The King’s Speech dominated this year’s Oscars, winning awards for Best Film, Director, Actor and Original Screenplay. Here, its author, David Seidler, explains the inspiration behind the film – and why it is such a personal story to him.
The crackle of the radio always got me excited. I loved that radio. The case was made of wood. Bakelite, as plastic was called, was too fancy for a lad. My wooden radio had holes in it. I’d been given a toy drill for Christmas. Never give a drill to a small boy unless you want holes in everything.
The static, like an overture, readied me for the thrills to come. If I’d been particularly well behaved it might be an American favourite, Burns and Allen, Jack Benny, or Bob Hope. This was an extra special occasion… the King was speaking tonight.
I remember his voice, high, and tense, with occasional pauses and hesitation. Yet the cumulative effect was marvellous: stalwart, staunch and stirring. Despite his stutter he was able to deliver glorious sentences that rallied the free world. He was my King (I felt so proud of being British), and although everyone in the world, ally and enemy alike, listened critically to every syllable he uttered, he doggedly persevered. So there was hope for me.
Childhood for those who stammer is not pleasant. You live in self-imposed silence because it is too painful to speak. Hard not to notice how uncomfortable everybody becomes: eyes glaze over, fingers tap, they want to get away as quickly as possible. Or try to be helpful, which is even worse. ‘Take your time… slow down… relax.’ If only it were that simple.
There was hope though. I heard it on my Swiss cheese radio. My parents told me, ‘The King was far worse than you.’ George VI of England, known as Bertie, gave inspiration to a little boy exiled to a former colony.
Of all the moments in the film, there is one that is especially close to my heart. It is a very crucial moment—although unfortunately earning the film a ridiculous R-rating (the same as Chain Saw in 3D) in the US and a 15, later reduced to 12A, in the UK. It’s a scene where the King swears and says the naughty f-word (which is heard every day in every school playground everywhere). The naughty word is not in the scene to shock, nor for prurient interest. It is there because it demonstrates an important aspect of stammer therapy that I learned from my own stutter, and which all speech therapists I’ve ever spoken to agree has validity.
I was sixteen and my defect had not eased. I’d been told if a stammer doesn’t disappear by the end of adolescence, the chances of its leaving decrease dramatically. That’s another reason I felt Bertie was so brave; he was still slogging away through his twenties, thirties and forties. That takes guts. Well, I got angry. My hormones were raging, but I couldn’t ask a girl out. Even if she said yes, what was the point, I couldn’t talk to her. Was this fair? I was a good lad who hadn’t done anything dreadful to anyone. Hadn’t slept with my mother or killed my father. Why was this awful burden being placed upon me? Naughty-word it! I’m a human being and I’ve a right to be heard. If I’m stuck with this naughty-word affliction for the rest of my life, well naughty-word it, the rest of you are just going to have to naughty-word listen to me!
That flipped an internal switch. The stutter melted away. Two weeks later I was auditioning for the school play. Even got a part. A small role in Shaw’s Androcles and the Lion. I was a Christian, about to be eaten by a lion in the Coliseum, but I didn’t stutter as I died. I’m sure Bertie must’ve had a similar defiant defining moment. How else could he carry on so bravely. That’s why the naughty word is there.
Why tell the story at all, though? It’s old and forgotten. Well, one per cent of the population stammers. That’s an awful lot of stuttering. A great deal of living in silence. An awful lot of emotional pain and anguish. If this film brings hope to those afflicted and understanding as to their plight, I’ll be very well pleased. From the Introduction to The King’s Speech shooting script
‘A richly enjoyable, instantly absorbing true-life drama’ Guardian
‘Thanks to the best efforts of writer David Seidler… The King’s Speech isn’t just an enlightening period drama, but a very entertaining, heartfelt and surprisingly funny crowd-pleaser.’ Time Out
‘For a film about being horrendously tongue-tied, Seidler’s words are exquisitely measured, his insight as deep as it is softly spoken.’ Empire
David Seidler’s Oscar and Bafta-winning screenplay for The King’s Speech is published in the UK by Nick Hern Books (£12.99), and can be ordered through the NHB website with free P&P – quote ‘TKS blog offer’ in the comments field (UK customers only).