'The King's Speech' as history: Did he really call the duke 'flabby'?

Hand-written notes by Lionel Logue, the speech therapist portrayed in the Oscar-winning 'The King's Speech,' shed light on his close, direct, and unadorned relationship with the future king.

The Weinstein Company/Laurie Sparham/AP
In this film publicity image released by The Weinstein Company, Collin Firth (l.) and Geoffrey Rush are shown in a scene from, 'The King's Speech.'

Still basking in the glow of a Best Picture Oscar win, “The King’s Speech” continues to pique curiosity about just how true some of the film’s details really are.

When the mere suggestion of a protocol lapse during the Obamas’ visit to Buckingham Palace created an international protocol “grande scandale” (Did Michelle Obama really touch Queen Elizabeth?!), is it really possible that more than 80 years ago a commoner could sit on the floor with the future King of England and call him “flabby?”

While some historians are dubious, the president of the International Protocol Officers Association, Chris Young, says, “why not?” Everyone, no matter how high their elected office or inherited position, needs – and almost always finds – someone with whom he or she can be completely normal, he adds.

The Oscars 2011: How real are the reality-based Best Picture nominees?

Perhaps the best place to start is at the beginning – the first encounter between Australian therapist/Shakespearean actor/son of a brewmeister Lionel Logue and then Prince Albert.

The second in line to the British throne came for help with a lifelong and debilitating stutter. The notes from those sessions, recorded in tiny pen-and-ink handwriting on 12-by-4-inch cards – now yellow with age – tell a story of their own. They have been passed down from the original Logue to his son and now to his grandson, Mark Logue, who lives in London.

Here we pick up the narration as Mark Logue, in a telephone interview, reads snippets from the cards, jotted down at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on October 19, 1926:

“Acute nervous tension which has been brought on by the defect. … Albert has a nervous disposition … physical state well-built with good shoulders… waistline very flabby,” reads Mr. Logue.

Since the film depicts Geoffrey Rush’s character tsk-tsking the duke over his flabby tummy, Logue is quick to note, “Whether this is an observation he just wrote down without saying, I’m not sure, but it’s consistent with his approach, which was basically direct.” The unconventional therapist asked the Duke of York to meet in his own premises not at the royal residence, says Logue, because “getting the duke out of protected royal enclosures was important to his therapy.”

Continuing with more notations, Logue reads that his grandfather wrote: “On his physical state: Top lung breathing good … non control of solar plexus and nervous tension, consequently areas of … bad speech and depression.”

Here, Logue notes how unusual it would be for a diagnosis of depression to appear during a preliminary session, which he suggests adds credence to the idea that the duke opened up to an unusual degree with his grandfather.

“He’s obviously interested in the duke’s psychological state and uses that word depression. The duke has been quite honest. You can’t tell depression from one hour[-long] interview, so the duke was probably confiding in him what was making him depressed. Otherwise,” he says, “why would he write that down after just one interview?”

The clinical observations go on, says Logue, with other notes about the duke’s stutter. “Contracts teeth and mouth and mechanically closes throat,” Logue continues, noting that the cards, which had been long tucked away in large grey filing cabinets, now “are yellow on the edges and smell of antiquity.”

Logue is quick to say that his grandfather was not anti-monarchist. This is important, he says, because if his lack of ceremony with the duke had been rooted in antagonism, he says there is little likelihood that the two men could have built a respectful and friendly relationship that lasted until the king’s passing in 1952.

Indeed, a simple note from the duke to Lionel Logue after their first round of appointments illuminates their bond.

Between October 1926 and January of the following year, the two met for a single hour every day, notes Mark Logue, some 53 appointments in all. After this, the duke set sail for Australia where he was to speak before the Australian Parliament.

“January 5th was his last appointment,” says Logue, “after that he writes to Logue, ‘Thank you so much for the help you have given me. I feel confident. I feel better equipped so I can do the speeches. You have given me the confidence to go on.”

The Oscars 2011: How real are the reality-based Best Picture nominees?

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