Roger Levy’s history

​Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland

Roger Levy’s history of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland is a comprehensive and detailed record of the growth and development of R.I.B.I. from its beginnings in Chicago in 1905, through its establishment in Britain in 1911, to the present day.

Of particular interest will be the way in which Mr. Levy’s extremely readable account documents the changes that have taken place over the last seventy years. These changes reflect R.I.B.I.’s increased involvement in all aspects of community and vocational service and clearly show the lines along which the movement has developed since the early days of the Founder’s “Booster Club”.

The author has included a list of past Presidents of R.I.B.I. and a comprehensive list of Clubs together with the year of their foundation.

The book will thus provide a fascinating insight into the historical perspective of the movement. It will be of enormous value to the Rotarian and to the non-Rotarian.

Scans from a book in the collection of Jack Selway Featured here are the first few pages including the table contents. The book, published in 1978, is out of print, but available on the internet.

While Roger Levy’s book on RIBI was for many years the ‘bible’ for information about British Rotary, it became apparent at the dawn of the new century and the approach of the centenary of Rotary, that an up-date was necessary. Norman Proctor, a past District Governor and President of RIBI 2000/1 was the member who undertook this task. His work, Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland 1975 – 2005, brings the story of RIBI into the 21st century and is an excellent addition to the history started by Levy. It is profusely illustrated with pictures from a wide range of topics. The book, currently available from RIBI in Alcester, gives a fascinating insight into events and developments since 1975, perhaps the most interesting section being the one updating the founding of new clubs and the revision and creation of districts. RGHF senior historian Basil Lewis 21 July 2008

Front cover

Back cover

Signed by Levy

Roger Levy was born in 1910 and educated at Cheam School and Shrewsbury School. In 1931, after experience in advertising, publishing and magazine journalism, he joined the staff of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland, where, up till the outbreak of the Second World War, he worked first as editorial assistant and then as Assistant Editor of the Rotary publications. When he returned from war service, first in Civil Defence in London and then with the Royal Air Force in England and South East Asia, he was appointed Editor, and held that position until his retirement in 1975. For a period of five years between 1954 and 1959 he also acted as Deputy Secretary. This long span of service in the Secretariat not only gave him an intimate know­ledge of the events of forty-four years, but also brought him into personal contact with many of the pioneers of the Rotary Move­ment in Great Britain and Ireland.

He was elected a member of the Rotary Club of St. Pancras in 1954, and joined the Rotary Club of Bames after the move of the R.I.B.I. Headquarters from Bloomsbury to Mordakein 1966. He is now an Honorary Member of the Rotary Club of St. Pancras.

Since boyhood he has maintained an active interest in amateur music, as singer, instrumentalist and conductor. He is married, with two sons, and is a Freeman of the City of London.

Foreword by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh

Most people hear about Rotary at some time in their lives and of course a great many public-spirited men join the Clubs and help to make a valuable contribution to society. But how many people, members included, know anything about the origins and develop­ment of the Clubs since they were founded by Paul Harris in Chicago in 1905? How many appreciate the unique contribution made to Rotary International by the movement in Britain since it reached this country in 1911?

I am sure that the basic purpose of Rotary—Vocational Service—is understood by most people but it is certainly time that the strength and depth and width of this service over the last seventy years should be recorded for present and future members.

The very existence of Rotary Clubs illustrates a much-neglected fact of life. A community can only call itself civilised if all its mem­bers actively and equally share in the responsibilities of citizenship. The domination of one section of the community by another for whatever reason, be it political, doctrinal, economic or social can never be equated with true responsible self-government by all mem­bers of the community.

Rotary has been setting a splendid practical example of unselfish responsible service for many years and I hope this book will help to maintain this tradition long into the future.


This book is a quite remarkable achievement. It stems from a unique combination of ability and experience which no-one but its author could hope to emulate. To sustain the reader’s interest in what is a very factual and chronological account of a middle-class fraternity of business folk—a movement only seventy years old, and without the extreme emotive issues of politics, or the drama of great events— demands a real measure of literary ability. The book relies on no sensational disclosures; there are no career assassinations, no double-crossings and even the modest amount of intrigue is played down in a very gentlemanly manner. Indeed, by contemporary standards of journalism this really ought to be a rather dull book. But in fact the reader finds a fascinating account of a great social experiment, brought alive by the vivid personalities of the men who pass across its pages. The author’s account takes the reader along at a brisk pace and seldom does the weight of its material, and this is impressive throughout, slow down the rate of its progress. The wealth of Rotary information which the book contains and its readable style is bound to hold the interest of Rotarians, and even those who lack the stamina, in literary terms, to read the whole work right through, will find it an invaluable book to have on their shelves, to browse through or consult as occasion prompts.

The book is admirably written by a man who even before he turned to his sources was remarkably well informed. Roger Levy came to the Headquarters staff of the Rotary movement as long ago as 1931, and for over forty years he was at the centre of its organisation, editing its publications, and contributing enormously to the strength and success of its Secretariat. Throughout this long period there was no aspect of its affairs that he did not touch in one way or another, and hardly a Club he did not influence, either directly in person or through his articles and widespread correspondence. In this book he is writing about the things and about the men he knew first at hand, and about the things he was able to see in perspective and value as they really were—the weaknesses and illusions he recognised and described for “s, the hierarchy which often amused him, and the rank-and-file Rotarians whom he loved. His style, which we all know and like moving lightly from the wry smile to the touch of asperity—is well suited to his subject. He should be able to write this story well, and he has done so.

This is a very readable book. It is one we would all like to have written but few men could and certainly no-one as well as Roger Levy. It is a moving and successful tribute to the Rotarians for whom he gave a lifetime of service, for the most part by the inspiration of his writings of which this book is his latest and probably his best contribution. Certainly, it is the best of all testimonies to his long and distinguished Rotary service.

Howard Ensor, M.A. Past President, R.I.B.I. (1971-2) Trustee of the Rotary Foundation (,1975-7) Member of R.I. Youth Committee (1975-6) Chairman, Past Presidents’ Advisory Committee for R.I.B.I. (1976-7)


On my retirement, after over forty-three years of service in the Secretariat of Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland, I was commissioned by its General Council to write, in about 100,000 words, a “history” of the Association.

I realised then (and I realise it even more clearly now) that the history of “R.I.B.I.” could only be the history of the individual Rotary Clubs in the area. There are, at this moment, some 1,300 of them: which would have allowed me less than one hundred words for each, and no room for anything else. This was manifestly ridicu­lous. So I have tried to write an account of what has happened over a period of seventy years. There are few mentions of individual Clubs and few mentions of personalities (except in the case of the very early formations, to which a special interest attaches). Hundreds (literally) of remarkable events and services are omitted: there simply has not been room. Equally, I have thought it unlikely that anyone except a few constitutionalists would wish to read, in detail, of the convolu­tions through which the rules and regulations have passed. The long argument with “Rotary International”, however, it seemed necessary to describe rather more fully.

The things which have particularly interested me, and I hope that they will interest others, have been the reaction of the Rotary Move­ment in Great Britain and Ireland to a changing society; the Move­ment’s passionate delusions (as I see them) about its potential; and the fact that in spite of its dreams of saving the world, it has managed to keep its feet upon the ground and has instinctively insisted on remaining “local” and human.

The subtitle which I have chosen arises from a remark made by a waitress in a Brighton restaurant a quarter of a century ago. It had by then been fair comment for some forty years. My own experience convinces me that it is fair comment still. Also I believe that it remains something of a tribute to the Clubs, and to those who have governed their destinies. In spite of many temptations (entirely from within the ranks of the Movement) to become something quite different, Rotary has chosen, deliberately and consistently, to remain above all a fellowship, and to eschew almost everything that could damage that choice.

The result, in Great Britain and Ireland, has been the present 1,300 Rotary Clubs, with many more, no doubt, to come. Their light is hidden perhaps too deeply under the bushel, but gleams of it do escape, and Rotarians are admired, even envied, and regarded with affection as friends, both to themselves and to their communities:

“very nice gentlemen, really”.



My gratitude is due to a number of members of the Movement for special information—in particular to Past Governor Terence Duncan of District 116, who was preparing a history of Rotary in Ireland while I was writing this book. Among other kindnesses, he provided me with a photograph—probably the only one which now exists—of Stuart Morrow, who founded the first Rotary Clubs on this side of the Atlantic.

A special tribute should be paid to the late K. S. Jewson of Dereham, whose researches into the early history of the Rotary movement and its emblem have been invaluable.

My thanks go also to the members of the R.I.B.I. Secretariat, who patiently allowed me full use of their records and their knowledge, and to Miss E. M. Hope, my colleague for some forty years before her retirement, for deciphering my first draft and producing the final typescript.


Foreword Introduction Preface

Acknowledgments List of Illustrations

1. 1905-1911 I

The beginnings—Paul Harris—the first Rotary Club—the emblem—interest in civic needs—Chesley Perry—new formations—Arthur Frederick Sheldon—”He Profits Most who Serves Best”—the first Convention—the National Association of Rotary Clubs—The National Rotarian

2. I9II-I9I4 10
W. Stuart Morrow and formations in Dublin and Belfast—the Rotary Clubs of London, Glasgow, Manchester, Edinburgh and Liverpool—the Rotary Club of Brighton—the Rotary Club of Birmingham—Morrow’s return to America—Thomas Stephenson

—Arthur Sheldon in Scotland—the British Association of Rotary Clubs—the International Association of Rotary Clubs—affiliation to the International Association

3. 1914-1918 20

The First World War—The Rotary Wheel— war-time activities— the Bantam Battalion—the British Industries Fair—Sir Harry Lauder—R. G. Knowles—the Official Objects of Rotary— approaches to the Government—the Easter Rising in Dublin— extension in Great Britain—official recognition for the British Association of Rotary Clubs—America comes into the war—Govern­ment sponsorship for Convention delegates from Britain—the first District Councils—a salaried Secretary—the end of the war

4- I9I9-I920 37

A change of Editor—plans for the first B.A.R.C. Conference and an invitation to the international Convention—moves towards closer integration between the B.A.R.C. and I.A.R.C.—the Government asks for Rotary’s help—the 1920 railway strike—jobs for demobilised service-men—the first B.A.R.C. Conference—”British Rotary and and American Rotary”—re-Districting

5- 1921-1922 48 Palling attendances—”A Defence of the ‘B.A.R.C.'”—Vivian


Carter appointed Secretary—the first District Conference—the Edinburgh Convention—”The Seven Principles”—the title “Rotary International”—Rotary’s attitude to unemployment—sing­ing and the use of Christian names—a new international constitu­tion—”tax” and “dues”—the Business Methods Committee

1923-1926 68

The leadership and the rank-and-file—”Business Codes for Rotarians”—criticism of methods of electing officers of R.I.B.I.— ‘ ‘Resolution 34″ and Community Service—the BristolLittle Theatre

—the Weston Boys’ House—women and Rotary—the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley—legal advice for the poor— Esperanto—extension in London and in Europe—an invitation to the International Council Meeting in Chicago—the international aspect of Rotary—co-operation with the League of Nations Union— Trade Union officials in Rotary—the General Strike—an unofficial Rotary “Grace”

1926-1929 90 The Aims and Objects plan—the need for permanent head­quarters—”National Units”—George Bernard Shaw and Rotary— problems of finance—the Ostend Convention—Area Administration

—the first Round Table—W. W. Blair-Fish becomes Secretary— proliferation of Committees—the European Advisory Committee— help for “depressed areas”—Rotary and the Roman Catholic Church

1930-1933 III

A new publication—”the Kensington Case”—a Rotary Pensions Scheme—”Inner Wheel” in the official magazine—Area Admini­stration again—the first European Regional Conference—an International President from R.I.B.I.—the Vienna Convention— Royal Patronage for R.I.B.I.—a Peace Conference in Paris

—Councils of Social Service—the “Council on Legislation”— “Spending for Employment”—slum clearance—the “Leverton Plan”—events in Germany—the authority of the Editor

1933-1939 i34

Status and prerogatives of R.I.B.I.—the Committee on Rotary International Administration—humour in the R.I.B.I. magazine— Sir Norman Angell on “The Rotarian’s International Obligation”— the six Objects become four—Rotary views sought on “Education for Industry and Commerce”—District Representation on the Governing body—Hubert Banner becomes Secretary of R.I.B.I.— “Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland”—the outbreak of the Second World War

1939-1946 i47

The Clubs adapt to war-time conditions—”A Rotary War”?— encouragement of National Savings—Rotary in the Blitz—”The Inter-Allied Outpost of Rotary Clubs in Europe”—Reconstruction Committees—Tom Warren broadcasts to the Convention—Fred C. Hickson becomes General Secretary—America enters the war— a wartime “Assembly”—proposal for a London “House of Friend­ship”—Tom Warren elected President of Rotary International— the beginnings of UNESCO—Rotary and the General Assembly of United Nations

1946-1955 i66

Rotary revives in Europe—a visit to the Netherlands the Conferences resume—the Selection Advisory Committee—”Combined Ooerations”—the death of Paul Harris—revived interest in the Rotary Foundation and its work—Careers Exhibitions—the consti­tutional position of R.I.B.I. in Rotary International—Rotary Christmas Trees—week-end study courses—”Wireless for the Bedridden”—”Towards my Neighbour”—the Rotary mottoes— Clubs reformed in Germany—the future of the R.I.B.I. Conference _(he British Council for Aid to Refugees—aid to Greece—Rotary and the Roman Catholic Church—women relatives of Rotarians— alarm schemes for the elderly—floods in the West and East of England—public speaking competitions—the Paris Convention— Ronald Wordley becomes Secretary of R.I.B.I.—Youth Exchange _”the Four Way Test”—”Rotary House” opened in London

12. I956-I967

The first “legislative Conference”— a Convention at Lucerne— Rotary helps with emigration to Australia—the arguments between R.I. and R.I.B.I.—”World Refugee Year”—”Mental Health Year”—a new code for Vocational Service—joint meetings of leaders of service clubs—”Commonwealth Technical Training Week”—the Freedom from Hunger Campaign—the Abbeyfield Society—Voluntary Service Overseas—”Interact” and “Rotaract”

—”The Connecticut Trophy”—”Wish Weeks”—Clubs for retired business and professional men—the Ranfurly Library—the Aberfan disaster—new Headquarters for R.I.B.I.—Victor Dover becomes Secretary of R.I.B.I.—”Sheltered Shopping”—the argument with R.I. settled at last

13. I967-I975

Kidney machines and eye banks—”residential members”— Rotary calls together representatives of organisations for famine relief—”Project Local”—drilling rigs for Bihar—Mr. Enoch Powell

—the troubles in Northern Ireland—employment of the mentally and physically handicapped—”World Community Service”—a message from the Pope—new Districts—help for an Indian village— the Nicaragua earthquake—”Turf Accountancy “as a classification— the Lausanne Convention—William C. Carter as incoming Presi­dent of Rotary International—an air disaster in Switzerland— “The Future of Rotary”


A. Opinions and recommendations of the R.I.B.I. Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Rotary: 1974 Presidents, Secretaries and Editors: 1914-1975 Rotary Clubs in Great Britain and Ireland in the order of their formation: 1911-1975

RIBI and RI History of Districts