Lionel Logue, The King’s Speech and Dulwich By Peter Watkins

Lionel Logue (1880-1953), untrained Australian speech therapist hurled into notoriety by a recent film (The King’s Speech) was, for part of his life at least, a Dulwich man. How did it happen?

Logue was born in Perth, Australia in 1880. He took elocution lessons and subsequently demonstrated the elocutionary art to huge audiences all over the world. He came to London with his wife Myrtle in 1924, and offered support to Australian veterans of World War 1 who had developed speech defects from shell shock. Already by 1926 he had established consulting rooms at 146 Harley Street, and it was into these rooms that the Duke of York (later George VI) consulted him regarding the stammer which had plagued him since eight years of age, and which some nine “experts” had failed to cure. Indeed, at that time, some speech therapists were regarded as quacks by the medical establishment, some of whom themselves undertook bizarre and sometimes dangerous entirely unproven treatments including partial excision of muscles of the tongue. Logue himself had had no formal medical or scientific training, and did not record details of the techniques he used in treatment. In time he gained a large practice of wealthy patients with whose fees he subsidised the tuition of poorer clients, on one occasion requesting no more than a bunch of flowers. His practice flourished and only began to decline after some 15 years, but throughout he gave incomparable support and friendship to his royal patient, standing at his side during many of his important speeches. Perhaps this close friendship was the underlying cause of his success. It was certainly to his very great credit that in 1935 he set up the British Society of Speech Therapists and was made MVO by George VI in 1937, and CVO in 1944.

Logue had various addresses during his London life—first at Maida Vale, then a flat in South Kensington where he lived until he moved in 1932 to Beechgrove House on Sydenham Hill at the edge of Dulwich Woods. This substantial property, built during the early 1860s, remained a private home until the end of World War II. It was described as having 25 rooms, five bathrooms, five acres of garden, a tennis court and a cook. On 9th February 1933, the Estates Governors of Alleyn’s College at Dulwich granted to him permission to place a brass plate outside the property “to interview at the said premises a few patients in your practice as curer of speech defects and to fix and exhibit on the outside of the premises a brass plate not exceeding four inches by two-and-half inches size, with your name inscribed thereon, and in return for the estate giving him this licence he shall pay the sum of five shillings at Lady Day each year”. It should also be recorded that of Logue’s three sons, Laurie married in St Stephen’s Church in College Road, Antony attended Dulwich College, and Valentine became a renowned neurosurgeon at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in Queen Square, London.

Myrtle, Lionel’s wife, described how her own “lovely house” had become a “calling-point” for Australians visiting Britain. She also recorded that “His Majesty frequently comes to our house – he is most charming”, although whether he actually saw George VI at Beechgrove House is not clear. However, his biographer did record that Logue was listening at home to his broadcast at Christmas 1944. He telephoned the King to congratulate him, and suggested “My job is over, Sir”, to which the King replied “Not at all. It is the preliminary work that counts, and that is where you are indispensable”. Logue did indeed continue to help the King on and off with his speeches and was present on VE Day, May 8th 1945, at his address from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Because many of Logue’s patients had left for military service, he began to develop financial problems during the middle 1940s, and had great difficulty in maintaining the large Beechgrove House. He was unable to get anyone to help, and was not even allowed to use the motor mower, instead acquiring sheep to keep down the lawn. Myrtle died on 22nd June 1945, and Logue sold the house in April 1947, moving to a flat in Knightsbridge opposite Harrods. Beechgrove House was subsequently lived in by a Dr Michael Denny, then became a home for elderly patients discharged from hospitals in Camberwell in 1952, closed in 1960 and was demolished in 1983.

The King died on 6th February 1952 aged 56 years, and Logue on April 12th 1953, aged 73 years. Perhaps his greatest accolade was the press report on George VI’s speech at his coronation of 12th May 1937: “The King’s voice was strong and deep, resembling to a startling degree the voice of his father…His words came through firmly, clearly – and without hesitation”.

Sources. The King’s Speech: How one man saved the British monarchy.

Mark Logue and Peter Conrad. Quercus, London, 2010.

Estates governors of Alleyn’s College, Dulwich, London