Stuttering royal’s first live broadcast was in Scotland before famous ‘King’s speech’

Colin Firth as George VI in The King's Speech, which was set after the RSGS event. Picture: contributed
Colin Firth as George VI in The King's Speech, which was set after the RSGS event. Picture: contributed
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Newly uncovered evidence shows that the first live broadcast by the Queen’s father, who famously battled a debilitating speech impediment, took place in Scotland five years earlier than previously thought.

Prince Albert, who would later become King George VI, was a notoriously reluctant public speaker who fought hard all his life to control a severe stammer.

It is commonly believed the first time his voice was heard over the airwaves was in an address to the nation on the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, as immortalised in the Hollywood film The King’s Speech.

But historical archives have revealed he spoke live on air at a Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) event in Edinburgh in 1934, two years before his unexpected accession to the throne and five years before his war speech.

Researchers at RSGS discovered reports of the royal visit in editions of The Scotsman, with accompanying photographs of His Royal Highness and his wife, then known as the Duke and Duchess of York.

“Bertie”, as he was called by friends, became king after his recently crowned elder brother Edward VIII controversially stepped down to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

The new revelations come as the wartime king’s great-grandson, Prince Harry, gets ready to tie the knot with divorced US actress Meghan Markle on Saturday.

Author and RSGS writer-in-residence Jo Woolf announced the discovery in her latest blog.

She wrote: “Writing in 1952, the society’s secretary, John ‘Ian’ Bartholomew, who was present on the night, recalled that it was ‘the first occasion on which His late Majesty broadcast to the public’. A glance at the scheduling of programmes on Scottish radio confirms that the speech was indeed broadcast live at 9:10pm on 24th October 1934, and that it lasted for 20 minutes.”

RSGS staff and members have welcomed the findings.

“Since we were founded in Edinburgh in 1884, the RSGS has hosted talks and presentations from some of the most significant names in history,” said Mike Robinson, chief executive.

“From a medal event for Neil Armstrong at the Usher Hall, to Howard Carter’s first lecture after the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the richness of the stories held in our archive never ceases to amaze me. And the discovery of King George VI’s first public address is a wonderful revelation, albeit from the latest of many drawn from our rich archive.”

Ms Woolf’s blog continues: “Bartholomew praised the future king’s speech, which he said was ‘characteristic in the quality of its understanding’.

“‘Those who were present,’ he wrote, ‘could form some idea of the tremendous effort called for, facing the microphone, to overcome his tragic difficulty in speech.

“They liked to think that the confidence he gained of later years in his happy Christmas broadcasts had in no small way its beginning in that first successful triumph in their midst.’”

Parallels have been drawn between the Prince Harry’s choice of bride and the love affair between Edward and Mrs Simpson, who had two previous husbands.