Initially known as the Avro 652A, the Anson was developed during the mid-1930s from the earlier Avro 652 airliner in response to a request for tenders issued by the British Air Ministry for a maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Having suitably impressed the Ministry, a single prototype was ordered, which conducted its maiden flight on 24 March 1935. Following an evaluation in which the Type 652A bettered the competing de Havilland DH.89, it was selected as the winner, leading to Air Ministry Specification 18/35 being written around the type and an initial order for 174 aircraft being ordered in July 1935. The Type 652A was promptly named after British Admiral George Anson.
The type was placed into service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and was initially used in the envisioned maritime reconnaissance operation alongside the larger flying boats. After the outbreak of the Second World War the Anson was soon found to have become obsolete in front line combat roles. Large numbers of the type were instead put to use as a multi-engined aircrew trainer, having been found to be suitable for the role, and became the mainstay of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The type continued to be used in this role throughout and after the conflict, remaining in RAF service as a trainer and communications aircraft until 28 June 1968.