The Other Man Behind The King's Speech

Wonderful story about the local BBC radio producer who also helped George VI

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Colin Firth as King George VI

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With all the current buzz about Colin Firth's current film The Kings Speech, it seemed an appropriate time to retell the story about another man who helped King George VI with his stammer.

Although the film tells the poignant and uplifting true story of the unorthodox relationship between England's reluctant King George VI, plagued by a nervous stammer, and the irreverent Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue who cures him, local man David Martin also had a part to play.

"My father, David Martin, worked for the BBC all his life, ending his career at the BBC film studios in Ealing," explains Chiswick resident Jane Martin. "Back in 1941 he was working in radio, and that year to the King (George VI) to speak to the country, then in a state of despair, in his annual Christmas Day broadcast."

In a letter to his grandchildren, David wrote "Unfortunately, the King had a very bad stutter, and his nervousness on 25th December 1941 was only too apparent. We recorded the speech because it was due to be broadcast at intervals throughout the world, and it was my job to look after the broadcasts over the next 18 hours or so. If we had broadcast the speech just as the King had delivered it, it would have given a very bad impression of what things were like in the Mother Country, as it was called.

"Soon after the live broadcast from Sandringham on Christmas Day, an instruction was passed down the line that the speech was to be ‘doctored’ to make it sound good. The instruction eventually landed in my lap, and I was told later on that the message had come direct from the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

"We didn’t have tape in those days and all recordings were made on metal discs which made the whole exercise rather tricky. It all went well and the final result sounded pretty good, and no one would have known that the King had a stutter, for I was able to cut all the stuttering out, and to close up all the pauses that came at the wrong places.

"I didn’t go to bed for 24 hours. I was 19 years old at the time. I also learned later that the Queen was at the King’s side trying to encourage him, and to help him get over his stutters when he made the live broadcast at 3.00p.m. It is difficult to explain how the job was done, but perhaps it helps if I say that I had six turntables and two recordings of the speech, and went from one to the other to close up the gaps. The speech was on four discs, so I had eight discs altogether.

David ended the letter by saying, "I don’t think that this story has even been written about since then, so in a way I am giving you privileged information. How wise of the Prime Minister to have given his instruction at that time in our history!"

Colin Firth won the best actor gong at this week's Golden Globes for his portrayal of King George VI. Receiving his award he thanked his "exquisitely no-nonsense queen", Helena Bonham Carter.

The King's Speech was nominated for seven Golden Globes and is also expected to figure prominently when the Oscar nominations are announced.

January 20, 2011