Harley Street in 1926

‘Mental: Quite Normal, has an acute nervous tension which has been brought on by the defect . . .’ A card, written in a small, spidery hand and headed ‘His Royal Highness The Duke of York –Appointment Card’, records Logue’s first impressions of the Duke of York after he had climbed the two flights of stairs leading to his consulting room in Harley Street at 3 p.m. on 19 October 1926.

‘Physical [sic]: Well built, with good shoulders but waist line very flabby,’ the card entry continued.

Good chest development, top lung breathing good. Has never used diaphragm or lower lung – this has resulted through non control of solar plexus in nervous tension with consequent episodes of bad speech, depression. Contracts teeth & mouth & mechanically closes throat. Gets chin down & closes throat at times. An extraordinary habit of clipping small words (an, in, on) and saying the first syllable of one word and the last in another clipping the centre and very often hesitancy.

During this first meeting, Logue traced his patient’s problems to the treatment that he had suffered at the hands of both his father and his tutors, who had appeared to have little sympathy for his speech impediment. The Duke mentioned to him the incident when as a child he had been unable to say the word ‘quarter’ and his continuing problems with both ‘king’ and ‘queen’.

‘I can cure you,’ Logue declared at the end of their session, which lasted an hour and a half, ‘but it will need a tremendous effort by you. Without that effort, it can’t be done.’

Logue identified the Duke’s problem, as with many of his patients, to be one of faulty breathing. They agreed on regular consultations. Logue prescribed an hour of concentrated effort every day, made up of breathing exercises of his own invention, gargling regularly with warm water and standing by an open window intoning the vowels one by one, each for fifteen seconds.

Logue insisted, however, that they should meet not at the Duke’s home or another of the royal buildings but at either his practice in Harley Street or his small flat in Bolton Gardens. Despite the difference in rank between them, this meeting should be on equal terms – which meant a relaxed relationship rather than the formal kind that a prince would normally have with a commoner.

As Logue later recalled, ‘He came into my room a slim, quiet man with tired eyes and all the outward symptoms of a man upon whom a habitual speech defect had begun to set the sign. When he left you could see that there was hope once more in his heart.’

Gradually, progress began to be made – as Logue’s case notes, although brief and to the point, reveal:

Oct 30: Diaphragm much firmer, a distinct advance.

Nov 16: A good all round improvement much greater control, diaphragm almost under complete control.

Nov 18: As he progresses the click in the throat becomes very noticeable as other faults are cleared up. Diaphragm is now forcing air through throat muscles.

Nov 19: Never made a mistake during the hour, despite fact very tired.

Nov 20: Lower jaw became pliable.

After the initial interview, the Duke had a total of eighty-two appointments between 20 October 1926 and 22 December 1927, according to a bill eventually drawn up by Logue on 31 March 1928. The initial consultation cost him £24 4s; the other lessons a total £172 4s. Logue charged him a further £21 for ‘lessons taken on trip to Australia’, giving a grand total of £197 3s – the equivalent of close to £9,000 today.

This ‘trip to Australia’ was the main reason for the Duke’s visits to Harley Street. The following January, he and the Duchess were to embark on a six-month world tour abroad the battle-cruiser Renown. The highpoint would be 9 May, when the Duke was to open the new Commonwealth Parliament House in Canberra. It was a highly symbolic occasion. The Daily Telegraph claimed the Duke’s speech there would be as historic as Queen Victoria’s proclamation as Empress of India in 1877. With all eyes – and, more crucially, ears – upon him, Bertie could not risk a repetition of the Wembley fiasco.

The origins of the trip went back just over a quarter of a century to the transformation of the then Australian colonies into states, federated together under one Dominion government. This government, and the parliament to which it was responsible, was initially located in Melbourne, in the State of Victoria. This was only a temporary solution, however; while the people of Victoria would have liked their capital to become the federal one, Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, also wanted the honour.

A decade later, a compromise was finally decided upon: the government acquired an area of nine hundred square miles from the state of New South Wales, which was to be designated federal territory and serve as the site of a new Australian capital, Canberra. Although the First World War caused a hiatus, building work finally began in 1923, and 1927 was chosen as the year for transfer of power to Canberra and the convening of the first session of the federal parliament. Stanley Bruce, the prime minister, asked King George V to send one of his sons to perform the opening ceremony.

The Duke’s elder brother, the Prince of Wales, had toured Australia in 1920 to lavish acclaim, and the King felt it was time his younger son carried out an important imperial mission. But he was not entirely convinced that Bertie was up to it – not least because of his stammer. Bruce had his doubts too: he had heard the Duke speak several times during the Imperial Conference of 1926 and had not been impressed. Bertie was equally doubtful about his ability to get through the gruelling programme of speeches that would be required. Embarking on such a long trip would also mean leaving behind his Duchess and their only child, Princess Elizabeth, who had been born the previous April.

Despite such concerns, on 14 July the Governor-General sent a cablegram to the King asking that the Duke and Duchess open parliament; five days later came the official confirmation back from London.

It was against this background that the Duke was to have his first meeting with Logue exactly three months later – and it seems to have provided him with a considerable psychological boost. According to Taylor Darbyshire, an early biographer of the Duke, ‘The one great advantage of that first consultation was that it had given the Duke assurance that he could be cured . . . Disillusioned so often before, the change in the outlook caused by the discovery that his trouble was physical and not as he had always feared mental, re-established his confidence and renewed his determination.’33

It was one thing to identify the problem but quite another to rectify it. In the seven months leading up to the trip, the Duke would regularly meet Logue for an hour either in Harley Street or at his home in Bolton Gardens. Every spare moment he had outside his official duties was spent on practising and doing exercises that he had been set. If he was out hunting, he would make sure he came back early to put in an hour’s work with Logue before dinner. If he was on an official engagement, he would arrange for a break to allow him to fit in his lesson.

‘What those seven months imposed upon the Duke in toil and effort has never been adequately understood by the nation,’ recalled Logue’s friend, the Sunday Express journalist John Gordon, years later. All that effort at last began to show results: the Duke began to conquer difficult consonants over which he had previously stumbled. Each breakthrough prompted him to throw himself back into his exercises with still more determination.

On one occasion, a snobbish neighbour sent a curt letter to Logue telling him to instruct his visitor not to park his car outside his house. When the Australian replied that he would tell the Duke to put his car somewhere else, the neighbour’s tone changed completely. ‘Oh, no, don’t. I’ll be delighted if the Duke will continue to leave it here.’

A few weeks before he was due to leave on his trip, the Duke faced a test of his speaking abilities. The Pilgrims Society, a dining club with the aim of furthering Anglo-American relations, wanted to hold a farewell dinner for him. Its members, a mix of politicians, bankers, businessmen, diplomats and other influential figures, were used to hearing some of the best speakers in the world. On this occasion Lord Balfour, who had been prime minister more than two decades earlier, was in the chair and some of Britain’s most gifted speakers were on the toast list. In short, it would have been a challenge for the best orator, let alone for someone who still struggled to pronounce the letter ‘k’.

The Duke decided to confront the challenge head on. He prepared and revised the speech himself and, on the day of the banquet, left the hunting field early to have a final rehearsal with Logue. The Duke’s reputation was such that those present hadn’t expected much more than a few hesitant words. Instead, they were addressed by a smiling, confident speaker who, although no great orator, spoke with a surprising confidence and conviction. As Darbyshire put it, ‘Those who were at that dinner will not easily forget the surprise in store for them.’

Although they had largely tiptoed around the sensitive matter of the Duke’s speaking problems, the newspapers also expressed surprise at how well he’d done. ‘The Duke of York is rapidly improving as a speaker,’ reported the Evening News on 27 December. ‘His voice is good – unmistakably the family voice. He still sticks too closely to his notes to have much freedom in his manner; but is none the less princely.’ Another newspaper added, ‘Everybody knows the difficulties under which he speaks. He has practically conquered his impediment of utterance, and as his old private secretary Sir Ronald Waterhouse remarked as the gathering was dispersing,“Wasn’t he wonderful! It was the best delivered speech he has ever made.”’

The Duke revealed later that he had treated the speech as a real test of the progress he had made under Logue’s tutelage and that, by acquitting himself with such success, he had reached a turning point in his career; at last, his handicap seemed to be fading into the past.34

The challenges the Duke would face on the tour were of a wholly different scale, however. He would have liked to have his teacher with him but Logue declined, pointing out that self-reliance was an important part of the cure. Pressure was put on Logue to change his mind, but he stood firm, stating it would be a ‘psychological error’.

The Duke appears not to have held it against him – an apparent acceptance on his part, too, of the importance of self-reliance. The day before he left, he wrote, ‘My dear Logue, I must send you a line to tell you how grateful I am to you for all that you have done in helping me with my speech defect. I really do think you have given me a real good start in the way of getting over it & I am sure if I carry on your exercises and instructions that I shall not go back. I am full of confidence for this trip now anyhow. Again so many thanks.’35

The Duke and Duchess sailed from Portsmouth on 6 January 1927. The King and Queen had seen them off at Victoria; there was a particular sadness about their departure – they also had to say farewell to their baby daughter Elizabeth. ‘I felt very much leaving on Thursday, and the baby was so sweet playing with the buttons on Bertie’s uniform that it quite broke me up,’ the Duchess wrote later to the Queen.36 Frequent letters from home reporting on their daughter’s progress went only a little way to comforting them in their absence.

Bertie was also weighed down by the seriousness of the formal responsibilities ahead. Twenty-six years earlier his father, at the time the Duke of Cornwall and York, had inaugurated the federation by opening the first session of the Commonwealth parliament in Melbourne. Now his second son was to follow in his footsteps. ‘This is the first time you have sent me on a mission concerning the Empire & I can assure you that I will do my very best to make it the success we all hope for,’ he wrote to his father.37 Determined to give the best performance he could, Bertie embarked on the exercises that Logue had prepared for him. He applied himself to his schedule with considerable energy, even while many of those around him were resting in the tropical heat.

They sailed westwards, stopping at Las Palmas, Jamaica and Panama. In an effusive letter from Panama on 25 January, the Duke described how he had been practising his reading exercises and had made three short speeches – one in Jamaica and two in Panama – all of which had gone well, despite the troublesome heat. ‘Ever since I have been here,’ the Duke wrote:

I have not been held up for a word in conversation at any time. No matter with whom I have been talking. The reading every day is hard to arrange for any length of time, but I do so at odd moments, especially after exercising when I am out of breath. This has not upset me either.

Your teaching I must say has given me a tremendous amount of confidence and as long as I can keep going and thinking about it all the time for the next few months I am sure you will find that I have not gone back. I don’t think about the breathing anymore; that foundation is solid and even a rough sea doesn’t shake it when speaking. I try to open my mouth and it certainly feels more open than before. You remember my fear of ‘The King’. I give it every evening at dinner on board. This does not worry me anymore.

The letter, as always hand written, was signed ‘Yours very sincerely Albert’.38

Patrick Hodgson, the Duke’s private secretary, was also keen to assure Logue of the progress his pupil was making. ‘Just a line – in very hot weather – to let you know that HRH is in great form and the improvement in his speech well maintained,’ he wrote in mid-February from onboard ship near Fiji. ‘He delivered speeches at Jamaica and Panama very well and though perhaps there is a trifle more hesitancy than when you are near at hand he is full of confidence and altogether much better than I expected he would be in your absence.’39 Hodgson concluded by promising to write again when the Duke had spoken in public a bit more.

Then it was on westwards to New Zealand. At dawn on 22 February, under pouring rain, they passed the narrow straits into the bay of Waitemata and the port of Auckland. The dreaded speeches began immediately in earnest: on the first morning alone, Bertie had to make three of them. ‘The last one in the Town Hall quite a long one, & I can tell you that I was really pleased with the way I made it, as I had perfect confidence in myself & I did not hesitate at all,’ Bertie wrote to his mother five days later from Rotorua. ‘Logue’s teaching is still working well, but of course if I get tired it still worries me.’40 The ensuing weeks passed in a whirl of dinners, receptions, garden parties, balls and other official functions during which the Duke acquitted himself with distinction. The only potential setback occurred on 12 March when the Duchess was struck down with tonsillitis and, on the advice of her doctors, went back to Wellington to convalesce at Government House.

The Duke’s first thought was to abandon the latter part of his tour of South Island and go back to Wellington with her. Intensely shy by nature, he had come to depend heavily on his wife’s support. Such was the enthusiasm with which the Duchess was greeted by the crowds – a foretaste of the welcome that Princess Diana was to receive more than a half century later when she and Prince Charles toured Australia and New Zealand – that Bertie was convinced she was the one the crowds really wanted to see.

The Duke persisted, however, and was pleasantly surprised by the response. Impressed by his self-sacrifice, the crowds gave him an especially warm welcome as he continued his tour alone. When he was reunited with the Duchess on board the Renown on 22 March, he could look back with a degree of satisfaction on what he had achieved, even without her by his side.

But the real challenge lay ahead with the Australian leg of their tour, which began four days later when they came ashore in brilliant sunshine in Sydney Harbour. Bertie was apparently undaunted by what awaited him. ‘I have ever so much more confidence in myself and don’t brood over a speech as in the old days,’ he wrote. ‘I know what to do now and the knowledge has helped me over and over again.’41

The following two months, during which the royal couple travelled from state to state, were every bit as packed with engagements – including, of course, speeches. One of the most emotional the Duke had to make was in Melbourne on 25 April to commemorate Anzac Day, marking the twelfth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. He carried it off with success.

Then on 9 May came the main event of the trip: the opening of parliament. The Duke had slept badly the night before because of nerves, and he had added to his burden by proposing an extra speech. So many people were expected to attend that he decided to make a brief address to the crowds outside as he opened the great doors of the new Parliament House with a golden key. Dame Nellie Melba sang the national anthem; troops paraded and aeroplanes droned overhead – one of them crashed from four hundred feet about a mile from the reviewing stand, killing the pilot. Although some twenty thousand people were present (and an estimated two million listened at home on the radio) the Duke won the battle with his nerves. It was, wrote General Lord Cavan, his chief of staff, to the King, ‘ a tremendous success & entirely H.R.H’s own idea’.42

As he stepped into the small Senate Chamber to make his formal address to members of both houses of parliament, the Duke was hit immediately by the heat, which intensified as the lights were switched on for the photographers and cameramen whose footage was to be distributed by Pathé news to viewers back in Britain. ‘So terrific was the light that it raised the temperature of the Senate from 65 to 80 degrees in twenty minutes, in spite of the fact that by special request, one third of it was turned off,’ noted Cavan.43 Yet the Duke pressed on, putting in what all concerned considered an impressive performance.

At the official luncheon the 500 guests joined the Duke in toasting his father in orangeade and lemonade – Canberra was by law completely dry. Such enforced abstinence did little to dampen the Duke’s feeling of pride and relief in what he had done; this was reflected in a letter he wrote back to his father in which he paid tribute to the assistance he had received from Logue. ‘I was not very nervous when I made the Speech, because the one I made outside went off without a hitch, &I did not hesitate once,’ he wrote. ‘I was relieved as making speeches still frightens me, though Logue’s teaching has really done wonders for me as I now know how to prevent & get over any difficulty. I have so much more confidence in myself now, which I am sure comes from being able to speak properly at last.’44 The Duke also made sure Logue knew how grateful he was: on the evening of the speech, Hodgson sent his teacher a telegram to his home in Bolton Gardens that read simply: ‘Canberra speeches most successful everyone pleased.’45

On 23 May the Duke and Duchess finally set off for home, the congratulations still ringing in their ears. ‘His Royal Highness has touched people profoundly by his youth, his simplicity and natural bearing,’ Sir Tom Bridges, the Governor of South Australia wrote to the King, ‘while the Duchess has had a tremendous ovation and leaves us with the responsibility of having a continent in love with her. This visit has done untold good and has certainly put back the clock of disunion and disloyalty twenty-five years as far as this State is concerned.’46

The drama was not completely over, however. Three days after the Renown left Sydney Harbour and was making its way through the Indian Ocean, a serious fire broke out in one of the boiler rooms and came close to igniting the ship’s entire oil supply. The blaze was put out in the nick of time, but such was its seriousness that at one stage there were plans to abandon ship.

The Duke and Duchess landed in Portsmouth on 27 June, giving the locals a chance to assess Bertie’s progress from a speech he made in response to the Mayor’s welcome address. Basil Brooke, the Duke’s comptroller, who was among those present, wrote to Logue to say how ‘really amazed’ he had been by what he had heard. ‘There was practically no hesitation and I thought it was perfectly wonderful,’ he wrote. ‘I thought you would like to know this.’47

While the Duke’s three brothers met him in Portsmouth, the King and Queen greeted him and his wife at Victoria station. During their six months away, the royal couple had travelled thirty thousand miles by sea and several thousand by land. The warmth of the reception they received had demonstrated clearly the high regard in which the monarchy was still held in both Australia and New Zealand, and there was little doubt that, by their presence, they had further strengthened such devotion to Crown and Empire.

Just as importantly, the trip had given the Duke a new confidence in his own abilities. He was acutely conscious of the way his performance had improved his standing in the eyes of the King. Conversations with his father no longer seemed quite as daunting as they once had. ‘I mustn’t boast and I must touch wood while I write this that I haven’t had a bad day since I have been in Scotland,’ he wrote to Logue on 11 September from Balmoral. ‘Up here I have been talking a lot with the King & I have had no trouble at all. Also I can make him listen, & I don’t have to repeat everything over again.’48 The Duke said he had also told the King’s physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, how he was being treated by Logue and he noticed the difference at once – whereupon the Duke told him he should send all his stammering cases to Logue ‘and to no one else !!!’49

At a lunch at the Mansion House where the City welcomed him back, the Duke spoke for half an hour pleasantly, smoothly and with great charm about his experiences on the tour. Logue began to think his patient was not only getting over his problems but even on his way to becoming a really first-class speaker. But however great the progress he had made in Australia, Bertie realized he still had to work on his stammer and on his public speaking. And so, a few days after he returned to London he resumed his regular visits to Harley Street.

In the sessions that followed, the Duke would work on the tongue twisters Logue prescribed for him such as ‘Let’s go gathering healthy heather with the gay brigade of grand dragoons’ and ‘She sifted seven thick-stalked thistles through a strong thick sieve’. Despite the huge social gulf between them, theirs turned from a professional relationship to friendship, helped by Logue’s frank and straightforward style.

‘The outstanding feature of the two years he has spent with me is the enormous capacity for work his Royal Highness possesses,’ Logue told Darbyshire, the Duke’s biographer. ‘When he first began to improve, he visualized what perfect speech was and nothing short of that ideal is going to satisfy him. For two years he has never missed an appointment with me – a record of which he can with justice be proud. He realized that the will to be cured was not enough but that it called for grit, hard work and self-sacrifice, all of which he gave ungrudgingly. Now he is “come to his kingdom” of content and confidence in diction.’

The Duchess, too, was also playing an important (if discreet) role, spurring her husband on. Although much of this was conducted in private, others in his presence occasionally got a glimpse, such as on one occasion when the Duke rose to speak after a lunch and appeared to be struggling more than usual. He was about to give up, when those present saw the Duchess reach out and squeeze his fingers as if to encourage him to continue. He invariably did so.

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