The tradition of the Christmas broadcast by the British sovereign started 80 years ago in 1932, when John Reith, Director General of the BBC, persuaded George V to make a Christmas Day broadcast to the people of the Empire via the new BBC Empire Service (precursor to the BBC World Service). Although George V was famously conservative and suspicious of anything new, he saw the advantage of being able to speak directly to his people around the world.
In the early morning of 6 February 1952 George VI died in his sleep at the age of only 56 after several years of poor health, and his elder daughter Elizabeth, in Kenya en route to Australia and New Zealand, became queen. She had to abandon the Commonwealth tour that had just started and return home to Britain to face a lifetime of duty and service to her country. Today marks the 60th anniversary of her accession.
George VI, who died 59 years ago today, has been in the news recently as the main character in the highly acclaimed movie The King’s Speech (see this blog for a review), an account of his friendship with Lionel Logue, the Australian who successfully treated his stammer. In one scene in the movie, Logue asks him about his friends, and he says rather defensively that he doesn’t have any. It makes for a more dramatic story and casts Lionel Logue as the only person who saw past the unpromising exterior of the future king and made him believe in himself for the first time. The only problem is that it isn’t true.
The new movie The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, an account of how Prince Albert Duke of York (later George VI and father of Elizabeth II) finally overcame a crippling speech defect with the help of the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue and the unflagging support of his Duchess, is a fascinating look back at a period of 20th century royal history that’s usually remembered for the affairs and abdication of Edward VIII rather than the much less glamorous life of his younger brother.
The Abdication Crisis of 1936 was resolved on 10 and 11 December when Edward VIII signed the Instrument of Abdication on the evening of the 10th and it was enacted into law the following day. The British public knew nothing about the crisis, which had been going on for months, until early December when a speech by the Bishop of Bradford mentioning the king’s apparent lack of interest in religious observance gave the British press an excuse to break the story they’d agreed to suppress in the national interest. The news shocked the public, but nobody was more traumatised than the king’s younger brother Prince Albert, who would become king in his place.