Young Bertie saw his parents only moments most days, leaving him without the affections afforded most children. He was deprived of adequate food and made to wear painful braces around the clock to correct his bow-leggedness. His was a royal existence.
A prince was he, a prince of much suffering and few words. Developing stomach problems and a stutter, he became the butt of his siblings’ jokes. The King believed the teasing would cure Bertie’s stutter, and so encouraged it. Of course, it only made it worse.
Bertie, known to the world as Prince Albert, grew up to be King George VI. He had no expectation of being King, assuming the throne in 1936 after his older brother, Edward, renounced it in order to marry the love of his life, the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson.
The King’s Speech is the story of how King George (Colin Firth), overcoming fears born in childhood, finds his voice with the help of a self-taught, Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). It was mere thoughts that caused his throat to seize up, and mere thoughts that allowed his words to flow again.
While not the King’s first speech therapist, nor the one who asks him to fill his mouth with marbles, Logue employs methods considered unorthodox. A reader of Shakespeare and teacher of drama, Logue had switched careers when called upon to help the shell-shocked, tongue-tied World War I vets returning home.
Logue knew the vets’ problems were not physical, and therefore required more than mere mechanics. So he took a psychological approach, one intended to have them believing in their own voices and the right to be heard. Using the same techniques with the King, it meant getting personal and understanding what experiences led to the stammering. For, Logue says, no baby is born stammering.
Refusing to make “palace calls” and to address his new client as “His Majesty,” Logue sets out to become the King’s friend and establish a relationship of equality. Anything less, Logue believes, would not allow the level of sharing needed to discover and overcome the source of the problem.
So despite the King’s protests, Logue calls him “Bertie.” Logue begins by asking Bertie about childhood memories, which is once again met with royal protests. He then asks, “Do you know any jokes?” Bertie cleverly replies, “Timing is not my strong suit.” That was as warm as it got that first day.
Sensing a growing distance in this new relationship, Logue goes to using some of the latest technology, a system that records directly to a vinyl. For the recording, he asks Bertie to read some passages from a book while classical music is blasted into his ears.
After reading a few lines, Bertie gets frustrated, takes off the headphones and says he doesn’t believe Logue’s methods work for him. Upon departure, Logue gives Bertie the record, no charge, as a memento.
It isn’t until weeks later that Bertie hears the recording of his voice reading without a hint of stuttering. With music, Logue had drowned out Bertie’s doubtful thoughts and their impact.
Bertie returns to work with Logue. Another breakup occurs, much later, when Logue pushes Bertie about the possibility and his ability to be king. Logue’s attempt to convince him he doesn’t need to be “governed by fear” is met by nothing less than terror camouflaged as royal entitlement and indignation.
After taking the throne, Bertie returns to Logue once again. The men exchange apologies and get on with their work. Logue, indeed, becomes Bertie’s friend. The King relaxes and as a matter of fact shares childhood fears and hurt.
From the time of coaching Bertie through his coronation and then his first big speech to the world, the one declaring Britain at war, Logue is ever present when the King addresses the public. Logue surrounds Bertie with a cozy, pleasant environment during his radio addresses, and instructs Bertie to address only him. Fear is kept at bay, and Bertie is able to speak.
We know of these two unlikely friends and their courage because of another young stutterer, David Seidler, who wrote the screenplay for The King’s Speech. British born, but evacuated to America, the young Seidler listened to the King’s wartime speeches. When learning he shared more than British birth with the King, the young man was given hope by the King’s “curing himself.”
In researching Logue, Seidler contacted Mark Logue, a grandson. As it turns out, Logue had his grandfather’s diaries documenting his work with the King. But before Logue would share them, he told Seidler he needed to get permission from the palace.
Permission was granted with one stipulation. The Queen did not want the screenplay released while she was alive. She said the memories were too painful. So decades later, Seidler shares the story.
It’s a story that makes us wonder why public speaking is the No. 1 fear in the world. What universal experience causes most of us to steer clear of addressing groups of unfamiliar people? Could it be that we were taught not to talk to strangers? Perhaps fear of rejection and ridicule are imbedded in our minds from times we observed or experienced such unpleasant situations.
Our subconscious thoughts come forth as if a record continuously skipping. When those thoughts work against us, we have only one choice: to drown them out like Logue did for Bertie. Overriding negative and doubtful thoughts can only be done by inundating your mind with more positive and affirming ones.
Listen to the conversation in your head. Silence the fear by focusing on your strengths, accomplishments and desired possibilities. It’s how you shift your belief away from the “can’ts” and onto the “cans.”
We are, as the age old premise goes, what we think. So what do you think?
Anita Ancel is President of Ancelary Group, a Vermont firm that helps CEOs and their teams develop attitudes and habits for ongoing success and happiness.