Lionel Logue, born in Australia in 1880, was an elocutionist with an unquenchable enthusiasm for helping people with "speech defects." Many founders of speech-language pathology came from elocution and speech training backgrounds and made the
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transition to speech correctionist or speech therapist. Doubtlessly, some were driven by altruism and a desire to help those with communication disorders, by a sense of vocation, or by frustration at their lack of speech-language pathology knowledge. Countless people have been helped by practitioners with Logue's background using their unique skills, empathy, ingenuity, and personality to achieve better levels of performance, especially in public speaking but also in the pursuit of fluency.
The notion of having a command of spoken language permeated elocution and speech therapy. Both disciplines turned to anatomy, physiology, phonetics, and vocal hygiene for elucidation; both had a concern for children and adults with communication difficulties. Diaphragmatic, rib-reserve, or costal breathing was used with people with fluency and voice disorders; shadowing, masking, and pacing were common techniques in the management of stuttering; and recitation, rehearsal, and homework were familiar practices in dealing with speech difficulties. To the irritation of some speech therapists who wished to distance themselves from elocution practice, there was overlap between the two callings. Recalling the experience of being a 1951 graduate in speech therapy, Porteous (2011) writes, "we...guarded our status by accepting for 'treatment' only 'patients' referred by medical doctors." Eventually speech therapy moved toward communication science, drawing on education, linguistics, medicine, and psychology and amassing a theoretical and an evidence base, while elocution stayed with its thespian roots in the art of speech. Lionel Logue, with his matinee-idol good looks, confidence-inspiring persona, and skills as a teacher, performer, and raconteur, was somewhere between the two—an artist at core with a passion for healing.
Logue never revealed the specific treatment he used with the king. He chose not to publish his ideas and methods, saying "...on the matter of Speech Defects, when so much depends on the temperament and individuality, a case can always be produced that can prove you are wrong. That is why I won't write a book" (Logue & Conradi, 2010, p. 132).
Although history is rewritten somewhat for the sake of a good story, most of what we see in "The King's Speech" is likely an accurate reflection of Logue's practice, including his having no inkling of a genetic component in the causation of stuttering. Aspects that do not ring true, and for which there is no archival support, are the swearing scene that appears to be pure David Seidler (the film's screenwriter, who stuttered as a child), and Logue's insistence that he should call his pupil "Bertie"—and Albert Frederick Arthur George acquiescing.
Referring to intervention, Logue's character says convincingly, "There is more to this than just mechanics," and the historical record suggests that this is what the real Lionel Logue espoused (Eldridge, 1968). He advocated self-belief, motivation, compliance with treatment, and confidence in "cure" as the ultimate goal. Regarding "the mechanics" and the duke and duchess, we have no historical record that Albert and Elizabeth wanted to work only on the motor aspects of speech to achieve fluency, avoiding the psychological and emotional level, as the movie suggests. The suggestion that Logue respected the duke's wishes, allowing him to set treatment goals, anticipates 21st-century ideas. But who knows? Logue's apparent restraint in not forcing the issue and waiting until the duke was "ready" for therapy (or motivated, in Van Riper's terms) is historically accurate (Logue & Conradi, 2010), but the motivation for the delay in commencing therapy may have been more about royal prerogative, the duke's cautiousness at attempting a new treatment when so many approaches had failed, and a commoner having to do things at the duke's pleasure—rather than any well-reasoned theory of Logue's.
Logue expressed his assurance that he could "cure" stuttering during a 1925 radio broadcast in London, a year before he began work with the duke. "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." By contrast, the movie depicts a more contemporary view of long-term intervention and becoming "fluent enough," with a client's self-acceptance being the primary goal in therapy rather than the absolute elimination of stuttering.
Logue's relationship with the king lasted more than 25 years, from 1926 until the monarch's death in 1952, and it facilitated the development of a national association in the United Kingdom, which Logue cofounded. In 1948 he wrote to his royal "pupil" (Logue's preferred term) to ask whether the king would become patron of the newly formed College of Speech Therapists, of which he was a founding fellow. The king agreed, and the association was allowed to revise its name to the Royal College of Speech Therapy.
It is not easy to sum up Logue, his contemporary impact, and his lasting legacy. He was not a Henry Higgins helping a Cockney flower girl to sound like a duchess for the sake of a wager, but a conscientious, serious and empathic practitioner who understood the terrible nature and implications of the king's speech impairment. The royal couple recognized Logue's gifts and his kindness. Three weeks after she lost her beloved husband at age 57 of lung cancer, Elizabeth wrote Logue from Buckingham Palace to express her gratitude. "I think that I know perhaps better than anyone just how much you helped the King, not only with his speech, but, through that, his whole life, and outlook on life. I shall always be deeply grateful to you for all you did for him."
Logue died in London a year after receiving the Queen Mother's letter, and his occupation in his obituary and on the death certificate was recorded not as an elocutionist but as "speech therapist."