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Lankester was educated at Monkton Combe School.
He worked for the World Bank, first in Washington, D.C., then in New Delhi (1970–73). From 1973 until 1995, he worked in the British Civil Service. He was Permanent Secretary at the Overseas Development Administration from 1989 until 1994. He left the British Civil Service after a brief spell in the Department for Education.
He was appointed Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath in 1994.
Lankester is the Chair of the Wells Maltings Trust, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk.
- Lankester, T. (2013). The politics and economics of Britain's foreign aid: the Pergau Dam affair. London, Routledge.
- Lankester, T. (2005). International Aid Experience, prospects and the moral case. Cultura. 2, 131-153.
- Lankester, T. (2004). 'Asian drama': the pursuit of modernisation in India and Indonesia. Asian Affairs : Journal of the Royal Central Asian Society. 35, 291-304.
- Lankester, T. (1993). Twenty five years of development: a perspective from the Overseas development administration. Norwich, University of East Anglia. School of Development Studies.
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