The Triumph of David Seidler He brought us “The King’s Speech”—and is the only one writer who could have. The emotional power of the story, which earned Seidler an Oscar last month, is derived from Seidler’s own painful experience of stuttering—and his determination to deal with it and get on with his life. He transformed ... Features
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Features  |   March 01, 2011
The Triumph of David Seidler
Author Notes
  • Tommie L. Robinson Jr., PhD, CCC-SLP, is 2011 past president of ASHA. Contact him at trobinso@cnmc.org.
    Tommie L. Robinson Jr., PhD, CCC-SLP, is 2011 past president of ASHA. Contact him at trobinso@cnmc.org.×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Fluency Disorders / Features
Features   |   March 01, 2011
The Triumph of David Seidler
The ASHA Leader, March 2011, Vol. 16, 10-11. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.16032011.10
The ASHA Leader, March 2011, Vol. 16, 10-11. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR1.16032011.10
He brought us “The King’s Speech”—and is the only one writer who could have. The emotional power of the story, which earned Seidler an Oscar last month, is derived from Seidler’s own painful experience of stuttering—and his determination to deal with it and get on with his life. He transformed his “dark and unpleasant” experience into a compelling film that honors the courage of all people who stutter. Seidler shares his story with Tommie Robinson, a board-recognized fluencyspecialist and 2011 ASHA past president. In the 1940s, when the future screenwriter was a child fighting to get his words out, King George VI was his hero—and now David Seidler is ours.
Two Oscar winners: Seidler (right) on the film set with Iain Canning, on of the film’s producers who won the best picture. Tom Hooper also won for best director.
Interview by Tommie L. Robinson Jr.
Robinson: You have indicated publicly that you have a history of stuttering. When did your stutter begin?
Seidler: It began with the outbreak of World War II. I was just shy of my third birthday, and we were living in Surrey after leaving London, which was probably a good idea since an incendiary bomb fell through the ceiling of my nursery there a couple of weeks later. The next thing I knew, we were on a boat coming to America. The Brits thought the Germans would invade any day, and wanted families to leave who had some prospect of work in America. We were on a ship in a convoy of three ships, and had a fighter escort for a few days, but then it got out of range. There was a lot of hubbub and fear about U-boats. The men were put on submarine watch. It was very tense. By the time I got to New York, I was stuttering, and I stuttered until I was 16.
Robinson: Did your stuttering have any impact upon your decision to become a screenwriter?
Seidler: Yes, but only in retrospect. I’m a born ham—I like to tell stories. But you can’t tell stories if you can’t speak, you find some other channel. For me it was writing. It’s no coincidence that a lot of famous writers through the years have stuttered.
Robinson: Why did you write this particular screenplay?

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Seidler: As I grew up and realized that I was going to be a writer, I resolved to write about my childhood hero, George VI. The first time I thought seriously about “Bertie” was when I was at Cornell, and read his official biography—very dry! I had no idea at the time what the story would be. But as I researched it, I got these blips on the radar screen about Lionel Logue, and there was a hint that he was not quite what he seemed—he wasn’t a doctor, he didn’t have credentials or formal training. I thought, “Ah! That’s the story!”
Then I realized that this was a way of writing about my own battle with stuttering. Here was a man who had gone through the same experience with stuttering, and it wasn’t me, but he was someone you would care about because he’s the king of England, the war is coming, and the country needs a leader who can speak to them and he can’t speak. But things intervened [while I was] in college—final exams, girlfriends, so not much was accomplished.
In 1980 I thought seriously about it again. I had just finished writing a script for Francis Ford Coppola, and thought the film would be made immediately and would change my life. That didn’t happen. So I moved on and read mountains of stuff about Bertie. Getting information about Logue at that time was far more difficult. I made inquiries about Logue in England and came up with his son Valentine, who had his father’s notebooks. But he would only show them to me on the condition that I got permission from the Queen Mother. I wrote to the Queen Mum and she wrote back on her engraved stationary and said, “Please, not in my lifetime. The memory of these events is still too painful.” If a Queen Mother asks an Englishman to wait, he waits! But I thought, “How long? A couple of years at most?” She was an elderly lady. But it was 25 years later, just shy of 102, that she left this mortal realm. That was in 2002.
Even then, I didn’t start writing the script immediately. In ’05, though, I was diagnosed with what appeared to be a very serious form of cancer. After a few days of tears, I thought that the best way to stop feeling sorry for myself was to plunge into work. I thought, “If you’re not going to tell Bertie’s story now, David, when are you going to tell it?” At that point I set to writing. In a certain sense it was my last will and testament.
But now I’m happy to say I’m in full remission and a poster boy of good health.
Robinson: The film suggests that the relationship between King George VI and Lionel Logue was as important as the techniques they worked on. Have you experienced a relationship like this in dealing with your stuttering?
Seidler: Unfortunately, no. I wish I’d had a Logue. That would have been a lot easier. I did go to speech therapists, beginning in the mid-1940s, but the treatment wasn’t particularly helpful. I had the marbles put in my mouth. I was advised to smoke because it relaxed the throat, and became a chain smoker by the time I was 14. I’ve spoken to a lot of speech-language pathologists, and most would agree that the mechanical techniques which are taught—and Logue used the mechanical techniques—don’t put you in control of your stutter. It requires a psychological turn and that’s what I think made Logue unique and ahead of his time. He used the talking cure in addition to the psychological approach. I didn’t have any of that. But since I was stuttering all the time, I learned all the tricks of the trade about how to keep fluent.
Robinson: How did Colin Firth get involved with “The King’s Speech”?
Seidler: First of all, he had a very astute agent who kept circling the role for him and kept nagging us about “Colin, Colin, Colin.” He was on the first list, but others were being considered as well. And Colin doesn’t look like the king. His head was the wrong shape and he was known as “Mr. Arcy-Darcy.” He was wonderful, but could he do it? Then we saw him in “A Single Man” and realized that, yes, he could do it. He got the role, and let me tell you, we were very lucky to get him.
Robinson: Did the producers bring in speech-language pathologistsas consultants?
Seidler: Oh, yes. They weren’t going to trust that I got it right! A lot of top-ranking speech pathologists in the U.K. were involved. They talked with me and worked with Colin. Ultimately, they pretty much agreed with my view of the king’s stuttering.
Robinson: What do you hope the film conveys to audiences about stuttering? And what response have you gotten from people who stutter?
Seidler: I hope it helps people understand what stuttering is and the frustration and sense of isolation that it induces. And I hope it conveys that we who stutter are not fools. Some people thought Bertie was feeble-minded; Hitler made the mistake of saying, “Ja, the king of England is a bumbling idiot.” I would like to give courage to stutterers to say finally, “I don’t care. If I’m stuck with this, the rest of the world is simply stuck with listening to me.” I think that’s the key to making the psychological turn. And even if your stuttering never improves beyond that point, you’re no longer a victim to the stuttering. You’re saying, “I have the right to get on with my own life. I have the right to try to achieve what I want to achieve, and nobody’s going to stop me.”
I’ve had wonderful feedback from people who stutter. Two things stand out. One was an e-mail from a speech pathologist who relayed the story of a client, a young girl who was being bullied very badly in school. Normally a stutterer doesn’t fight back, because how can you fight back? You can’t get the words out. Most of us just slink off. But this girl was determined to fight back. And the therapist said, “What’s changed you? What’s made you so determined?” The girl, who had seen the film, said, “Because I have a voice!” My daughter also sent me something she had seen online on a site where you can post secrets about your life. And somebody had posted their message on the image of “The King’s Speech” poster that she was 38 years old and often had considered suicide, but the film had made a complete difference to her and she realized that she could get on with her life despite her impediment. I was deeply moved by both those stories.
Robinson: Have you had any official comments from the royal family about the movie?
Seidler: Nothing beyond the recent news report in England that the queen had seen the film and found it moving. We haven’t had any denials from Buckingham Palace, so we can assume that the reports were true. If so, it’s very unusual. The royal family at that level does not divulge what they have seen and how they feel about it. To this day we don’t know if the queen has seen “The Queen.” It was very gratifying that Her Majesty saw “The King’s Speech” and was not offended by the “f-word,” although Bertie was well-known to have quite a temper and quite a vocabulary! But I trust that Her Majesty understood that the film was made with a great deal of respect, love, and admiration for her father.
Robinson: What would you say to the 145,000 members of ASHA, who have been so inspired by this story?
Seidler: I would say that in a very strange sense, being a stutterer, as dark and unpleasant as it can be, is a blessing. If you can survive a childhood as a stutterer, you can pretty much survive anything. It changes you. You know you have withstood this affliction, and you are made of strong mettle. And it is absolute proof that you have the stamina to overcome any obstacle you come across in life. Even if you don’t achieve absolute fluency, that’s really not the point. The point is who you are, what you are, and your real worth.
Managing editor Marat Moore also contributed to this article.
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March 2011
Volume 16, Issue 3