Saturday, 22 January 2011

Lionel Logue and the King's Speech

O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue (Ex 4:10)

Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. (Ex 4:12)

And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly. (Isa 32:3,4)

This familiar instance reaffirms the Scriptural word concerning a man, "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." If one believes that he cannot be an orator without study or a superinduced condition, the body responds to this belief, and the tongue grows mute which before was eloquent. (Science and Health 89)

The "King's Speech" is a wonderful film about the relationship between the Duke of York, later King George VI, and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Colin Firth is marvelous as the Duke of York, while Geoffrey Rush is believable as the somewhat oddball speech therapist from Australia, with a record of successes in curing speech defects. The film also plays out against the death of George V, the Abdication Crisis, the Coronation, and the impinging threat of war with Germany.

However, as Professor Cathy Schultz has pointed out, the relationship began in 1926, when Logue started working to help the Duke overcome a debilitating stammer. This was ten years before the abdication crisis, when Logue meets the Duke in the film, so there is a degree of dramatic license in compressing events into a shorter space of time than was actually the case.

The film appears to take place over just a few years, culminating in the King's speech in September 1939, at the outbreak of World War II. But Logue actually began treating the Duke of York in 1926. Bertie was a model pupil, and practiced Logue's prescribed vocalization exercises so diligently that within a few years his confidence and speech delivery improved dramatically, and he effectively ended his sessions with Logue. By the early 1930s, in fact, the Duke was visiting Logue's office only rarely, and the two kept in infrequent contact through letters. But when Bertie unexpectedly ascended to the throne (after his elder brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American) he once again sought out Logue's help. So the film is correct in showing Logue working closely with King George through his coronation speech, as well as assisting him in many of the significant speeches that followed. (1)

Nonetheless, the part of Logue is certainly based on convincing documentation. Only nine weeks before filming, the diaries of Lionel Logue were discovered and the screenplay was rewritten to incorporate this new material. Part of the film also deals with one of the other methods recommended by other physicians, where the Duke is forced to take marbles in the mouth and attempt to speak at the same time:
The marbles "therapy" originated with Demosthenes, and continued to be used into the 20th century. The idea was that marbles (or pebbles - Demosthenes' original suggestion) stuffed into the mouth caused stutterers to speak slowly and carefully, in order to avoid swallowing the marbles. Clearly lawsuits were not an issue in Demosthenes' day. (2)

Logue was born in 1880 to a wealthy middle class family and privilege. He was the grandson of Edward Logue, a Dublin publican who owned the Kent Town Brewery with Sir Edwin Smith. In Adelaide, Logue studied elocution with Edward Reeves, "who purged his voice of much of its Australian accent" - the idea in the film that he is rejected by a London dramatic society for his accent is therefore doubtful.

Logue was a Christian Scientist and was passionate about healing, and although not much is made of his Christian Science in the film, it is probably that this was a determining factor in wanting to reach out and help those who needed healing, using the abilities that he had developed over the years:

perhaps this, coupled with his background in elocution, lead to a role he assumed in Perth during World War I (1914-1918) when he treated returned servicemen who had speech disorders attributed to shell shock.  Edgar (in Ritchie, 2000) writes, "Using humour, patience and 'super-human sympathy' he taught them exercises for the lungs and diaphragm, and to breathe sufficiently deeply to complete a sentence fluently". Logue's approach included the recitation of tongue twisters such as, "She sifted seven thick stalked thistles through a strong, thick sieve." ( Denis Judd, King George VI, in Langford, p.472).(3)

The Christian Science connection, although not mentioned in the film, and clearly not prominent - Logue seems to have been a very reticent individual with regard to his private and family life, nevertheless was there. In 1996 Lionel Logue's son Valentine wrote a letter confirming that his father was indeed a Christian Scientist. Most recently, the biography by Norman Hutchinson's biography also records the author's own childhood memories of Logue being talked about as a Christian Scientist when he was growing up in Perth. However, while Christian Science may have informed his therapy, it seems likely that he addressed psychological trauma rather that the spiritual factors more prominent Christian Science as practiced. (9)

What also comes through his personal history is his compassionate nature, both in helping the returned servicemen, in the act of kindness to his sister with financial help, and with the way he arranged his finances in England, taking enough money from richer patients both to support his family, but also so that he could help poorer patients at reduced cost:

Despite never returning to Australia, Logue kept close ties with his family in Adelaide, particularly his sister, Eveline May, who had a messy divorce played out in the Supreme Court after she moved to severe ties with her abusive and adulterous husband in 1907. "He was in touch with them," Mark said. . "He financed his sister regularly with a maintenance allowance of £5 a month to pay her mortgage.(3)

Logue practiced at 146 Harley Street, London, from 1924: the fees paid by his wealthy clients enabled him to accept poorer patients without charge. (4)

In 1924 Logue commenced practice at 146 Harley Street, London. He made a good living, charging wealthy patrons substantial fees while providing a free service to poorer people who sought his professional help. (1)

Although Logue had no formal qualifications, and in fact there were none in the nature of his work in Australia, he never pretended that he had any fraudulent certification, but just let his work and experience speak for itself. In many ways, he carved out a new profession where there had been none before.

Logue was a founder, in 1935, of the British Society of Speech Therapists, and in 1944 became a founding fellow of the College of Speech Therapists (now called the RCSLT). The College was granted royal patronage by George VI (in 1948, according to Eldridge, 1968. (1)

What the film portrays, but what we don't quite know, was how Logue actually worked. We have elements on the periphery, but Logue founded no school, and his relationships with his patients were confidential, so we know very little:

Suzanne Edgar, in Volume 15 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography, provides the most detailed account of Logue's diagnosis and treatment, and the duke's response. "The therapist diagnosed poor coordination between  larynx and diaphragm, and asked him to spend an hour each day practicing rigorous exercises. The duke came to his rooms, stood by an open window and loudly intoned each vowel for fifteen seconds. Logue restored his confidence by relaxing the tension which caused muscle spasms. The duke's stammer diminished to occasional hesitations.... Using tongue twisters, Logue helped the duke rehearse for major speeches and coached him for the formal language of his coronation in 1937. At Westminster Abbey on 12th May, wearing the M.V.O. decoration given to him by King George VI on the previous night, Logue sat in the apse to encourage him during the ceremony. Before the King's radio broadcast that evening, Logue whispered to him: "Now take it quietly Sir".(4)

We know that he often opened a window, and used various tongue twisters, and breathing techniques, but it also seems possible that he sought - as with the war wounded soldiers - some kind of therapy on the trauma. Dr Caroline Bowen, a Blue Mountains speech and language pathologist, notes how surprisingly little that is known about him. In contrast to the film, where we see inside the sessions between Logue and the Duke, no one one really knows what his methods were. She notes that there have been many conflicting reports and theories but he wrote nothing down, and the secret of his techniques died with him:
The fact of the matter is that we do not have verifiable records of what his intervention methods for stuttering (stammering) were. He did not publish the details of his approach, there are no case notes to peruse, no theoretical musings over why he did what he did and no evidence that he undertook any form of study or research to support his endeavour. Logue & Conrad (2010, p. 132) quote him, without specifying the precise source, as saying, ".unfortunately on the matter of Speech Defects, when so much depends on the temperament and individuality, a case can always be produced that can prove you are wrong. That is why I won't write a book."(1)

While his diaries reveal important insights into his friendship and support for the Duke, and the frequency of the sessions, and where he was present to provide support on State occasions (such as the Coronation), they don't give anything away about how he worked. We do know that(as Norman C Hutchinson notes) that he called his patients "his pupils" rather than patients, suggesting a teacher relationship rather than a doctor relationship.

Mark Logue told the Herald this week that nothing in the diaries sheds new light on his grandfather's methods. ''Whatever it was that he did with the king, or indeed with his other patients, he didn't pass it on, because he had no students and didn't leave any records,'' he said. ''In fact, he may not even have been administering speech therapy in the accepted sense but instead a combination of psychotherapy and dialogue coaching.''(6)

Lionel Logue's methods, as depicted in the movie are, as far as we know, largely artistic license. Logue's diaries are vague about his actual therapy methods. We know that he treated soldiers returning from the trenches who were suffering from mutism due to shell-shock. This gave him an appreciation for the psychological aspects of communication, something we believe he put to good use in his therapy. Logue had no specific training as a therapist - he was an innovator, working before modern stammering therapy had been developed. (8)

Caroline Bowen has her own ideas about why Logue's methods worked:

Why did Lionel Logue's methods work? From the little evidence we have I believe that his confidence, his empathy with his clients, and his understanding of the profoundly traumatic nature of a serious  impediment to communication, combined with techniques to reduce  inappropriate muscle tension and respiratory patterns, and to demonstrate to patients that there were many ways of producing fluent speech were all important.

The film also highlights how debilitating a stammer can be. The British stammering association (BSA) welcomes the film and says the production is "to be congratulated on their realistic depiction of the frustration and the fear of speaking faced by people who stammer on a daily basis. Colin Firth's portrayal of the King's stammer in particular strikes us as very authentic and accurate (see also BSA's interview with Colin Firth)."

They also note that:

The film offers a golden opportunity to talk openly about stammering. Too often, stammering is treated as embarrassing and shameful, something that may not be talked about in polite company. BSA profoundly disagrees with this view and we welcome the opportunity for more openness around this potentially serious communication disability.

There are about 720,000 adults and children in the UK who stammer. Early intervention as soon as possible after onset around the age of 3 years has been shown to be very effective in terms of complete recovery of fluent speech; intervention at school-age or even later offers the benefit of ameliorating the symptoms and the often severe psychological, social, educational and economic impact that stammering can have.

The film is very clear that the King is neither 'cured' nor does he 'overcome' his stammer. Colin Firth, in an interview with the BSA, states that to show the King as having been cured would have been 'a lie'. Rather, he says, the King is shown to 'come to an arrangement' with his stammer.

It is a film that is both moving and surprisingly (but intentionally) funny in places, and I would thoroughly recommend it. The message that comes across to anyone who has to overcome personal odds is that of Logue, when he tells the future King: ""I'm trying to get you to realise that you can't be governed by fear."
King's aide dies London, Sunday The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848-1954) Monday 13 April 1953 p 8 Article ... King's aide dies London, Sunday Lionel Logue, Australian- born specialist in speech defects, who helped King George VI overcome his stammer; died in London to- day, aged 72.
(10) Letter to Ms Suzanne Edgar, Research Editor, Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University.
Edgar, S. (2000). Logue, Lionel George (1880-1953).

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