From The King's Speech To The King's Brothers

Deborah Cadbury talks about her new book and why she loves Chiswick


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Little did Deborah Cadbury think as she left the cinema after enjoying the film 'The King's Speech', that she would end up writing a book about the central character, King George VI.


The discovery of a cache of private letters in an attic was the spark for Princes At War; The British Royal Family's Private Battle in the Second World War (Bloomsbury £25) which looks at the personal and professional battles faced by King George VI during the Second World War and particularly his relationship with his three brothers, the Dukes of Gloucester, Windsor and Kent.

Overcoming his stammer was only the beginning of the challenges faced by the prince who had spent his life in the shadow of his elder more charismatic brother Edward. The book reveals just what it took for George VI to rise to the challenge of leading his country during a time of great peril.


"I was deeply moved by the film, but I did wonder how did someone with such a flaw managed to 'step up' as a leader of the country during he war -he had to find the words to speak for the Empire. I felt there was so much more depth to him and I wanted to know more."

Some time later Deborah received a call from her American publisher Clive Priddle, who had found a collection of letters while he was clearing out the attic at his in-laws home in America. Deborah could immediately see the potential for a book- it proved to be a treasure trove for a writer with material from some of the most important people in 1930s society, including Wallis Simpson, Edward VIII and the Duke of Kent. The owner of the collection had been a society hostess and friend to many important figures. It was perfect timing for Deborah who had been casting around for a subject for a new book.

"I had been longing to find a good World War Two story at the time and when Clive phoned me I was very excited. For a writer -when you see the actual handwriting in the letters- you feel you are taken right into someone's life. I was particularly interested in the letters from Wallis Simpson. We always hear of this great romance between Wallis and Edward but according to the honeymoon letters in the collection, in fact they seemd to spend most of the time at their desks and the atmoshere seemed a bit frosty."


Princes At War draws on personal accounts from the Royal Archives and goes behind palace doors to uncover the very private conflict between George VI and his charming older brother the Duke of Windsor; a conflict so bitter it was unresolvable while they were both alive.  Reviews of Princes At War describe the book as "gripping, illuminating and generous in its recognition of the central, dramatic role of the monarchy in Britain's finest years, and particularly the quiet heroism of King George VI” 

Deborah also hopes her book will put to bed some of the "fantastical" claims about the death of the Duke of Kent, youngest brother of King George IV.

"He was always portrayed as a glamorous figure in society but I felt that he became a different person during the War. He really took on the British cause and that has not been shown before. There have been so many conspiracy theories about his death (The Duke died in 1942 in a plane crash en route to Iceland) but new evidence indicates it was a tragic accident."

Deborah's book took her three years to complete and involved intense research, delving into classified files, including pursuading the FBI and British intelligence to release information.

"The Royal Archives were surprisingly helpful. I was given access to George VI's War Diary- there are eleven volumes, and I was absolutely transported. We knew that he was of a nervous temperament but here we can see how the actual reality of war was impacting on a daily basis. There were so many unknowns in 1940s and so many rumours and it's easy for historians to look back and analyse things but George had to step up as a wartime leader and he was living through this very turbulent period where nobody really knew what might happen."

It is also through his diary that George VI reveals what he thought of his brothers. That and many more fascinating insights will be revealed as part of a discussion when Deborah is interviewed by Torin Douglas on Monday, June 15th as part of the the Bedford Park Festival.

Deborah spent many years with the BBC as an award winning documentary maker. Her work on BBC's Horizon programme won her an Emmy award, and her film, Assault On The Male launched a worldwide scientific research campaign into the hormone-mimicking chemicals that are harming human health. She has written on scientific and historical topics, including The Dinosaur Hunters (2000) and The Lost King Of France ( 2003), the story about the fate of Marie Antoinette's favourite son).

Deborah is also a long-time Chiswick resident and recalls that she was attracted to the garden suburb of Bedford Park over thirty years ago, not only because it was convenient to the BBC in White City but because it reminded her of Devon where she grew up.

"It's a beautiful place, we have the river walks, Chiswick House, those wide pavements, great cafes and lots of lovely trees.

"When I arrived in the 1980s there was only one restaurant, the Kismet in Devonshire Road. Now we've got lots and there's that slightly Parisian feeling with the pavement cafes."

She admits that she is very partial to an almond croissant and latte at Maison Blanc and particularly enjoys the food at Indian Cardamom in Devonshire Road.

Her two sons Peter and Jonathan were also educated locally, at Latymer Upper and St Benedicts, Ealing, Both have fond childhood memories of growing up in W4 and return home often.

While Chiswick has changed in the past thirty years, Deborah believes its essential character has been retained. She enjoys the 'garden suburb' atmosphere of Bedford Park and the community spirit that surrounds events such as the Bedford Park Festival.

She shares a surname with the recently-elected Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, and both are distantly related as descendants of the famous Birmingham business dynasty. But while Ruth is descended from the chocolate-making branch, Deborah's ancestor Benjamin Cadbury, set up in business originally as a draper.

"He was making pearl buttons as opposed to the chocolate buttons of the other Cadburys, very disappointing for me as a child ", she laughs.

Her book Chocolate Wars ( 2010) is a fascinating account of the Quaker Capitalists, including the Cadbury history, up to the Kraft takeover.

If you want to hear what happened to George VI and his family AFTER The King's Speech, you can hear Deborah Cadbury in conversation with Torin Douglas on Monday, June 15th at 8 pm at St Michael & All Angels parish hall . Tickets are £ 10.


June 9, 2015

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