The Hobsons Bay, which carried the Logue family to England
On 19 January 1924 Lionel and Myrtle set off for England aboard the Hobsons Bay, a twin-masted single-funnel ship of the Commonwealth and Dominion Line. They travelled third class. With them were their three children, Laurie, now aged fifteen, Valentine, ten and a third son, Antony Lionel (usually known in the family as Boy), born on 10 November 1920. The 13,837-ton ship, which had 680 passengers and 160 crew, had made its maiden voyage from London to Brisbane less than three years earlier. After forty-one days at sea, they steamed into the port of Southampton on 29 February.
It was only by chance – and another of the spontaneous decisions that shaped his life – that Logue, by then employed as an instructor in elocution at the Perth Technical School, had found himself aboard the Hobsons Bay. He and a doctor friend had planned to take their families away for a holiday together. The Logue family’s bags were packed and their car ready to go when the telephone rang: it was the doctor.
‘Sorry, but I cannot go with you,’ he said, according to an account later published by John Gordon, a journalist and friend of Logue’s.9 ‘A friend has fallen ill. I have to stay with him.’
‘Well, that holiday is over,’ Logue told his wife.
‘But you need a holiday,’ she replied. ‘Why don’t you go out East by yourself?’
‘No,’ he replied. ‘I went East last year.’
‘Then why not Colombo?’
‘Well,’ Logue replied, hesitantly. ‘If I went to Colombo I would probably want to go to England.’
‘England? Why not!’ exclaimed Myrtle.
Rapidly warming to the idea, Myrtle had her husband call a friend who was head of a shipping agency. When Logue asked about the possibility of getting two cabins on a ship to Britain, his friend laughed.
‘Don’t be silly,’ the friend replied. ‘This is Wembley year. There isn’t a cabin free in any ship, and not likely to be.’
The friend did not need to explain what he meant by Wembley. That April, George V and the Prince of Wales were due to open the British Empire Exhibition, one of the greatest shows on earth, in Wembley in north-west London. The exhibition was the largest of its sort ever staged and intended to showcase an empire at its height that was now home to 458 million people (a quarter of the world’s population) and covered a quarter of the total land area of the world. The exhibition’s declared aim was ‘to stimulate trade, strengthen bonds that bind Mother Country to her Sister States and Daughters, to bring into closer contact the one with each other, to enable all who owe allegiance to the British flag to meet on common ground and learn to know each other’.
Three giant buildings – Palaces of Industry, Engineering and Arts – were constructed; so, too, was the Empire Stadium, with its distinctive twin towers, which as Wembley Stadium became the heart of English football until it was demolished in 2002. Some twenty-seven million people in total visited – many of them from the far corners of the Empire, including Australia.
With all these people heading for Britain, the Logues’ prospects of realizing their dream seemed slim, but half an hour later the phone rang again: it was the shipping agent, who seemed excited.
‘You are the luckiest man,’ he told Logue. ‘Two cabin bookings have just been cancelled. You can have them. The ship sails in ten days.’
‘I’ll tell you in half an hour,’ Logue replied.
‘It’s this minute or never.’
Myrtle nodded and Logue didn’t hesitate. ‘Right, we take them,’ he said.
The journey, which lasted almost six weeks, gave them plenty of time to get to know the passengers and crew. They made a particular friend of the master, a Scotsman named O. J. Kydd, who eight years later was to invite Logue to join him on his holiday at his home near Aberdeen, and showed him Holyrood Castle, Glencoe, the Pass of Killiecrankie and dozens of other places that he had read about as a boy.
It is not clear if Logue and Myrtle were planning to emigrate or merely to have another look at the country they had left a decade earlier. In any case, there were few ties to keep them in Australia. Both their fathers had long since died; in 1921 Lionel’s mother, Lavinia, also passed away; Myrtle’s mother, Myra, followed in 1923.
The Britain in which the family landed was a country in turmoil. The First World War had caused an enormous upheaval and putting the country back onto a peacetime footing proved a huge challenge, too. David Lloyd George vowed to turn Britain into a Land Fit for Heroes, but jobs had to be found for the returning soldiers, while the women who had taken their places in the factories had to be coaxed into returning to the home. Optimism quickly faded as the immediate postwar boom turned to bust in 1921, public spending was slashed and the jobless total surged. The war had plunged Britain deeply into debt.
Even the imperial triumphalism symbolized by the events at Wembley was illusory: Britain was finding it difficult to shoulder the economic burdens of defending its empire, which had acquired another 1.8 million square miles of territory and 13 million more subjects thanks to the Treaty of Versailles, in which Lloyd George and the leaders of the other victorious Allied powers carved up the world.
The political landscape was changing, too. Stanley Baldwin, who became Conservative prime minister in May 1923, failed to win a majority in a snap election that December, opening the way for Britain’s first Labour government. And so, in January 1924, Ramsay MacDonald, the illegitimate son of a Scottish farm labourer and a housemaid, was asked by George V to form a minority administration, with the support of the Liberals. The King was impressed by MacDonald. ‘He wishes to do the right thing,’ he noted in his diary. ‘Today 23 years ago dear Grandmama died. I wonder what she would have thought of a Labour Government!’
The government did not last long: Labour was defeated in the election that October, paving the way for the return of Baldwin and the Conservatives, who were to dominate British politics over the next two decades, through the General Strike of 1926, the Depression of the 1930s and, eventually, the Second World War.
Such dark days lay ahead; Logue had more pressing problems. He and Myrtle may have originally intended to come on vacation, but they soon decided to stay longer. But how could he support his family? He started to look around for jobs, but it wasn’t easy. He had brought with him savings of £2,000 – worth many times more than it is today but still not sufficient to keep a family of five for very long.
The enormity of what he had let himself and his family in for must have begun suddenly to dawn on him. He knew no one and had carried only one introduction: to Gordon, a Dundee-born journalist ten years his junior, who in 1922 had become chief sub-editor of the Daily Express (and was to go on, from 1928 until 1952, to become a highly successful editor of its sister paper, the Sunday Express). They were to remain on close terms for the rest of Logue’s life.
Logue settled his family in modest lodgings in Maida Vale in west London and went around local schools offering his services to help deal with children’s speech defects. The work he got brought him some money but he knew that, given how small his savings were, it was not going to be enough for him to raise his family. And so he took what was to prove a momentous decision that reflected the supreme confidence he had in his talents: he rented a flat in Bolton Gardens, South Kensington, and leased a consulting room in 146 Harley Street, placing himself in the heart of Britain’s medical establishment.
Most of the buildings in the street dated back to the late eighteenth century, but it was only decades later that the name of Harley Street became synonymous with medicine. One of the first medical men to set up shop there was John St John Long, a notorious quack, who arrived in the 1830s – and was subsequently convicted of manslaughter after one of his treatments that involved wounding a young lady patient in the back went horribly wrong. Others followed, attracted not just by the proximity of well-to-do clients in surrounding streets but also ease of access to King’s Cross, St Pancras and Euston railway stations, which brought in patients from elsewhere in the country. By 1873, thirty-six doctors had addresses there; by 1900, the street’s medical population had swelled to 157 and ten years later to 214.
Harley Street, in short, was already well on the way to becoming a brand rather than just an address. Location within the street was everything, though. Generally speaking, the lower the number and further south towards Cavendish Square, the more prestigious the address. Logue’s building was right up towards its northern end, close to the junction with the busy Marylebone Road that runs east to west across London.
Yet Harley Street was still Harley Street. Quite what the street’s other celebrated dwellers made of this rough-hewn Australian in their midst has not been recorded. By the time he arrived, the quacks of old had given way to modern, properly qualified doctors. Logue, by contrast, had no formal medical training at all. But none of his neighbours would have known how to advise people with speech impediments or to understand the distress this caused them.
Setting up a practice was one thing: there was then the more difficult matter of actually acquiring some patients. Logue quickly began to make friends among London’s Australian community. Described by his journalist friend Gordon as ‘bubbling with vitality and personality’, he was the kind of person whom people remembered. And so, gradually, he began to carve out a career for himself, treating a mixture of patients, most of them sent to him by other Australians living in London. He charged hefty fees to the rich, with which he subsidized treatment for the poor. But it was still a struggle: ‘I am still battling my way up, it takes time, labour and money in London,’ he wrote in a letter to Myrtle’s brother, Rupert, in June 1926. ‘I must have a good holiday soon or I will be going under.’ Always on the lookout for ways of supplementing his income, he had taken a job as a special constable when the country was paralysed by the General Strike the previous month, earning six shillings a day.
Speech therapy – and the treatment of stammering, in particular – was still in its relative infancy. ‘Those were pioneer days for speech, and in far off Australia little was known of Curatum speech work and consequently for many years all one could do was to experiment,’ Logue recalled years later. ‘The mistakes one made in those days would fill a book.’
People appear to have suffered from speech impediments almost since man first started to speak. The book of Isaiah, believed to have been written in the eighth century BC, contains three references to stammering.10 The ancient Egyptians even had a hieroglyph for it. In ancient Greece, both Herodotus and Hippocrates mentioned stammering, although it was Aristotle who came up with the most informative account of early Greek knowledge of speech defects: in his Problemata, he described several forms of speech defects, one of which, ischnophonos, has been translated as stammering. He also noted that stammerers tended to suffer more when they were nervous – and less when they were drunk.
The most famous stammerer of the ancient world was Demosthenes. As related by Plutarch in his Parallel Lives, he would speak with pebbles in his mouth, practise in front of a large mirror or recite verses while running up and down a hill as a way of fighting his speech impediment. These exercises were said to have been prescribed by Satyrus, a Greek actor, whose assistance he sought. The Roman emperor Claudius, who reigned from AD 41 to 54, also had a stammer, although there is no record of his having attempted to treat it.
Interest grew in speech defects in the nineteenth century, thanks in part to medical progress. By the middle of the century, physiological research was being conducted into sound and how we produced it, as well as into hearing. Much remained still to be discovered: it was not until the middle of the twentieth century that phonation (the articulation of speech sounds) was fully understood. The growing emphasis in the period on elocution also inevitably tended to focus interest on the unfortunate minority for whom producing even a simple sentence was a terrifying ordeal.
One of the first people to write on stammering in modern times was Johann K. Amman, a Swiss physician who lived at the end of the seventeenth century and beginning of the eighteenth, and referred to the affliction as ‘hesitantia’.11 Although his treatment was primarily directed to control of the tongue, Amman considered stammering a ‘bad habit’. Writers who followed tended to consider it an acquired characteristic that was largely the result of fear.
As knowledge of human anatomy grew, so more physiological explanations began to be sought that concentrated on body structures involved in the processes of articulation, phonation and respiration. Stuttering was explained as a disturbance in one or the other area of function. Attention tended to be focused on the tongue: for some experts, the problem was that it was too weak; others, by contrast, thought it over energized.
At its most harmless, this pinning of the blame on the tongue led to the prescribing of tongue control exercises and the use of various bizarre devices such as the forked golden plate developed by Marc Itard, a French physician, as a kind of tongue support. Sufferers were also recommended to hold small pieces of cork between their upper and lower teeth. More alarmingly, it also led to a fashion for surgery on the tongue, which was pioneered by Johann Dieffenbach, a German surgeon, in 1840, and imitated widely elsewhere in Continental Europe, Britain and the United States. The precise procedure varied from surgeon to surgeon, although in most cases involved cutting away some of the musculature of the tongue. As well as being ineffective, such medical interventions were also painful and dangerous in an era without effective anaesthesia or antisepsis. Some patients died either directly or as a result of complications.
In his book Memories of Men and Books, published in 1908, the Reverend A. J. Church recalled how in the 1840s, as a boy of fourteen, he had been operated on by James Yearsley, MD, of 15 Savile Row, the first medical man to practise as an ear, nose and throat specialist. ‘He professed to cure stammering by cutting the tonsils and uvula,’ recalled Church. Unconvinced by the efficacy of the surgery, he commented, ‘I do not think that the treatment did me any good.’
As time went on, attention began to be focused instead more on the process of breathing and voicing: solutions were sought in breathing exercises and systems of breath control. Writers on the subject, many of them in the German-speaking world, set out to establish which particular sounds were most problematic; they also found that a problem often appeared to lie in making the transition between consonant and vowel. They made other observations, too, such as the fact that sufferers tended to have fewer problems with poetry than with prose, and no trouble at all singing, and that the affliction diminished with age. It was also noted that men suffered disproportionately more than women. Emphasis was put on the use of rhythm as a possible cure.
The emergence of psychology as a separate science, and the development of behaviourism and of the study of heredity, helped lead in the early part of the twentieth century to the development of a new discipline and emerging profession: that of speech and hearing science. On the Continent it tended to remain a speciality within medicine. In Britain, by contrast, doctors tended to seek advice on stammering and other such impediments from those who dealt professionally with voice and speech. The new clinics may have been, in most cases, housed within hospitals and nominally under medical supervision, but the practitioners who staffed them, like Logue, tended to come from schools of speech and drama.
One of the better known names in the field in Britain at this time was H. St John Rumsey, for many years a speech therapist and lecturer at Guy’s Hospital in London, who in 1922 wrote a few papers for the medical journal the Lancet on speech defects, and outlined his ideas in a book, No Need to Stammer, published the following year. Rumsey argued as follows: the two main factors in both speech and song are the production of the vocal tone in the larynx and the moulding of that tone into words by movements of the tongue, lips and jaws. The same organs, of course, are used for both speaking and singing, but while in speech the tendency is to concentrate on the words and to neglect the voice, the opposite is often the case in song. For this reason, he argued, the stammerer can often sing without a problem; he can also often mimic dialects and accents, because in so doing he is being compelled to pay more attention to the vowel sounds.
On one occasion, Rumsey suggested a bizarre cure for stammering: ballroom dancing. It had certainly worked, he claimed, for one twenty-year-old girl who contacted him. ‘Now, her stammering is going and she can not only follow but lead a dance,’ Rumsey told a reporter.12 ‘Her stammer was due to a lack of rhythm. This, through dancing, she can now feel and see.’
Logue shared Rumsey’s emphasis on physical explanations for stammering. As one of his former patients later explained, he believed the problem was attributable to a failure of coordination between the mind and the diaphragm and, once a ‘lack of synchronism’ set in, it soon became a habit. Logue’s cure was based on making patients unlearn all the wrong coordination they had developed and learn to speak all over again. ‘But you must remember the key to the whole problem is the diagnosis,’ he continued.
Some people fall down on the intake of breath, with others, the diaphragm becomes locked, still others cannot make their minds keep pace with their words. Many people, not ordinarily stammerers, find themselves unable to talk smoothly when highly excited. That is usually an illustration of a third type of defect – the mind running ahead of the wind and articulation. A stoppage occurs until the brain can, so to speak, retrace its steps and untangle the knot.13
Logue was to outline his ideas in a slightly different way in a radio talk entitled ‘Voices and Brick Walls’, which was broadcast on 19 August 1925 from London on 2LO, one of the stations run by the fledgling British Broadcasting Company.14 The title he chose referred to the three main obstacles he believed stood in the way of good speaking: defective breathing, defective voice production and incorrect pronunciation and enunciation.
Nothing, however, was more distressing than defective speech when it reached the magnitude of a stutter or stammer, he went on.
I know of nothing which will build so huge a ‘brick wall’ as this defect; the only consolation being that, with hard work upon the part of the student, it can now be cured in about three months; but the ignorance that is shown under this head is appalling.
People who have these defects can, in most cases, sing quite easily and shout at games without any difficulty; but the ordinary procedure of buying a train ticket or asking to be directed in the street, is untold agony.
Those who had to deal with these cases during and after the war know what a tremendous aid Vocal Therapy was and is – by bringing them the relief of the sung word from the torture of the spoken one.
In his talk Logue then described a curious experiment in which he had managed, by visual means, to lower a voice that was too high pitched. The patient was set in front of a stand containing a number of coloured lights and commanded to make an ordinary vocal sound while he watched the highest light. He was then made to lower the pitch of his ordinary speaking voice while the lights were extinguished one by one. This brought the voice, by a great strain, to a lower pitch. The scale was begun next on a lower tone and the voice broke suddenly and permanently to a lower key.