In 1968 a zealous young reporter and campaigner travelled to London from her native Athens with a tricky assignment: fellow opponents of Greece’s military dictatorship wanted her to galvanise support from the Anglo-Greek community. Their prime target was a dashing scion of a powerful maritime clan who was scholarly and idealistic.

Lydia Potamianou succeeded in her task. At a social gathering she met Costa Carras who, with a slim figure, aquiline nose and inquisitive gaze, appeared a little like an ancient Athenian sage. Champagne flute in hand, she impressed him with her worldly knowledge and the talk turned to their homeland.

The pair fell in love. After marrying in 1970 they became partners in the struggle for both Greek democracy and the protection of Greece’s cultural heritage. For Carras, the causes were interlinked, Greece’s dictators, he argued, were doing irreparable damage to the country’s patrimony. The couple’s biggest project was co-founding the Greek Society for the Environmental and Cultural Heritage, which was likened to the National Trust.

After democratic freedoms were restored, Carras helped to draft provisions for the 1975 Hellenic constitution, including the stipulation that ‘the protection of the natural and cultural environment constitutes a duty of the state and the duty of every person’. He also used the constitution to fight legal battles that helped to save precious locations, including the environs of Acropolis, Delphi and Marathon. Some ecological disasters were warded off, such as a plan to divert the course of the Achelos River through central Greece. there were also disappointments, including the dislodging of Byzantine antiquities by a metro project in Thessaloniki.

Costa Carras was born in England in 1938 to John Carras and Maria (nee Vernikou), who served in the London Fire Brigade in the Blitz and contributed to Greek humanitarian relief during and after the Second World War. It was from her that Carras inherited the desire to fight for political change; when Athens was under a dictatorship between 1967-74. Maria financed an anti-junta publication, The Greek Report. At the age of two, Carras was evacuated from London to join his maternal kin in New York, returning six years later to attend Harrow, which he found cold and lonely. School holidays with grandparents, on the sun-soaked islands of Chios and Sifnos, were a solace.

It was tough being a Greek at a grand English school, when the two nations were at loggerheads over Cyprus, and Carras was bullied for standing up for the Greek cause. He was, however, determined to further his interest in world affairs , acquiring a cherished collection of maps and flags of all the countries belonging to the UN, and forming a close friendship with Robin Butler, who later became private secretary to five prime ministers and head of the civil service.

His reputation was somewhat restored after his stellar school performance as King Lear was selected by The Illustrated London News as one of its best productions of 1956, professional or amateur. It demonstrated a gravitas that would prove useful in frightening opponents during fierce public debates. In private his acting talent shone in heated games of family charades.

After school Carras gained a first in Classics from Trinity College, Oxford, and could have become an academic had duty not called him to the family business, then headed by his forceful father.

He had neither the taste nor the aptitude for business but, with little choice, made extended visits to Japan where his father was building new ships, investing his earning in a Greek bank, a shipyard, a resorts and a Greek vineyard, with mixed results. The younger Carras had the difficult job of managing these assets, though his own preference was for shipping. The wellbeing of seafarers was a cause close to his heart and he always insisted that his vessels boast a decent library, which was available to the entire crew.

In private moments, he began to develop an appetite for art history and conservation, persuading English friends to support the little-known monasteries of Mount Athos.

The return of Greek democracy in 1974 was bittersweet; catalysed by the dictators’ coup in Cyprus, it triggered a Turkish occupation of the island’s north, uprooting more than 200,000 people. While some Greeks forgot those travails, Carras did not. He used lordly British connections to form a parliamentary lobby group called Friends of Cyprus, which has since worked to promote a settlement. At a time when prominent Greek and Turkish Cypriots, were barely able to meet, he brought them together in London and, when possible, on the island.

When war followed the fall of communism in the Balkans, he established the Centre for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe, which involved the joint effort of hundreds of historians from the regions in creating teaching material on the conflict.

Carras also brought his wealth of historical knowledge to less conventional institutions. After he was arrested in 2008 for possessing unlicensed artefacts (an incident seemingly engineered by powerful figures who resented his opposition to the construction of an Olympic swimming pool) he spent his four-day incarceration giving history lessons to detainees. It was typical of Carras, who, even as he moved between different milieus, causes and interests, found ways to connect them. His environmentalism, for instance, was rooted in Christianity; he saw care for the planet as a Christian duty.

In the final stages of cancer, Carras renounced all of his public commitments except one – a foundation honouring Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, bishop of the Diocese of Sourozh, the Russian Orthodox Church in Britain and Ireland. Something in the bishop’s preaching and persona had touched his young heart, and everything else, he would say, flowed from that.

With his wife, Carras spent the final three decades of his life in the historic Placa district in Athens, where their beautiful but unassuming house served as a base of hospitality and campaigning, Lydia survives him with their son, Iannis, a historian, and daughter Maria-Thalia, an art curator and writer.

By the time Carras died, most of his neighbourhood, as well as historical sites throughout Greece, owed their protection to the tireless campaigning of him and his wife.

Obituary by Bruce Clark, a long time friend of Costa, which appeared in The Times on the 8th April 2022.