the murder of the Council Representative in Athens in March. [end p7] That, and recent events in Brighton, are an affront to all the values we stand for. They make us the more determined to proclaim those values in which we believe so strongly.

Recent years have not been easy ones for the Council in financial terms either. But it is at the difficult times that leadership counts. The Council has been fortunate indeed to have as its Chairman for the last five years, Sir Charles Troughton. [end p8]

He has the enviable reputation of being one of the few men who have come to me asking for more money and got what he asked for! We made a bargain, and he has stuck to it. Desdemona: If I do vow a friendship I'll perform if to the last article.

Sir Charles has not, of course, done it all singlehanded. He has had the help of a Board of dedicated and distinguished individuals to back him up, some of whom are here tonight. We owe all the members of the Board a great debt of gratitude.

Let me also pay tribute to the Director-General, Sir John Burgh. [end p9] He has had the burden, at a time of tight controls on all forms of Government expenditure, of keeping costs down, and productivity up. The high morale of the Council today is a testimony to his success.

Denis and I have often visited British Council offices on my overseas visits. written by MT in margin: Isfahan, China, Greece, Lisbon.

I have always been impressed by the dedication and professionalism of the Council staff, and by their standing and reputation with the people of their host country. [end p10]

Looking back over the 50 years since the Council was first formed it is clear that a great deal has been achieved. As always, much remains to be done. The world is changing. Britain is changing, and this means constant adaptation. The future will remain a challenge. It is one that I am confident the Council will be willing and able to meet.

I ask you to raise your glasses and drink a toast to the British Council, the next 50 years.