It was May 12, 1937, and the 41-year-old King George VI, father of the present Queen, was preparing for one of the most nerve-racking days of his life. He had acceded to the throne five months earlier after his elder brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American, plunging the monarchy into one of the worst crises in its history. Today, the reluctant monarch was to be crowned in Westminster Abbey.
The coronation, a piece of national pageantry unmatched anywhere in the world, would have been daunting enough for anyone, but King George – known to the royal family as Bertie – had good reason to be anxious: he suffered from a chronic stammer that turned the simplest of conversations into a challenge and a public speech into a terrifying ordeal. Words beginning with the letter 'k' – as in king – proved a particular problem: confronted with one, he would struggle to make any sound at all, leaving an awkward silence.
Despite the King’s misgivings, the coronation, followed by a live radio broadcast that evening heard by tens of millions of people across the Empire, proved a resounding success. He barely stumbled over his words. "The King's voice last night was strong and deep, resembling to a startling degree the voice of his father," reported The Star. "His words came through firmly, clearly – and without hesitation."
This success was due largely to one man: a self-taught Australian speech therapist 15 years the King’s senior, named Lionel Logue. Dismissed by the British medical establishment as a quack, Logue helped his royal patient conquer his speech impediment, turning him into a great monarch who, with his wife, Elizabeth alongside him, would become a rallying point for the people of Britain, and of the Empire, during the darkest days of the Second World War.
Above is an excerpt from the book The King's Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy, by Logue's grandson Mark Logue and British journalist Peter Conradi, which fills in much fascinating detail to the story dramatized in the popular film with Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.
|Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother; King George VI; Princess Margaret. by Dorothy Wilding, 1951. National Portrait Gallery. "He had an incredible sense of duty toward his people," Lionel's grandson Mark Logue told USA Today.|