Sunday, January 16, 2011

Speech!


Released in cinemas to almost universal acclaim (and a winner at last night's Golden Globe Awards), The King's Speech dramatises the relationship between George VI and speech therapist Lionel Logue. The plot of the film is a simple one: can the maverick Logue cure the King of his stammer?

Although containing a number of works pertaining to speech therapy, a catalogue search of the Wellcome Library's collections produces no mention of Logue. However, dig a little deeper, and one work comes to light which offers an interesting perspective on speech therapy in the UK during the 1930s.

Although portrayed as an alternative therapist in the film, Logue was a founding member of the British Society of Speech Therapists. In 1935, the new society launched its own journal, understandably named Speech. Looking through the early editions of Speech held by the Wellcome Library, it's interesting to note Logue listed in the members of the Executive Committee of the Society, as Honorary Treasurer.

Unfortunately, Speech contains no articles by Logue and - understandably - no mention of a member of the royal family being treated by a member of the Society. However, in the issue of the journal from July 1937, Logue is listed with the letters M.V.O after his name - recognition of him receiving the Royal Victorian Order - the only formal recognition of Logue's service to the King (and indeed, the only initials after Logue's name, given he had no formal medical qualifications).

Given too, that The King's Speech is bookended by George VI making wireless broadcasts - beginning with his stammering speech to the Empire Exhibition in 1925 as the Duke of York; ending with his broadcast to the Commonwealth after the declaration of war with Germany in 1939 - the first sentence of the Editorial from the first edition of Speech in 1935 is oddly prescient:

"Broadcasting has stimulated a widespread interst in the properties of speech".

(From a Wellcome perspective, it's also surprising to see that during its first two years, one of the members of the General Advisory board of the journal is Sir Henry S Wellcome...).

The King's Speech can be compared with one other dramatisation of royal treatment - The Madness of King George. Both films depict royalty resorting to fringe practitioners, with 'traditional' treatments being shown as unneccesarily painful (in The King's Speech, an establishment doctor aims to cure the stammer through forcing the then Duke of York to speak through a mouthful of marbles).

Whilst the recent discovery of Logue's personal diaries offer a direct insight into his relationship with the King, the early editions of Speech shed light on the working methods of speech therapists during the 1930s and 1940s.

More details on the Logue's relationship with George VI are available on the website of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

 
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