The first sixty five years: 1935 - 2000, by the late Sir Denis Wright
Although considerable public interest in Persia (as Iran was officially known in the West until 1935) was stimulated by Nasir ud-Din Shah's State Visit to Britain in 1873 and by G.N. (later Lord) Curzon's monumental two volumes on Persia published in 1892 it was not until 1909 that British friends of the country formed two Persia Committees - Parliamentary and non-Parliamentary - as pressure groups to support the Constitutionalists in Persia in their struggle against despotism. With the encouragement of the Persian Minister in London, Mirza Mehdi Khan, Mushir-ul-Mulk, these same men - Professor E.G. Browne, Lord Lamington, the Earl of Ronaldshay and Mr. H.F.B. Lynch MP - followed this up in November 1911 by forming the Persia Society of 22, Albemarle Street, London W1 as a non-political body designed "to promote the sympathy existing between the British and Persian nations". Lord Lamington was the President with a Council of seven - Sir Thomas Barclay, Rt. Hon. Sayed Ameer Ali PC, Professor E. G. Browne, W. A. Buchanan, General T. E. Gordon, H. F. B. Lynch and Sir Frederick Pollock. Lectures were given, some of them being published1, but in 1929 largely owing to the Persian Legation's lack of interest (Mirza Mehdi Khan, having left London in 1920), the Society was wound up and amalgamated with the Central Asian Society (now The Royal Society for Asian Affairs). The balance of the Persia Society's funds, totalling some £375, was placed in special trust to be used to promote the cause of Anglo-Persian friendship.
The success of The British Academy's 1931 Summer Exhibition of Persian Art at Burlington House stimulated public interest in Persia and played a part in the creation in 1935 of The Iran Society by a number of those who had been closely associated with the Exhibition. The choice of Lord Lamington, an old Oxford friend of Lord Curzon under whom he had served in India, as President, provided a link with the old Persia Society. Another important factor in the Society's foundation was the appointment in 1934 of Hussein Ala as Iranian Minister to the Court of St. James. Ala, whose eldest brother, Mirza Mehdi Khan helped create the Persia Society, had been educated at Westminster School and the Inner Temple, spoke excellent English, and provided much of the inspiration and drive that launched the new Society.
In this short history of the Society it is well to remember that its fortunes during the past sixty-five years have, from time to time, been affected by events beyond its control - World War II, the nationalisation of the British-owned oil industry in 1951, the consequent break in diplomatic relations in 1952-53, the fall of the Shah in 1979 and the souring of relations that followed.
According to the surviving Minute Books, the Society came into being on 19 November 1935 when a seemingly self-appointed Council meeting was held at the Iranian Legation, 10 Princes Gate, London2, under the chairmanship of H. E. Hussein Ala. The others present were H.E. Ali Ashgar Zarrinkafsh, Lord Lamington, Professor R. A. Nicholson and Messrs. Laurence Binyon, Alfred Bossom, E.H. Keeling and Basil Gray. They decided that Lamington should be the Society's first President, that a sub-committee should draw up a constitution and £1 charged for annual membership.
1 Lord Curzon's Persian Autonomy; Sir Mortimer Durand's The Charm of Persia; Professor E.G. Browne's The Literature of Persia and H.F.B. Lynch's The Importance of Persia
2 It moved shortly afterwards to 26, Princes Gate