Based on a treasure trove of royal letters, appointment cards and photographs, a new book on the remarkable life of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue fills many of the gaps left by the hit film The King’s Speech.
Lionel’s grandson Mark Logue was consulted for the script of the movie, starring Colin Firth as the stammering King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his elocution coach, widely tipped for Oscar glory at the Academy Awards next month.
His involvement encouraged him to return to hundreds of documents about his grandfather’s inspiring story, resulting in the book The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy which he wrote with journalist Peter Conradi.
At his home in London, Mark Logue sifted through piles of letters, including several from the king to Lionel which reveal a surprising level of intimacy between the king and, to use Lionel’s own words, a “common colonial”.
An appointment card covered with Lionel’s tiny writing shows how the future king visited his Harley Street practice 82 times between October 1926 and December 1927, and describes the royal’s “very flabby” waist as well as his speech impediment.
A scrapbook of press cuttings, photographs of Lionel and his wife Myrtle at King George VI’s coronation, Christmas cards from the royal family and Lionel’s own diary attest to his pride at having helped the monarch through his tumultuous reign.
But Lionel also had a sense of being someone from another country and another class.
“Here we’ve got a man in his mid-40s, emigrating from Australia with his young family and setting up in the heart of the British medical establishment in Harley Street, very much an outsider,” Mark Logue said in an interview.
“Within two years he’s treating the king’s son. Then he’s kind of catapulted into the centre of the royal family when he (the Duke of York) becomes king.
“All the time I think he’s had this sense that he’s an outsider, but also proud of it. He says in his diaries, frequently, that the king sought his advice . . . as a commoner, what does a common man on the street think,” he added.
Lionel, born in 1880 in Adelaide, set up on his own as an elocution teacher before leaving Australia in 1924 for Britain, where he opened a practice in central London.
The Duke of York, whose stammer had caused him acute embarrassment as a boy and during public addresses in his role as a royal, came to him to prepare for a speech he was due to give in Australia during a trip there in 1927.
Only a few months later, he was writing to Lionel of the “tremendous amount of confidence” the sessions had given him, and the address in Canberra was considered a success.
There was occasional contact between the men over the following years, until the abdication crisis of 1936 when the death of King George V, followed by his successor King Edward VIII’s decision to abdicate in order to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson, suddenly thrust the duke on to the throne.
In April 1937, Lionel was called to see the king and help him prepare for his coronation the following month, where again his services appear to have paid off.
So highly were those services regarded, that he and Myrtle attended the ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and Mark Logue produced a photograph showing Myrtle peering through a pair of opera glasses from the balcony above the newly crowned king.
The advent of war made the king’s speeches more important than ever, and Lionel found himself by the monarch’s side regularly during the conflict as he addressed millions of people across the Empire over the radio.
The therapist spent several Christmases with the royals for the king’s seasonal address, and after George VI’s death in 1952, his widow wrote to Lionel on black-rimmed paper saying:
“I think that I know perhaps better than anyone just how much you helped the King, not only with his speech, but through that his whole life and outlook on life.”
After the death, British newspapers ran features about the key role Lionel played in the king’s reign, with one headline reading “One Man Saved King’s Voice.” The article described his relationship with the monarch as “exceptionally intimate.”
Lionel died the following year aged 73.