By Sue Farrow
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.