Obituary: W. R. Lee

W. R. Lee had probably the best-known address in the English-teaching world. For many years he ran the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL) from a private address in Hounslow, and combined that with editing English Language Teaching (now ELT Journal) for Oxford University Press. Almost single-handed, without any institutional base, he turned round amateur traditions (familiar to us through Isherwood in Berlin or Burgess in Malaysia) and established the EFL profession that we know today as one of Britain's greatest exporters of services.

Bill Lee graduated from University College London, having studied under the phonetician, Daniel Jones, in 1933. He trained as a teacher at the Institute of Education in London, and taught in schools in Britain until the Second World War. During service with Military Intelligence, a crash from his motor-cycle caused every button to be stripped from his uniform.

After the war he taught in Czechoslovakia, married Zdena, obtained his PhD in Prague, and began a long connection with Eastern European foreign language teaching. One offshoot of this was the authorship, jointly with his wife, of Teach Yourself Czech. Another was a long-standing concern for English as an emancipatory activity, and for the needs of English teachers in countries without freely negotiable currency. Returning to Britain, he taught at the Institute of Education where he had trained, and took an MA at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

But his prime concern was the international profession of English teaching. For 20 years from 1961 he edited ELTJ, and during the same period founded IATEFL and ran it with a small and dedicated team of volunteers. Bigger organisations, like the British Council, publishers, and the London Institute of Education became increasingly active in EFL, but none of them matched his vision of a world-wide, altruistic and professionally informed teaching force. He was prepared to be a thorn in the flesh of any institution that blocked (as he saw it) support for teachers. Equally, he criticised teachers who lacked respect for ideas and for serious analysis of their task.

The needs of language- learners themselves were Lee's central concern. Textbooks and dictionaries for students, books of ideas and principles for teachers (on topics as diverse as language-teaching games and technical English) supplement-ed his work as an examiner. Only when new generations of professionals were ready to take over the institutions he had created did external recognition come, though the transition to newer leadership required considerable persuasion of someone whose energy and appetite for work had by no means diminished. His appointment as OBE in 1979 was a just reward for selfless effort, but he was prouder of passing his driving test in London at the age of 70.

In his mid-eighties he was still campaigning to ensure recogni-tion by the British government for supporters of the English language overseas. He lived to see both the journal and IATEFL thrive in new hands, and gave support to writers and teachers right up to the end.

An enthusiast for many of H.G. Wells's visions, he was also an active supporter of the World Wildlife Fund, for which he performed a sponsored walk every year until his last.

Christopher Brumfit

William Roland Lee, teacher, educator and internationalist: born Hillingdon, Middlesex 3 April 1911; married 1948 Zdena Pausarov (two daughters); OBE 1979; died Beverley, Yorkshire 5 February 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn