CHAPTER SIX

Court Dress with Feathers

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An expectant crowd waiting outside the gates of Buckingham Palace

The cars were lined up bumper to bumper along almost the entire length of the Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace. It was the evening of 12 June 1928, and a small group of women, dressed up to the nines in feathers and pearls, were about to be presented to King George V and Queen Mary. Most were drawn from the upper echelons of English society; also among them was Myrtle Logue.

This was a rare honour – but one of the perks that now came with Lionel’s work. On 20 December 1927 Patrick Hodgson, the Duke’s private secretary, had written to say that Myrtle would be presented at one of the next year’s Courts by the wife of Leo Amery, the Secretary for the Dominions. On 28 May came the much awaited ‘summons’ by the Lord Chamberlain to attend the first of two Royal Courts to be held that month at Buckingham Palace.

The card stipulated that ladies were to be dressed in ‘court dress with feathers and trains’; the gentlemen accompanying them should wear ‘full court dress’. Myrtle’s attire was suitably grand: a dress of parchment satin over pale pink georgette with diamante shoulder straps and a train of silver tissue, linked with pink tulle, that came right over her left shoulder, fastening on her breast with a diamond buckle, then draped across her back to her right hip with another diamond buckle.

It was just after six o’clock when she and Lionel drove into the Mall, but they barely moved until 8.30 when, one by one, the cars began to edge slowly towards Buckingham Palace, finally arriving at nine. Proceedings were due to start at 9.30. Myrtle’s sense of awe at the occasion was mingled with frustration at the long delay and unexpected chaos.

‘The wait in the Mall was terrifying,’ she wrote in an account of the day later published in an Australian newspaper. ‘The “hoi polloi” scrambling on the running board of the car to peer in and see what one’s feet looked like! It was too revolting – millions of them – and then, if one looked wearily out into the Mall, one looked straight into the eyes of the young men – and old, too, for that matter – who were cruising up and down in their cars and leering into the carriages. Luckily, Lionel was with me, or I should have died of fright and rage.’

At nine o’clock they were finally allowed inside the Palace and its sumptuous antechamber, where the nodding plumes, tulle veils and jewels made an unforgettable sight. After another wait, this time of about an hour, the Lord Chancellor came for them – the men were taken off to wait in another antechamber and the women stood in queues, their trains tucked over their shoulders. As they entered the throne room, the two equerries whipped the trains off their arms and arranged them on the floor while whispering ‘one curtsy to the King and one to the Queen’. As the women’s names were boomed out so loudly they almost took fright, they were presented to the King, curtsying without smiling. He responded with a nod, looking seriously at each woman as she passed, before the Queen did the same.

Then, with a fanfare of trumpets, it was all over. The gentlemen of the bedchamber walked out backwards, carrying their wands of office, followed by the King and Queen, with the pages carrying their trains, bowing right and left as all the women sank to the floor with a curtsy and the men stood to attention, with their heads bowed. Later, feeling flat and tired, Lionel and Myrtle sought out the supper rooms for chicken and champagne. After posing for photographs, they were on their way home. ‘I would never have believed it could be such an ordeal,’ recalled Myrtle, although she wrote back to Hodgson saying how much she had enjoyed the evening. On 26 July he invited them both to a Garden Party.

At this time the couple bought a little holiday bungalow, named Yolanda, on Thames Ditton Island in the River Thames. It was surrounded by roses and the lawn ran right down to the water’s edge. ‘Lionel needs a place of rest and peace to go through the spring and summer, and we were getting very tired of taking the children all over the Continent for a month and so missing the loveliest part of the English year, so we decided to stay in England for the summer,’ Myrtle explained. ‘This place is adorable! We have been down here every week all through the spring and summer. We fish, swim and enjoy boating and just “laze”; and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.’

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Prince Alfred College inter-college Football Team 1896 Lionel stands beneath the teammate leaning against the doorway

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Menu for a dinner given in honour of Lionel and a concert programme for one of the many recitals he gave

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Lionel Logue and Myrtle Gruenert on their engagement, 1906

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The Logue family on-board the Hobsons Bay, 1924 Left to right: Laurie, Tony, Myrtle, Valentine

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Letter confirming Lionel’s first appointment with the then Duke of York

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Antony Logue with Lionel shortly after their arrival in London in 1924

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The appointment card on which Lionel noted his initial observations of the Duke after their first meeting in October 1926

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Letter from the Duke expressing his gratitude at the progress he was already beginning to show at the start of his therapy. In the three months after his first interview, the Duke saw Lionel over fifty times

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The Logue family dressed up in morning suits for Laurie’s wedding day, in July 1936, on the steps of Beechgrove Left to right: Laurie, Valentine, Myrtle, Lionel, Antony

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The Duke leaving 145 Piccadilly on his way to St James’s Palace to take the Oath of Accession after the abdication of his brother, King Edward, 12 December 1936

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King George VI’s first speech in public since his accession four months earlier, at the unveiling of the George V Memorial at Windsor on 23 April 1937

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Lionel in his office at 146 Harley Street, with a portrait of Myrtle on his desk

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Myrtle in her Coronation gown

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George VI’s coronation on 12 May 1937. Logue and Myrtle are seated on the balcony above the Royal Box at Westminster Abbey

In the months that followed, the British newspapers increasingly carried articles commenting on the progress that the Duke was making – all of which were collected by Logue and pasted into a large green scrap book that has passed down the family.

Reporting on the Duke’s attendance at a fundraising banquet at the Mansion House in London for the Queen’s Hospital for Children, the Standard noted on 12 June 1928, ‘The Duke has vastly improved as a speaker and his hesitation has almost entirely gone. His plea for the children showed real eloquence.’ A writer from the North-Eastern Daily Gazette came to the same conclusion the following month after a speech by the Duke at another fundraising event for the hospital, this time at the Savoy. ‘Taking it all round, I am not sure that his speeches do not equal those made by the Prince of Wales,’ the newspaper commented. ‘And that is a pretty high standard. The Duke has learnt the speaker’s two most valuable lessons – wittiness and brevity. He used rather a good simile at this dinner when he said that he hoped the speakers who followed him would have the effect of the electric plucker he recently saw at an agricultural show – an apparatus which divested a chicken of its external possessions in next to no time.’

The Evening News took up the same theme that October. ‘The Duke of York grows in fluency as a speaker,’ it noted. ‘He is markedly more confident than he was two years ago, more confident, indeed, than he was a few months ago. Continued practice tells in public speaking.’ The Daily Sketch was impressed that the Duke was ‘freeing himself more and more from the impediment that formerly interfered with an appreciation of the true gift he possesses for the apt and finished phrase’. Hearing the ‘music’ in the Duke’s voice during a speech at the Stationers’ Hall, a somewhat more imaginative writer for the Yorkshire Evening News was reminded of other examples of great orators who had overcome hardships. ‘I thought of Demosthenes and the story of his victory over hesitant lips; of Mr Churchill and his conquest; of Mr Disraeli whose maiden speech was a humiliation; of Mr Clynes, who in his teens, used to go out into a quarry to practise the art of speaking.’50

While newspaper writers noticed the improvement in the Duke’s speaking, quite how he had managed to achieve it (and the special role played by Logue) remained a mystery to those who heard him speak, to the wry amusement of his teacher. In another cutting from the period headed ‘How well the Duke of York has trained himself to speak’, Logue has underlined the phrase ‘has trained himself ’. In a short report on 28 November 1928, the Star attributed the Duke’s overcoming of his ‘old difficulty in speaking’ to the influence of his equerry, Commander Louis Greig, who had become a close friend since they first met almost two decades earlier when Greig was assistant medical officer at Osborne naval college.

Yet it was only going to be a matter of time before the secret got out, given the number of visits the Duke was making to Harley Street and the frequency of Logue’s appearances at his side. On 2 October 1928 Logue received a letter at his practice from Kendall Foss, a correspondent in the London office of the United Press Associations of America news agency.

‘Dear Sir,’ wrote Foss from the agency’s office in Temple Ave, EC4.

I understand that you are in possession of the facts concerning the curing of the Duke of York’s speech impediment.

Although some miscellaneous information on this subject is current in Fleet Street, I should naturally, like to have the truth before printing this story.

Out of deference for His Royal Highness, I am writing to you for an appointment, hoping that you will be good enough to supply us with the facts for an exclusive story to be published in North America.

Trusting to hear from you favourably, I remain,

Kendall Foss for the United Press.


Logue appears to have rung Hodgson for advice but was told he was ‘on holiday, and lost on the Continent’. Foss followed up over the next few days with phone calls both to Harley Street and Bolton Gardens. On 10 October an exasperated Logue wrote back: ‘While thanking you for your courteous letter of the 2nd October, it is quite impossible for me to give any information on the subject.’

Undaunted, Foss pressed on with his researches. His story eventually appeared on 1 December 1928 on the front page of the Pittsburgh Press and in a number of other US papers. ‘The Duke of York is the happiest man in the British Empire,’ it began. ‘He no longer stutters . . . The secret of the duke’s speech defect has been well kept. Since boyhood he has been troubled and for about two years he has been undergoing a cure which has proved successful. Yet the story has never been published in Great Britain.’ The account that followed had, Foss wrote, been ‘only obtained after the most exhaustive inquiries and investigations. Almost no one in Great Britain seemed able to provide information’.

Foss went on to tell the story of Logue, his techniques and how he had come to work for the Duke. He also noted how in the past, when the royal couple entered a room, the Duchess would step forward and do the talking to save her husband the embarrassment of a stumble. Now, by contrast, he said, ‘she hangs back, shyly watching the man of whom she is obviously proud’.

Logue was quoted as merely confirming the Duke was his patient, saying that professional etiquette prevented him from telling more. The Duke’s private secretary was equally unwilling to elaborate.

Such reticence did not dampen the journalist’s praise for Logue’s work. ‘Obviously, Logue’s analysis of the Duke of York’s difficulty was the correct one,’ Foss concluded. ‘Those who had never heard the Duke speak until recently said they would never dream that he had once suffered agonies of embarrassment over his speech. Much like Demosthenes in ancient Athens, the Duke has mastered a handicap and is making himself into an accomplished orator.’

The floodgates were now open. The following day Gordon’s newspaper, the Sunday Express, weighed in with its own version – which then went round the world. ‘Thousands of people who have heard the Duke of York deliver public speeches recently have commented on the remarkable change in his speech-making,’ the newspaper wrote. ‘The Sunday Express is able today to reveal the interesting secret behind it.’ The story went on to cover much the same ground as Foss’s, noting how what had started as a slight stammer turned into a defect that ‘spread its shadow over the whole of the Duke’s life’, leaving him literally lost for words when he met strangers, with the result that he began avoiding speaking to people.

Despite the closeness of his friendship with Gordon, Logue did not allow himself to be any more forthcoming about his role than he had been with Foss. ‘Obviously, I cannot discuss the case of the Duke of York or any other patients of mine,’ he told the newspaper. ‘I have been asked about this matter many times during the past year by both British and American newspapers and all I can say is that it is very interesting.’ The Sunday Express’s story was reprinted or followed up by newspapers not only in Britain but also elsewhere in Europe – and especially in Australia, where Logue’s contribution was noted with understandable pride.

Perhaps because of the Duke, stammering remained a subject for the press. In September 1929 a debate raged in the pages of The Times and other national newspapers over the discovery by scientists that women were far less prone to stammering than men. As ‘discoveries’ went, it was not a particularly surprising one: people working in the field had long noticed a preponderance of male over female patients. This did not prevent the newspapers devoting many column inches of editorial to it; readers, too, wrote in with their own experiences – even though they differed among themselves as to the cause of the discrepancy between the sexes.

Logue dutifully cut the articles and letters out of the newspapers, pasting them into page after page of his scrap book. Asked by the Sunday Express to join the discussion, he came up with his own view – which the edition of 15 September put under the headline, ‘Why Women do not stammer. They talk without listening’.

‘One reason is that men go out into the world more, and the conditions make them more self-conscious in thinking,’ Logue claimed. ‘Women will often chatter on to each other without either being concerned in what the other is saying.’ As for those women who did stammer, they would do everything to hide their affliction, he added, citing the example of a female patient he had known who travelled every day from the City to her home in Earl’s Court, but used to buy a ticket to Hammersmith because she couldn’t manage the initial ‘k’ sound of ‘Court’. ‘Another would always tender the exact fare on an omnibus, to hide her defect.’

Confirmation of quite how confident the Duke had become about his stammer (and his mastery of it) came the following month with the publication of a book about him by Taylor Darbyshire, a journalist from the Australian Press Association who had accompanied him and his wife on their trip to Australia and New Zealand. The book, running to 287 pages, described itself as a ‘an intimate & authoritative life-story of the second son of their majesties the King and Queen by one who has had special facilities, and published with the approval of his Royal Highness’ – what we would call today an authorized biography.

The book, which was widely trailed in the newspapers, went into great detail about all aspects of the Duke’s life to date. But it was the pages that Darbyshire devoted to his stammer and Logue’s work in curing it that most interested the press. Under headlines such as ‘How the Duke Won Through’, ‘Defect in Speech overcome by his pluck’ and ‘Man who Cured the Duke’, they ran details of what one paper called his ‘youthful struggle to fit himself to take his place in public life’.

This time, given the Duke’s sanction of the book, Logue felt able to talk to the press about his own role – and about the efforts made by his famous patient. ‘The real cause of the Duke’s impediment was that his diaphragm did not work properly in conjunction with his brain and articulation, and consequently the defect was purely physical,’ he said in an interview carried in several newspapers on 26 October. ‘As soon as he began to work at the course of voice exercises there was an immediate improvement.

‘I have never known a patient so patient and regular,’ Logue continued. ‘He never missed a single appointment, and he told me he was ready to do anything if he could be cured.’ Logue declared that the Duke was, indeed, now cured, ‘but he still carries on with physical exercises for the sake of health’. The Duke, he said, was ‘the pluckiest and most determined patient I have ever had’.

Word of the Duke’s stammer – and of the unconventional Australian who was curing him of it – also spread beyond the British Isles. On 2 December Time magazine weighed in with a short article headlined ‘Great Britain: C-C-C-Cured’. ‘For many years public speaking has been a torture to the stuttering Duke of York,’ it said. ‘Well known is the fact that in order to avoid saying “K-K-K-King” at moments of state he habitually refers to his father as “His Majesty”. Specialists, remembering the Duke’s extreme shyness as a child, have for years treated his stuttering psychologically, as caused by nervousness. The treatments were unavailing, His Royal Highness continued to splutter.’

The previous week, it reported, ‘Britain rang with joyful news. The Duke’s stuttering was so nearly cured that he could say “King” without preliminary cackles. Alone among specialists Dr. Logue had discerned that the ducal impediment was physical, not mental. He had prescribed massage and throat exercises’. Quite where the magazine got the notion that Logue was a doctor was not clear – although he would undoubtedly have been flattered by the title.

The Duke’s improvements came despite a worrying scare over his father’s health. While attending the Armistice Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in November 1928, the King developed a severe chill, which he neglected and which then turned to acute septicaemia. It became clear he would be incapacitated for some time, and on 2 December six Counsellors of State were appointed to transact public business in the meantime; the Duke was one, as were his elder brother and mother.

Edward was away on a tour of East Africa, and despite warnings of the severity of his father’s condition, did not immediately set off for home – to the horror of his aides. Eventually convinced of the seriousness of the situation, he hurried back. During the journey he received a letter from the Duke, which suggested that, despite the gravity of the King’s illness, neither brother had lost his sense of humour. ‘There is a lovely story going about which emanated from the East End,’ wrote the Duke, ‘that the reason for your rushing home is that in the event of anything happening to Papa I am going to bag the Throne in your absence !!! Just like the Middle Ages . . .’ Edward was clearly so amused by the letter that he kept it and included it in his memoirs.

The King was operated upon and, although his life remained in danger for some time, he began gradually to recover in the new year. It would not be until the following June that he would be strong enough to take part in public ceremonies again. The Duke had been put under strain both by worry about his father and by the extra duties he had to perform, but he took it all in his stride, as he revealed in a letter he sent to Logue on 15 December 1928, thanking him for the book he sent him as a birthday present.

‘I don’t know whether you sent it with a gentle reminder for me to come and see you more often or not, but I liked your kind thought in sending,’ the Duke wrote. ‘As you can imagine just lately my mind is full of other things, and as a matter of fact through all this mental strain my speech has not been affected one atom. So that is all to the good.’51

These birthday books were to become something of a tradition. Regardless of where he was or what he was doing, Logue would send the Duke one or more carefully selected volumes on 14 December for the rest of his life. The Duke, even after he had become King, would respond with a thank-you letter written in his own hand, in which he would inevitably talk about the progress he was making with his speech as well as giving brief insights into other things going on his life. Logue treasured the letters, which found their way into his papers.

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