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The Kings Speech and the Elocutionist

I saw the movie The Kings Speech about the elocutionist, Lionel Logue, an Australian who
helped King George VI with his speech problem. For those not familiar with the movie King George VI of
England was literally thrust onto the throne upon the abdication of his brother, Edward, in 1936. In 1936
Britain as well as the world stood on the brink of a World War the likes of which had never been seen
nor has been seen since. King George VI believed himself totally unprepared to lead Britain and the
other democracies of Europe in this massive conflict and rightly so. His brother, not he, had been
groomed from birth to succeed his father as King. Among the various shortcomings perceived by George
VI, imaginary or not, was the very real problem of lifelong stuttering.
The Kings name before he became King was Albert followed by a litany of titles. His family had
shortened it to Bertie, a commoners nickname, certainly not one befitting a future King. It may never
have come into existence had Bertie been slotted to wear the Crown at an early age. Bertie had tried
numerous cures for his speech problem, among which was consulting with Lionel Logue in 1926 when
he was still the Duke of York. Berties treatments with Lionel were successful in that he was able to
reduce the stammer to an occasional hesitation. At the age of 41 in 1936, Albert Duke of York, now the
King of England, suddenly needed to concentrate as never before on solving his speech problem in order
to be the King that he and the world could look up to. Thus we have the story of Lionel Logue, the man
who was the Kings elocutionist and, as much as possible for a commoner, friend.
I became interested in who Lionel Logue was beyond the story set out in the movie. It turns out
that he was quite an interesting fellow in his own right. He went to college in Australia at the end of the
18th century and there he studied elocution with a professor Edward Reeves who purged a good deal of
his Australian accent. After college he became Reeves assistant. He eventually settled in Perth where he
taught elocution, public speaking and acting. Later he went to London and set himself up as an
elocutionist, public speaker and actor.
I asked myself, what an elocutionist is, exactly, and how could a person earn a living being one.
Because of my theater background and I am familiar with the fact that there are people who are hired
by movie producers to coach actors concerning various accents required for specific roles. In fact I had
recently read an article that Kevin Spacey had consulted with such an expert concerning the Southern
accent he uses in the hit show House of Cards. But these people who consult for movies are a very
rare breed, not at all commonly found in your average American city. What I discovered is that the art of
elocution and elocutionists such as Lionel Logue, once very common, have all gone the way of buggy
whips and rug beaters i.e., they are all but extinct.
Just what is elocution and how popular was it at one time. In consulting the ever insightful
Wikipedia I found that Elocution has been described as pronunciation, grammar, style and tone, or the
skill of clear and expressive speech, especially of distinct pronunciation and articulation. Elocution was a
core subject taught in schools and universities in the 19th century. It became more popular with the rise
of a middle class in Britain, Europe and the United States in the 1800s. There were a number of texts
used and students drew selections from what were called Speakers. According to Wikipedia by the end
of the 19th century, several Speaker texts circulated throughout the United States, including McGuffeys
New Juvenile Speaker, the Manual of Elocution and Reading, the Star Speaker and the popular
Delsarte Speaker. A typical curriculum would include, Articulation, Inflections, Accents and Emphasis,
Instructions for reading Verse, The Voice, and Gesture.

At one time elocutionists like Lionel Logue were plentiful and in high demand. Elocutionists were
sought out by people who had a desire to improve their manner of speech. Students were taught that
how one speaks is a very important component of success in all aspects of life. Business persons,
educators, lawyers, Judges, Doctors and all manner of what we now refer to as blue collar workers,
recognized that ones standing and reputation in the community and the world at large was dependent
to a high degree upon ones manner of speaking.
Why it is that we in this country as well as all the English speaking countries have abandoned
elocution and seemingly place little regard on this subject? Why is it that what was for hundreds of years
an integral part of school curricula does not exist today in schools or universities at all? These are very
interesting questions which could be the basis of a good deal of research and discussion. Suffice to say
that in my opinion we as a country are the worse for not having this in the schools today. We should ask,
why do we not? Why are there so few if any Lionel Logues today? More on this in my next article.
Dr. Carolyn Koos