During the Christmas holidays, we watched The King’s Speech, courtesy of Netflix. We had seen the movie when was first released in movie theaters, and we (I) had put off watching it when it arrived in the mail. When we were in London in September, we were in the gift shop at the Tower of London when I discovered there was a companion book to the movie, also called The King’s Speech, written by Lionel Logue’s grandson Mark and Peter Conradi.
If you’re not familiar with the movie, the book, or the story, it’s about King George VI (Queen Elizabeth’s father) and his speech coach, Lionel Logue, the man credited with helping the king control and overcome his stammer. The movie is largely factual, with a few exceptions; the book is entirely so.
Logue not only enabled George VI to speak with a stammer, he was also the king’s advisor for numerous speeches, such as his coronation broadcast to the nation and empire and his speech at the beginning of World War II and indeed throughout the war. For every important speech the king (and previously the Duke of York) made, Logue was there.
What the book provides is the back story to the movie, and the back story is considerable. This was a period of huge stress and change for both Britain and the monarchy – the social and cultural change that followed World War I, the rise of Nazi Germany, the abdication of Edward VIII so he could marry Wallis Simpson, and much more. This is what the book provide considerable detail about, because the king’s speeches and the monarchy need to be set in their context.
But The King’s Speech is also a biography of Lionel Logue, and provides his back story, which the movie included very little. The book is based on the journals, scrapbooks and letters Lionel kept that were forgotten until the idea for a movie arose a few years ago (Logue died in 1953; the king died in 1952).
An Australian, Logue and his wife Myrtle moved to London in 1924. He established a speech therapy practice on Harley Street after his success in helping World War I veterans deal with speeches issues resulting from shell shock and mustard gas attacks. Eventually (and the stories differ on how it happened), he started working with the Duke of York, who was suffering a stammer that was painful emotionally and mentally (the movie scene of Colin Firth as the Duke of York struggling to give a speech at Wembley Stadium, is based on actual events).
And the Duke of York was desperate. His position required numerous public appearances and speeches, and every doctor he had seen and cure he had tried had resulted in no improvement. The duke had essentially given up. Logue changed everything. With his most important contribution likely being to give the duke the confidence in himself he needed to overcome the stammer.
Of particular interest (for me the speechwriter) is how the authors dissect the major speeches by the king – the event, how they happened, how Logue would work over the speech texts to remove troublesome words and mark places for pauses. The duke (and king) preferred to stand when he made his radio broadcasts; speaking was easier from a standing position (although the publicity photos always show him seated).
The King’s Speech also does something else. It describes how two very different men from radically different backgrounds became friends. The king and his wife Queen Mary, and his daughter the future queen, were always grateful for what Logue had accomplished.
It is a fine and engaging story that Mark Logue and Peter Conradi tell.