Monday 6 February 2012

A Mouthful of Marbles vs. An Earful of Beethoven

A mouthful of marbles and smoking cigarettes, unorthodox remedies recommended by his former speech therapists, did nothing to help future king "Bertie" to break his stuttering habit.  It took an Australian would-be actor who had treated shell-shocked World War I vets to cure the monarch of his speech impediment.  Back in 1925 at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, Bertie was asked to make a speech which had disastrous results.  The following year, Bertie heard about the speech therapist, Lionel Logue, and after some persuasion from his wife, he made an appointment with him.  Mr. Logue bet the future king that he could get him to read the Shakespeare soliloquy "To be or not to be" without stuttering.  Then he gave Bertie a pair of headphones, played loudly a piece of classical music on the gramophone, and had him recite a perfect soliloquy.  However, when Bertie took the headphones off, he continued to stutter. 

Through muscle relaxation, breathing techniques and vocal exercises, Lionel started to treat Bertie on a regular basis.  Mr. Logue probed Bertie about his childhood, knowing that speech impediments usually started early:  he found out that Bertie was left-handed and was forced to write with the right hand; he was knock-kneed and had to wear corrective metal braces; one of his nannies had withheld food from him; and his brother John had died quite young.  All of these factors could have contributed to his lack of confidence and his speech impediment.  Through it all, Bertie's dedicated wife, the future queen mother, was by his side, encouraging him.

In the meantime, in 1936, Bertie's brother King Edward VIII abdicated the throne after only a year to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson.  Bertie was reluctantly thrust into the limelight when he was crowned King George VI later that year.  He summoned Lionel Logue to Buckingham Palace where they worked on a speech to be delivered right after the outbreak of World War II.  The king, while looking at Logue, spoke into a microphone and his words were transmitted by radio to his public.  Logue would mark certain parts of the speech where he thought the king might stutter; if you listen to a recording of the delivery you can hear the monarch pause many times, likely trying to summon up the courage to continue.  By this time, King George and Lionel Logue had become good friends.  The Australian was present for all of the king's speeches during World War II.  Just as President Roosevelt's fireside chats on American radio helped calm the fears of the public, so too did King George's speeches on British radio. 

Mr. Logue's successful treatment of Bertie's stutter instilled him with much needed confidence at a crucial time in history; he encouraged Bertie, telling him that he could easily fill the role of king, if his brother abdicated.  Some go so far as to claim that Mr. Logue saved the Monarchy, given that he equipped King George for the role of a leader and given that his brother King Edward VIII was sympathetic to the Nazis and might have led Britain down a different path if he had remained in power.  Lionel Logue received a medal for his service to the king and the two men remained friends until King George's death on February 6, 1952.

Photo of King George delivering his speech on September 4, 1939, courtesy

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