"Sunday 3rd December 1944
The Home Guard speech was quite good, but one could not say very much. I went out to Windsor on Sunday evening, for the 9 o’clock broadcast. Only one mistake – W in weapons. After the broadcast, I shook hands with the King and congratulated him, and asked him why he stopped on the W, and he replied with a grin: “I did it on purpose”. “On purpose?”, I ejaculated. He said: “Yes. If I don’t make a mistake, people might not know it was me”.
The King's Speech: George and Lionel's private thoughtsThe unseen letters and diaries of King George VI’s speech therapist, Lionel Logue.
Stammerers, stutterers, lispers, clutterers – people suffering from all manner of speech impediment came calling for Lionel Logue during his long career as a self-taught therapist. None would have quite the impact on his life of the rather starched, stuttering gentleman who paid a first visit to his Harley Street rooms on 19 October 1926.
Logue, an Australian who had arrived in London two years earlier and practiced a radical psychology-based approach to speech defect treatment, recorded the particulars of this peculiar visitor on an index card that survives to this day.
“Has an acute nervous tension which has been brought on by the defect... is of a nervous disposition,” he writes, in his fastidiously neat hand-writing. “Well built, with good shoulders, but waist line very flabby…[has] an extraordinary habit of clipping small words... and very often hesitating”. In the top left hand corner of the card, Logue notes the full name of the new patient: His Royal Highness The Duke of York.
That day in October 1926 would mark the start of a most unlikely relationship: between a commoner who, owing to his lack of formal training, was viewed by the medical community as a quack, and the stuttering Duke, whose brother’s abdication would, ten years later, catapult him on to the throne as King George VI -- and commit him to a potentially humiliating schedule of public speaking.
The crippling stutter had to go, and the Duke was soon convinced that Logue was the man to send it on its way. “I must send you a line to tell you how grateful I am to you for all you have done in helping me with my speech defect,” he would write to Logue only a few weeks after their first encounter. “I really do think you have given me a real good start in the way of getting over it”.
Hundreds of subsequent appointments are detailed on both sides of Logue’s index card, the Australian’s inky annotations – “diaphragm much firmer”; “lower jaw became pliable”; “a good all round improvement” – blotting out the white space like flies accumulating on a windscreen.
Today, the card is in the possession of Lionel Logue’s grandson, Mark. He keeps it in the kitchen of his North London home, in one of a few mundane plastic tubs that hold a haphazard archive of Logue’s diary entries and his touchingly affectionate correspondence with the royal household, much of which has never before seen the light of day.
For many years, Logue seemed destined to become a forgotten footnote of British history – even his grandson had only the vaguest understanding of his significance until he finally got down from the loft the neglected package of papers his late father had left him, one idle afternoon last year. The King’s Speech, a wonderful new film inspired by Logue’s story, is already changing that, as is a book of the same name that Mark Logue has written with journalist Peter Conradi tracking the remarkable events of his grandfather’s life.
The film stars Colin Firth as George VI and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue. Their performances are exceptional – Firth, already a frontrunner for this year’s Oscars, looks set to take every award going – but what really propels the story is the complex friendship between the two men at its heart, the dynamics of which are captured nowhere more accurately or evocatively than in Lionel Logue’s own writings.
His scribbled reminiscences and elegant letters – edited highlights of which are published below for the first time – offer an unprecedentedly intimate insight into the life of the royal family throughout some of the most turbulent years of the last century. Logue, who would spend many a Christmas at Sandringham, coaching the King through his annual radio broadcasts, became something like an honorary member of that family, a familiar friendly face not only for the King but also for the Queen and the two young princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret.
Logue and George VI needed one other. Logue restored the King’s confidence, helped him where others had failed to overcome his speech impediment; the King conferred on Logue the legitimacy, the authority he craved. Each transformed the other’s life.
'The King’s Speech', by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, is published by Quercus Books. The film of the same name is now on general release.
The build-up to the coronation of George VI
- Extracted from Lionel Logue’s diary
19th April 1937
Went to Windsor.
King in grey clothes, blue stripe.
Came forward with a smile: “Hello Logue, so glad to see you. You can be of great help to me.”
Went through Coronation Broadcast speech and altered it considerably.
King in excellent health, a bit stiff about jaw, most anxious to do best.
Sunday 30th April 1937
Went through Coronation speech with King. When I told him he took two reputations into the box with him, he said he knew he did, that’s why he was laughing. He is a good fellow and only wants careful handling.
Saturday 8th May 1937
It is partly [the King’s] dislike of the microphone [that causes the speech impediment]. It must have been engendered when he made his first speech in Wembley Stadium [in 1925]. It was a terrible failure and the scar has remained ever since.
The room on the first floor opposite his study, is an excellent room for broadcasting. We have two gilt microphones, with a red light between them. We have tried sitting down to a small table, but he is better on his feet. He is indeed a gallant fighter, and if a word doesn’t quite go right, he looks at me so pathetically and then gets on with the job. There is very little wrong with him, the only big thing is ‘fear’.
Tuesday 11th May 1937
At the Palace at 5.30. H.M improves every day, getting good control of his nerves and his voice is getting some wonderful tones into it. Hope he does not get too emotional tomorrow. H.M offered up a prayer tonight. He is such a good chap – and I do want him to be a marvellous King.
Wednesday 12th May 1937
At 3 o’clock I am up... I am soon in my court costume, and rather conscious of my silk stockinged legs and the tendency to trip over the sword – but at 6.40 we are off though deserted streets and across the new Chelsea Bridge, only opened a week. We leave our car and go into the Abbey and to our seats at 7.30. There are only 50 seats in King George VI gallery and they are very small and it seems a long way to the Altar which is just below us.
Something is always happening – if it is not a procession of choristers, it is musicians. The foreign Princes and Princesses are coming up the long aisle and are shown to their places at 10.15. Princess Margaret Rose and Princess Elizabeth, with the Princess Royal, come up towards us and disappear into the Royal Box right below us. And then the stately figure of Queen Mary, walking as only she can walk [followed by] the Queen – she looks wonderful as she steps slowly towards us and her six ladies in waiting are carrying the marvellous train.
A fanfare of trumpets, and the King’s procession is soon advancing, a blaze of gold and crimson and at the end, the man whom I had served for 10 years, with all my heart and soul. He advances slowly towards us, looking rather pale, but every inch a King. My heart creeps up into my throat, as I realise that this is truly the day of our time and this man whom I serve, is to be made King of England, he passes underneath us to his seat, and then begins this wonderful ceremony, which [beats] anything I have ever seen.
[... ] A car took me to the Palace at 7 o’clock. Went upstairs and found His Majesty, looking very fit after his very emotional day. We went through the speech once, at the mike, and then back to his room, where the Queen joined us, looking tired but very happy. We discussed the Coronation, particularly the solidness of the Archbishop and I told the King how we all noticed he took over the doing up of his belt. He told me that in some Coronations, the King was naked to the waist.
Kept him talking right up to the loud speakers playing the National Anthem. The Queen said “Good Luck Bertie” and he walked right up to the mike and began (the perspiration was running down my back). He went on beautifully, a splendid voice, flexible, slight trouble with one word… he had me so worked up, that I could not talk at the end.
In a few seconds, he walked out into his passage and gave me a warm pressure of the hand as he said “Good night Logue, I thank you very much” and the Queen did the same, her beautiful, indescribably blue eyes shining. I said “The greatest thing in my life your Majesty is being able to serve you”. She said “Good Night. Thank you” and, softly, ”God Bless You”. This bought the tears to my eyes and sent me [away] feeling like a fool. I had a whisky and soda, a silly thing to do on an empty stomach, and the whole world began to go around….