A King's Speech (George VI) by Mark Burgess

Contact Us

BBC Radio 4, 30 April 2009
King George VI was well-known for his speech defects - a stammer exacerbated by his parents who forced him to write with his right hand, even though he was a natural left-hander, and clapped him in leg-irons to straighten out his limbs. He was the classic victim of a spartan Edwardian upbringing; while a child, he only ever saw his parents for one hour each day, spending the rest of his time being looked after by a succession of governesses. History tells us that George was heavily reliant on Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother to sustain him; he never wanted to be king, when the role was thrust on him by King Edward VIII's abdication in 1936.
Set in the days leading up to his coronation broadcast in 1937, A King's Speech showed the agonies experienced by the King (Alex Jennings) experienced as he contemplated the prospect of talking into a microphone to a worldwide radio audience of millions. The thought so terrified him that he was scarcely able to speak, let alone deliver a 500-word text. Sir John Reith, the BBC's Director-General (Crawford Logan) offered no solace, as he refused to allow the king to record the speech n the belief that listeners wanted to hear him speaking spontaneously. Most likely this was a lie: all Reith wanted was to use the occasion to publicize the BBC and thereby secure future government funds.
The king was helped through this ordeal with the support of the Queen Mother (Joan Walker) - portrayed as an unselfish soul totally dedicated to her husband - and his speech therapist Lionel (Trevor Littledale), an Australian trained as a public speaker who now eked out an existence helping others with speech impediments. Burcess focused on the complex relationship between the therapist and the monarch that varied according to particular occasions: sometimes Lionel played the stern teacher scolding the king for his misbehaviour; on other occasions he offered a sympathetic soldier to cry on; and just before the speech itself the two men became bosom buddies, as they wished one another good luck.
Eventually the king came to terms with the microphone and gave a flawless rendition of the speech without any fluffls - proving beyond doubt that the cause of speech impediments is largely psychosomatic. Lionel received due reward for his efforts; but the real winner in this professional relationship was the king himself, who became a far better public speaker as a result.
David Blount's production portrayed the king sympathetically as someone determined to make the best of his limited gifts and undertake his public duties, while retaining the love of his family. It was such qualities that endeared him to the British people, whose sense of loss (when he passed away from cancer in 1952) was palpable.