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Background note on International PEN

By Jane Spender

Since PEN was founded in London (in 1921) the English PEN Centre was also International PEN Headquarters and the two organisations remained totally entwined, sharing a General Secretary (David Carver) and other staff as well as their finances, until David Carver died in 1974 and Peter Elstob was elected to succeed him.

One of Peter’s first aims was to separate the two organisations since he felt that English PEN should be seen to be just one of the Centres and not hold a pre-eminent position. To achieve this he first halved his job, remaining International Secretary but promoting the election of Josephine Pullein-Thompson as General Secretary of English PEN in 1976, and then moving the international headquarters and staff from Chelsea to Covent Garden in 1981.

He also, as soon as he possibly could, found two foreign PEN members, Alexandre Blokh, who was French, and Thilo Koch, who was German, to be International Secretary and International Treasurer, thus further internationalising the organisation.