Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The King's Speech and my grandfather's brush with George VI


I’m excited that the King’s Speech has been nominated for 12 Oscars.

Well at least I’m as excited as anyone can be on another cold gray January day. As we say back in Blighty “Mustn’t grumble. At least it’s not raining.”

I’m not even sure Brits do say “mustn’t grumble” a lot, even if Bill Bryson says we do.

It’s often the most unusual ideas that make for a good movie and you don’t get much more unusual than a movie about stuttering, even if it is about Royal stuttering.

I have decided I must see it, even if that entails waiting for it to go onto Netflix. I am an admirer of both Colin Firth and King George VI, the former because of his acting skills and the latter for overcoming a stutter and a marriage to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who perfected the expression of a bulldog chewing a very prickly wasp.

Of course it’s typical of the deluded British public that they took the good old right wing Queen Mother to their collective bosoms in the same way as they were fooled into thinking Princess Diana was Mother Teresa’ s attractive twin.

My grandfather who also spent most of his life ducking the verbal brickbats of overbearing women, mainly my grandmother, used to tell me a tale about George VI when I was knee high to a grasshopper, to use an inexplicable cliché.

It seemed he was in the Army, although the historical context has been lost in the telling. I still remember the soft light that filtered into the scullery back in those days from a garden fragrant with hydrangeas and the swarms of wasps that my grandmother attracted with open jam jars in the dubious belief that this method would trap and kill every wasp in suburban Birmingham. Time seemed different back then as did the light as if it has been diffused in a sepia filter. And the smells of roast beef were the smells of my childhood.

My grandfather's tale was from either between the wars or some time during World War II in a remote Army base somewhere in England. A bully boy Sergeant had been on my grandfather’s case, hurling insults and taunting him for days. He reacted by doing what you aren’t meant to do in military establishments; namely punching him in the chops.

My grandfather told me how he was paraded in front of the Regimental commander who at the time was the King; or the future King. I can’t recall now if George VI had yet ascended the throne.

My grandfather waited for the commander to hand down his sentence; and he waited. George started and he stopped. He muttered and he stuttered. His stutter was so bad he couldn’t even get the words out to reprimand my grandfather. In the end his features twisted in frustration and he gave up. Instead of sending my grandfather to a military jail he was given unpleasant duties for a couple of weeks; latrine cleaning, boot polishing and the like.

I haven’t thought of this story for years. Not until I heard about the film The King’s Speech.

This made me research George VI’s life to try to find out when he was a regimental commander. But his military service mainly comprised being in the Royal Navy, although in February 1918, he was appointed Officer in Charge of Boys at the Royal Naval Air Service’s training establishment at Cranwell.

I know my grandfather was the co-pilot of an Avro 504, but in 1918 he was headed to Russia to fight the Communist revolution, only to arrive on a ship full of fur coats in fly infested Murmansk where the temperatures were in the 80s.

So I’ll never really know any more about the tale beyond those skeleton memories of childhood and everyone who would help me find out is dead. All of which is rather sad really.

24 comments:

  1. That is still an awesome story though.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Regardless of it being considered wrong that your Grandfather punched him, I'm glad he did. It would have been a satisfying experience :0) That was worth scrubbing toilets. I'll bet the Sergeant thought twice about bothering him again. Great story.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well that's some story.

    I'm also really looking forward to this one. Historical dramas just make me happy.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I haven't seen this movie, but I would like to. I have heard a lot of good things about it, though. Fascinating story about your grandfather!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Awesome story about your grandfather. I'm looking forward to seeing The King's Speech-it seems to be gathering quite a bit of momentum. I wouldn't be surprised if it won the Oscar.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You possess an amazing turn of phrase 'who perfected the expression of a bulldog chewing a very prickly wasp.'

    Now that is just brilliant.

    Good for your grandfather.

    ReplyDelete
  7. i'm an admirer of Colin Firth too and I'm planning to watch the movie..and btw i got intrigued with George VI, i'm going to google him up. :D

    ReplyDelete
  8. Seems most of the country has seen it in the UK, including my mother who never goes to the cinema! She said it was brilliant.

    My grandmother did the wasp and jam jar thing too. It didn't seem to do anything but attract more wasps. They used to do a wall of death around the top of the sticky substance and never fall in.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great story. The movie has certainly stirred up interest with the Kings - it feels like history has been re-written and come alive! The movie is awesome!

    ReplyDelete
  10. You have a fascinating heritage. Great story, and I'm glad he had to clean latrines versus go to jail. Too bad you can't uncover more.
    xoRobyn

    ReplyDelete
  11. I heard this is wonderful... I hope your well David!

    ReplyDelete
  12. George VI seemed to cut a sad figure maybe because he was thrust into the limelight as the consequence of his brothers shenanigans. Great story.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Wonderful story! It seems that your family heritage has something in common with Russian history :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks Oilfield, I know Marnie, and my grandfather didn't seem like the punching type, either. Cheers Jacqueson. Absolutely Christopher, it does sound like a decent film. Thanks Daisy, I wish i could remember more about it, tho. Absolutely Tim, and often those movies where people play people with disabilities and problems do. Thanks Roses, first heard in Norwich, probably. For sure Maria. I'm not sure if he was very interesting, apart from the stutter, though. Great Sarah - I'd never heard of anyone else who had done the wasp jam jar thing before. Thanx Brenda - good to hear from you. I know Robyn, a bit hard to ask him, tho. thanks Shellie - great to hear from you again. Absolutely Ryan, I think he didn't like the limelight as much as Edward; he didn't like Hitler as much either. yep Olga, my grandfather was briefly sent to Russia, don;t believe he saw any action, though.

    ReplyDelete
  15. How interesting !
    I've yet to see the film, but plan on doing so, it surely has had some rave revues.
    Thnaks for stopping by, I hope to visit often.
    ~Jo

    ReplyDelete
  16. Thank you - and thanx for the follow.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Wow! And a suggestion...you could write a story about all this, answering all your questions! Which might be a little less sad?

    p.s. I'm a huge fan of Colin Firth. He's wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Fellow Brit-in-America here...glad to have found your blog. I have not seen the film yet but want to. I have heard such great things about it and have always been a fan of Colin Firth.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Thanks Jo, great to find a fellow Brit. I know Samantha, it's a pity I can't recall more, though. Cheers Viv, thanks for visiting. Thanks for the follow JackSamMum, good to meet another Brit.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I enjoyed this movie so much. A master-piece.
    I hope it wins everything!
    xx

    Henar
    ...OH MY VOGUE!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Brilliant blog David. I can't wait for the DVD (don't do movie theaters).

    ReplyDelete
  22. Thanks Henar, enjoyed your blog. Absolutely, Lidia. yeah they are not easy with a couple of kids.

    ReplyDelete