It Puzzled me for Years.
‘Have you got any chocolate?
It was the second time I had seen William – ten days after we met at the hospital dance and we were going to the flicks. He might as well know my weaknesses straight off - I was just 20 and still suffering from the trauma of sweet rationing which continued long after the end of the war.
‘I’ll go and get some but there’s something I should tell you - I have a stammer.’
One of the first things that attracted me to him was his beautiful speaking voice – a little like a young Roger Livesey and although we had chatted pretty well non stop there had been no trace of a stammer. As soon as we went in the sweet shop William’s jaw seemed to be paralysed and he couldn’t utter. The first of many dilemmas: did I speak for him or wait with the shop keeper in an increasingly embarrassed silence.
In the end I spoke up saying which was my preference. Later he told me he had had the stammer as long as he could remember but it got really bad when he was about eleven and his parents – both school teachers - had scraped up the money to send him up to London to be treated by Lionel Logue – an Australian speech therapist who was treating the King’s younger son who became King.
‘No way was I going to let this trick cyclist teach me how to speak!’ With my northern pragmatism this seemed like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It was even more of a puzzle when I realised how much he loved and respected his quite elderly parents and for years I couldn’t understand how he could waste their hard earned money like that.
The stammer never stopped him doing what he wanted to do. He had served in the navy, opting to be a rating rather than an officer like his brother, and had just finished at university where he got a first class honours. Later a friend told me he was in the debating society and when he was told his allotted speaking time was up insisted he should have longer as he had a stammer.
After the cinema – without hesitation, ten days into our relationship, he asked me to marry him. I noticed at the dance he had happily chatted to Matron – a rare occurrence. No shrinking violet he.
Back to the future and in the consultant’s waiting room we had just started our coffee – espresso for MTL and latte for me when Doctor F popped his head round the door and said they were running early.
‘Oooh good – we’re hoping to go to the cinema!’
He was pleased with all the results he’d been monitoring, noted MTL had put on some weight, and after an examination made an appointment for March after he had had the results of a scan to be taken in late February. He said as the cancer had been quite aggressive he wanted to make sure all was well.
Perfect timing: by the time we reached the cinema there was time to eat the bacon sarnies I had made and we were seated by 1 pm agog. Eryl told me to take tissues and I felt a prickle from the very first shot when I absorbed the art nouveau décor. But there were no tears – I was transfixed – a little girl again, and stayed rapt till the glorious end.
When you see Bertie’s anger and scorn at Lionel’s antics and multiply then by a hundred you would get some idea of that young boy’s attitude and now I could see clearly how it happened. What a pity he didn’t have the equivalent of a young Queen Mum to encourage and nurture him. One of his grandsons ( William died before he was born) also has a stammer but he is much more amenable to treatment and doesn’t let it impede him in any way.
The acting is superb but Helena Bonham Carter was an absolute joy. She looked incredibly like the young Bowes Lyon, more beautiful but most importantly she got Elizabeth’s natural charm and class. Some actors think it is enough to talk posh and I commend *Australian Guy Pearce for getting Edward’s gamey type of speech so accurately. I enjoyed Geoffrey Rush's performance. As he walked towards the camera with a slight swagger I recognised someone from that period - was it Noel Coward?
If you can keep a cinema audience in a breathless hush I think one might say the film worked. It truly is magnificent, I couldn’t fault it and that doesn’t often happen. You don’t have to be British but my God I felt proud of what that film portrayed. After an unprecedently difficult start, Bertie went on to be a much loved king – with the help and support of Elizabeth his wife. We were so fortunate not to have ended up with the weak and selfish Edward who ended his days not very happily with Mrs Simpson.
As the audience filed out I noted many of them were very elderly women with many sticks and wheel chairs. That would account for the silence: they had all been little girls again for a couple of hours.
* Actually Guy Pearce was born in the UK and went to Australia aged three.