The King’s Spiritualist

By Sue Farrow

Still of Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech

It’s the most talked-about film of the season, due for UK release on January 7. Its cast list is a who’s who of big-screen glitterati and its subject matter is a sure-fire winner.

The King’s Speech stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, and tells the story of the serious speech impediment which caused the Duke of York, later King George VI, to stammer so badly that he found it nigh on impossible to make a fluent speech. The King – known to his close family as ‘Bertie’ – had never expected to become monarch, and found himself suddenly thrust into the limelight following the abdication of his elder brother Edward VIII.

Lionel Logue, an Australian speech and voice specialist, was called in to help, and help he certainly did, enabling the monarch to achieve a fluency of speech that was a far cry from the earlier halting attempts which had reportedly caused him so much embarrassment.

I hear you ask why I should be writing about this film on SPN. The answer is that Lionel Logue was probably the most well-connected Spiritualist of his day. A trusted friend of the King, he was a frequent visitor to Buckingham Palace, even participating in family gatherings. Indeed, so prominent was Logue that he merited several pages in Maurice Barbanell’s book This is Spiritualism.

I could be wrong (and I hope I am) but I have a feeling that the Spiritualist side of Logue’s life will feature little in the film, if at all. In case I’m right, this is what Barbanell had to say about Logue’s journey into Spiritualism:

A brilliant man contemplated suicide because the death of his wife had left him inconsolable. You may not know his name but you will have heard of his achievement. I refer to Lionel Logue, the Australian voice specialist who cured King George VI of his stammering and became one of the monarch’s most intimate friends.

Because he knew that Hannen Swaffer was a famous Spiritualist, Logue called on the journalist to enlist his aid in his cruel bereavement. Though he had reached the height of his professional career, Logue confessed that he found it hard to carry on now that his beloved wife was no longer by his side. He mourned her every hour of every day and was eager to know if he could possibly obtain proof of her survival. Swaffer promised to help. He approached Lilian Bailey and asked if she would come to his flat to give a sitting to “a man in great distress”. The medium agreed and a date was arranged. “Naturally, I won’t tell you anything about him,” said Swaffer.

…Swaffer introduced Lilian Bailey to Logue, but neither mentioned his name nor gave any hint as to his identity. “And so far as I know,” said the journalist, “Logue’s portrait had never appeared in the newspapers.”

Almost at the beginning of the séance, even before she had entered her usual trance state, Mrs Bailey looked embarrassed because of a scene that had presented itself to her clairvoyant vision. “I don’t know why it is,” she said, “and I scarcely like to tell you, but King George V is here. He asks me to thank you for what you did for his son.”

To the medium’s surprise, Logue replied: “I quite understand.” That was almost all that happened at the Australian’s first séance. Lilian Bailey did add that she could see the spirit form of his wife. “But,” said the medium, “she is too excited to do more than send her love to her husband.”

Swaffer arranged for Logue to have a second sitting in his flat. He had to leave just before it began for a Guildhall banquet. Immediately he returned he was told how Mrs Logue had controlled the medium. A moving scene followed as the wife proved to her distracted husband that their love could bridge the gulf of death.

Logue was deeply overcome as his wife, to prove that she was familiar with what had been happening since her passing,  talked to him about the changes he had made in the house and garden which were unknown to anyone else present. That night, more and more evidence accumulated as Lilian Bailey’s guide relayed intimate messages from Logue’s partner in the Beyond. …One such item was the fact that Logue’s pet name for his wife was “Mugsy”.

[The guide] Wootton inquired: “Is there any question you want to ask?” Logue hesitated. Then he thought of an excellent question: “Does my wife want to say anything about the place where we first met?” Wootton, when he replied, said with a puzzled expression: “She is referring to a bird named Charlie. It is not a canary. It looks like a sparrow.”

This answer overwhelmed Logue. Charlie Sparrow was his best friend. It was at Charlie’s twenty-first birthday party that he had met the future Mrs Logue and fallen in love with her. Logue put his next question: “Does she remember the place?” The guide answered: “It was Free…Freemantle.” Charlie Sparrow’s house was in Freemantle. This evidence so impressed Logue that often at his subsequent meetings with Lilian Bailey he repeated it to her.

Next came a stern warning. His wife told him that he must not dream of taking his life because, instead of achieving the reunion he expected, it would only divide them. At the time the medium did not know that the thought of suicide was in Logue’s mind. As a result of this séance the speech therapist became very friendly with Mrs Bailey and her family. His wife continued…to show detailed interest in all that concerned her husband. To indicate the closeness she maintained, I relate one incident.

When he moved from a large house into a flat, he asked at one séance if she could remember what had happened to the bed linen. Immediately came the answer that she wanted him to use the yellow sheets and pillowcases – this, you must agree, shows the wifely touch – and described the box where Logue later found them.

…It was Logue who volunteered to [Lilian Bailey] that Spiritualism had enabled him to understand his work of correcting speech defects, which occupied the major part of his life. He realised, since he had received his séance proofs, that he had been guided to leave Australia, when there was no apparent reason, and to seek a new career in Britain. Without knowing why, at the time, he had sold up his home. There were no seeming prospects in England, and it appeared to be madness.

…Having received his evidence of survival, Logue’s life was transformed. Despair gave way to radiance brought by knowledge, a radiance that was evident when I met him. I was conducting the service of naming for Lilian Bailey’s two grandsons. Logue, to show his gratitude to the medium for the comfort she had brought him, acted as godfather.

He told me that he made no secret of his Spiritualism. On several occasions he had described to King George VI his séances with Lilian Bailey, recounting the wonderful evidence he had received from his wife, and he had never met with hostility.

The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, will be reviewed by SPN’s Paul Brett in next month’s issue.

10 responses to “The King’s Spiritualist

  1. Reg Nicholson

    A fascinating article. I have only recently started reading about Spiritualism, but I can remember Hannen Swaffer very well (he had a most memorable name, you must admit). What a wonderful surprise it must have been for King George V to appear. I am keen to learn more about Spiritualism, but there are no Spiritualist churches near where I live.

  2. Ardele Float

    Thank you for this wonderful true story!

  3. Brilliant article. Wonder how many other true stories are behind well known people and Spiritualism.

  4. fantastic very interesting more please

  5. I will be seeing this movie in 2 days, with friends. I’ll look with interest at the performance, and Logue’s relationship with the king.
    Thank you for this fascinating post.

  6. I would have loved to have heard that King George VI also sat with that same medium. It is so important to share this great truth of survival with anyone that will listen.

  7. I too enjoyed reading this article, however, would not be surprised to find that Lionel Logue’s interest in Spiritualism does not get mentioned in the film.

    If what Barbanell wrote (as quoted above) accurately represents how Logue became interested in Spiritualism after the death of his wife, it is likely that until that time he would not have spoken to the future King about such matters.

    To clarify, Lionel Logue was born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1880, the son of George and Lavinia Logue. He was the grandson of Edward Logue a Dublin publican who in South Australia jointly owned the Kent Town Brewery. Lionel attended the prestigious Prince Alfred College and then Adelaide University, though it is unclear whether he ever completed his studies there.

    After training with the elocutionist Edward Reeves, Lionel moved to Perth in Western Australia in the early 1900’s where he met his wife Myrtle Gruenert whom he married March 21, 1907. In 1924 he, his wife and three sons (Laurie, Valentine and Anthony) travelled third class aboard the ship Hobson Bay to England and soon after Lionel Logue established a practice at 146 Harley Street.

    It appears that the future King first sought Logue’s help when the Duke was concerned about his ability to give the speech for the opening of the Australian Parliament in Canberra in 1927 and that he saw Logue on 82 occasions in the lead-up to this event. Certainly Logue also assisted the Duke when he unexpectedly came to the throne in 1936 and that Logue was present to assist him at his coronation and the VE Day broadcast.

    Lionel Logue’s wife Myrtle, however, did not die until 1945 (GRO Deaths June Quarter 1945 Willsden 3a 413) when she was 59. While I have no doubt that after her death he was deeply distressed and sought the assistance of Swaffer and then Lilian Bailey, it is unclear that Logue had any interest in Spiritualism prior to 1945 and any conversations with the King regarding Spiritualism would only have taken place after that date.

    There is evidence that he did speak to the King and indeed that there were members of the Royal family who took some level of interest in Spiritualism. It might be wrong though to think that Logue discussed this interest in the years when he was assisting the Duke, and then King to deal with his speech impediment.

    No doubt when he did speak to the King about his experiences, particularly those related to Lilian Bailey, he was an ardent supporter and did, when reflecting on his life feel that the spirit world may have directed his path. Perhaps that had a positive impact on the King, but if so we will probably never know for sure.

    It would be interesting to see a more detailed investigation into the experiences Lionel Logue had when exploring Spiritualism after the death of his wife.

  8. Yes I would love to know more about his experiences with Spirirualism after that time.

    Prince Alfred College here founded by the Methodists in 1869. The Methodists combined with other Protestant Churches to form the Uniting Church in Australia in the year 1977. As a result of the film they will be commissioning a work to be placed in the school to commemorate the work of Lionel Logue. Maybe it is as well they do not know of his involvement in Spiritualism until after the event.

  9. Actually Jim, the College was aware of Lionel Logue as a past student and they are intending to institute an annual prize named in his honour to be given for students who achieve outstanding performances in public speaking. A student from each level of the school (that is junior primary, middle school and high school) will be awarded the prize.

    I suspect, like you, that such an award might not be set up if the College did realise Logue was a Spiritualist in the later years of his life. Sad really.

  10. Angie Harper

    Fascinating, the warmth of the man was evident in the Queen’s Speech, it is a shame that spiritualism has been hijacked by some, as I genuinely believe gifted individuals can help to ease the pain.
    Today a lovely package came to me in Spain, it is Swaff’s personal poems to his wife, Helen, they date from 1904 and are about a dozen in number.
    There are also 2 of which I have not yet identified, HE or WE Larkin/ Lawson or Lawton dated same, and entitled to Your dear friend, and the other is dated 21 January 1913 SGH I think, any ideas???

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s