THE ANGLO-PORTUGUESE SOCIETY – 70 YEARS OF HISTORY

In 1938 a group of business men in London with interests in Portugal planned a dinner in honour of the newly arrived Portuguese Ambassador , Dr. Armindo Monteiro.

The affair held at The Dorchester Hotel on May 19th grew into a splendid occasion, attended by over three hundred people with the Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Lindley presiding[i]. The Rt. Hon. Lord Harlech was amongst those who made speeches, after which all those present agreed that something more tangible should be established to reflect the unique relationship between Britain and Portugal.[ii]

Thus on 20th July 1938, with the help of a generous grant from the Portuguese Government, the Anglo-Portuguese Society was formally constituted as a charitable body at the Casa de Portugal[iii] in London. Dr. Armindo Monteiro agreed to be its President as has every Portuguese Ambassador appointed to London since then.

Various distinguished people agreed to be Vice-Presidents and an Executive Committee was formed whose Chairman was Sir Denison Ross. Lieutenant Colonel John Cross Brown DSO was appointed the Honorary Secretary, a post he held for twelve years before serving as Chairman for a further seventeen. Viscount Davidson, Sir Alexander Roger, Colonel Bernard Hornung and Mr. Francis Woodhead were all other notable figures involved in the Society’s foundation.

The aims of the Society were laid down : to foster the historic relationship between Britain and Portugal by developing the knowledge of people in Britain about Portugal, its people and culture. According to the Rules this was to be achieved by

a) the establishment and support in London of a Library of Portuguese and British books, newspapers and periodicals and Language classes;

b) exhibitions, demonstrations and illustrations of the intellectual, artistic and economic life of Portugal;

c) lectures, conferences and functions.

The first lecture took place on 26th January 1939 when the renowned historian and Portuguese scholar Professor Edgar Prestage addressed members. The following month a Portuguese Fortnight took place in London with the active participation of the Society and in May that year a Library was started in the Casa de Portugal. The outbreak of World War II obviously meant activities were curtailed, but a luncheon was held at the Vintners Hall in July 1940 in connection with Portuguese Centenary Celebrations ; the Guests of Honour were Lord Halifax, Foreign Secretary, and Lord Lloyd, Colonial Secretary. In that same year the Society issued its first Bulletin, and The Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Lindley took over as Chairman.

Portugal was hit by a cyclone in April 1941 and Society members were quick to respond by raising £4,000 for its victims. The following August the Anglo-Portuguese News, an English language newspaper published in Portugal, was circulated to members.[iv]

The end of hostilities meant that in 1946 the Society could expand. They held their first Annual Dinner on 25th November, with the British Prime Minister, The Rt. Hon. Clement Attlee as Guest of Honour. This event has taken place almost every year since then, the Guest of Honour is always approved by the Society’s President and a range of distinguished British and Portuguese personalities, from different walks of life, have been invited to attend and to speak. To name but a few: Ernest Bevin, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Lord Home, Lord Carrington, Sir Stephen Wall, Sir Cliff Richard, Dr. Jaime Gama, Dr. Durão Barroso, Dr. Francisco Pinto Balsemão, Prof. Diogo Freitas do Amaral, Dr. Rui Vilar, Engo. Belmiro de Azevedo. In 1955 Viscountess Davidson was the first lady to be asked to speak. Mr. Winston Churchill and Dr. Oliveira Salazar sent messages to the Society to be read out at dinners in 1951 and 1953 respectively.

The Society’s Annual Dinners have always been their principal social and fund-raising function. The first ones were held at The Dorchester or Savoy Hotel, the latter then becoming the favoured venue until 1982. The earliest dinners were white tie affairs attended by several hundred members and guests, nowadays dinner jackets are worn. In 1963 the 17th Annual Dinner held to celebrate the Society’s 25th Anniversary was combined with a Ball, and since then members and guests have had a yearly opportunity to socialize, wine, dine and dance at these occasions. British Royal guests have included HRH Princess Anne accompanied by her husband Captain Mark Phillips in 1979 and Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales who in1986 attended The Treaty of Windsor Ball organized by the Society at Osterley Park. Mention should also be made of the special dinner held at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall in 1988 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Society’s foundation and of HRH The Duke of Bragança’s presence at the Annual Dinner held at The Langham Hilton in 1996. Since 2000 the event has taken place at The Landmark Hotel and it is the generous sponsorship of so many banks, companies and institutions with Portuguese connections that ensures it remains a popular and enjoyable evening.

Over the years social functions tended to be either dinners or receptions (many for visiting dignitaries) and for some time until 1973 there was an Entertainment Sub-Committee. In 1974 the Executive Committee decided to set up two new committees in order “to diversify the activities and attract new members”. These were the Ladies Committee and the Younger Members’ Committee. The latter started with Society member R. D. Eastaugh in the chair, two other members of the Society along with four members of the Anglo-Brazilian Society made up the committee. Their first year got off to a flying start, with a river party on a Thames launch & two Wine tours to Northern Portugal organized for members of both societies at a reduced cost. The Wine tours were so successful they were repeated in 1975 and that same year a Supper Party at Hurlingham and two Cheese and Wine parties were also well attended. In 1985 they organised four activities which included The Christmas Carnival Ball at The Hurlingham Club. This attracted a total of 360 members and their guests. By this time the events the Younger Members were organizing were generating enough income for a donation of £770 to be paid to worthy charities connected with children in either Brazil or Portugal, a tradition which has continued until the present day. Any Carnival Ball that has taken place since has been most successful, that in 1996 was attended by 600 people, and that in 1998 raised £4,000 for charity, to quote but two examples. In 1990 the Committee became known as the BrasiLusans. Fado evenings, Caiparinha , Brazilian beer and Christmas parties, these are just some of the other events the BrasiLusans have laid on. In 1998 at the A.G.M members amended the Objectives of the Society to include the relief of poverty: the intention of this change was to enable the BrasiLusans to raise funds for charities in this field too and in 2000 they also offered a large grant to Canning House Library, for the purpose of acquiring more Portuguese and Brazilian books.

The Ladies Committee chaired by Lady Mary Ross started its activities in 1975 with a visit to Stratfield Saye House where members and guests were shown round personally by the Duke of Wellington. Various activities ensued in subsequent years, then in 1982 the committee held their first Ladies Buffet Lunch (to which gentlemen were always welcome !). These remained a popular fixture until 1997. In 1990 the first New Year reception was held at Canning House, again organized by this committee. Since then this occasion has opened the Society’s calendar of events each January – the Ladies do an excellent job of providing members with delicious home-made canapés, the Portuguese Embassy is prevailed upon on to supply petiscos and there is always plenty of wine. In 2005 having been in the chair for 30 years Lady Ross retired, and in 2006 was awarded with “O Grau de Comenda da Ordem do Infante D. Henrique” by the President of Portugal for her services to Anglo-Portuguese cultural relations.

Since 1939 talks and lectures have taken place covering a huge range of subjects connected with Portugal, its current overseas territories and former colonies. Members have been addressed by diplomats, politicians, historians, art historians, writers, journalists, artists and other speakers, all knowledgeable in their particular field. Talks on Portuguese wines have always been popular, particularly if combined with a tasting ! Recitals and concerts have taken place at Canning House and other venues as have art exhibitions. Executive Committees, past and present, have always tried to ensure that each year’s programme is a full, varied and interesting one.

In 1972 the Society paid its first official visit to Portugal, the 39 members of the party included two former Ambassadors. They went to the Algarve and Lisbon and received VIP treatment everywhere, a highlight being the reception given by the President of Portugal in their honour. In February 1974 the first official visit to Madeira took place, and similar treatment ensued. Since then intermittent trips to Portugal have been organized. In addition to sightseeing, private visits and generous local hospitality have become hallmarks of such tours.[v]

As well as mailshots, over the years members were issued with regular Bulletins to keep them in touch with Society events, activities and other matters of Anglo-Portuguese interest. Thanks to sponsorship from the Gulbenkian Foundation[vi] these bulletins developed into a quarterly Newsletter initially known as TAPS in 1984/5. A more sophisticated computerised version which also generated income from advertising was first published in 1995. This was produced 2-3 times a year until 2003, since then it has been issued twice yearly. As well as relevant news, articles, reviews and advertisements are included. Sponsorship from Caixa Geral de Depósitos, enabled the Society to develop its own website and go “online” in 2006. Now anyone can read the Newsletters and be kept informed of everything that the Society has to offer by logging on to: www.angloportuguesesociety.org.uk.

In accordance with its educational aims, in 1947 the Society was instrumental in forming a Portuguese Language Committee in co-operation with the Anglo-Brazilian Society and Luso-Brazilian Council. A subsidy was then given to Portuguese language classes until 1997. In 1993 when the University of London & Assessments Council decided to discontinue GCSE Portuguese exams, the Society joined other institutions in making representations to reverse this decision, as a result of which the Ministry of Education provided funds enabling the exams to be held for a few more years. Over many decades further encouragement has been provided from the Prize Fund which awards prizes for educational attainment in Portuguese studies; one of these is an annual prize of £500, granted since 1990 to the best student[vii] of Portuguese, to be awarded in turn by the Departments of Portuguese in different universities throughout the United Kingdom.[viii]. For anyone wanting to further their knowledge, an excellent selection of books on both Portuguese and Brazilian subjects is available at Canning House, these are available for members to consult or borrow free of charge.[ix]

Clearly all that the Society has been involved in since its foundation 70 years ago could not have been achieved without the dedication and hard work of its Chairmen and committee members, all of whom have given freely of their services.[x] Initially the post of Secretary was an honorary one. The Honorary Secretaries dealt with the administration of the Society from their offices, the last one being Mr. John Moryson who worked at Electra House, London headquarters of the Lisbon Electric Tramway Co.[xi] A takeover meant that a new venue was needed. Fortunately space was available at Canning House which also had rooms suitable for functions, lectures and talks. Centrally situated in Belgrave Square and conveniently near the Portuguese Embassy it was, and remains, ideal for the Society’s needs, and the move was made possible thanks to grants from the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Portuguese Government. Thus in 1970 Mr. Moryson handed over the administration to Miss Ann Dunbar who became the Society’s first paid Secretary, employed part-time.

In 1971 the Executive Committee decided that “due to the greater volume of work taken on by the Society” its Secretary should be employed full time. This was affordable due to the fact that the Portuguese Government kindly agreed to donate £2,000 per annum to help with administration costs thus ensuring that the amount received from subscriptions could be devoted to cultural activities. Over the ensuing years this grant was gratefully received and gradually increased until 1997 when it totalled £4,000 . In 2002 it was reduced to £2,000 and then withdrawn altogether in 2003 due to austerity measures being taken in Portugal and much to the chagrin of the Portuguese Embassy in London who have always been very supportive. This loss of income dealt a severe blow to the Society’s finances. The Chairman Mr. Roger Westbrook sent out an SOS Newsletter to members asking for help by giving voluntary donations, recruiting new members (particularly in the Corporate Friends category) and attending fund-raising events. By February 2004 the Society was “in the black – just” with its finances described in the Newsletter of May that year as “fragile”. Several weeks later at the AGM Mr. Gavin Trechman took over as Chairman; he and his committee continue trying to balance the books by attracting more new members and encouraging greater attendance at all the functions. It must be added that since 1990 the Society has been fortunate to have the services of Miss Ann Waterfall as its Secretary ; her contribution to Anglo- Portuguese cultural relations received public recognition in 2003 when she was awarded with “O Grau de Dama da Ordem do Infante D. Henrique” by the President of Portugal.

Currently there are about 500 members of the Anglo-Portuguese Society, this figure includes those in the Corporate Friends, Life and Overseas categories. As well as enjoying the benefits that membership of their own organisation brings, they are able to take advantage of the close links it has forged with the Caledonian Portuguese Society[xii], the Gulbenkian Foundation, the British Historical Society of Portugal, the Portuguese Chamber and other UK/EU Societies.