Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The King’s Speech Found in an Attic

By now many will have seen The King’s Speech, the excellent movie about the relationship between Britain’s King George VI and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. And many will have watched the Academy Awards in February, when the movie won four Oscars, including for best picture. (By the way, weren’t the dresses fabulous? Except maybe…but I digress.)

For an archivist, however, most interesting of all was the February 20 episode of 60 Minutes, which had a segment on the movie’s production. CBS’s Scott Pelley interviewed David Seidler, the scriptwriter, who had received permission from the Queen Mother as early as 1977 to publicize the story. But he could only do so after her death, which came in 2002; Seidler proceeded with the project in earnest as soon as he heard the news.

To flesh out Logue’s character, researchers for the film needed photos. Fortunately, they were able to locate his grandson Mark, who not only had photos of his grandfather but also his diaries, and not just diaries! When rummaging through the family’s archive in the proverbial attic, Mark Logue and the movie team discovered documents that not even the family knew it had: more than hundred letters between Logue and the king, revealing how much their professional relationship had evolved into friendship; appointment cards showing hour-long sessions daily, including weekends; and…THE speech! Yes, the original version drafted by the king’s entourage and typed on Buckingham Palace stationery but annotated by Logue, with some words crossed out and replaced with ones easier for the king to pronounce and with vertical marks indicating the optimal moments for him to take a breath.

Of course, the movie producers did have at their disposal—and did use—the official audio recording of the king’s famous speech of September 3, 1939, in which he announces that Britain has declared war on Germany following Germany’s invasion of Poland, but it’s hard to imagine this crucial scene in the movie without this annotated version of the speech, with Logue guiding the king through it word by word, as the camera zooms in on those vertical lines.

Moral of the story: when doing research in our library and archives, don’t look for just one thing and don’t stop looking even if you find that one thing.

Postcard depicting the royal family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace on Coronation Day, May 12, 1937, including Helena Bonham Carter and Colin Firth (sorry, Queen Elizabeth and King George VI). Mrs. Leland E. Cofer papers, envelope D, Hoover Institution Archives

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