Monday 10 January 2011
I have just seen the excellent film - The King’s Speech. Colin Firth who plays King George VI, brilliantly demonstrates the agony of a stammer, made worse for George VI as he ascended the throne at a time when broadcasting was a new and vital medium for the Royal Family.
Many people are aware that King George VI stammered and overcame it, but how many realised, until this film, that he had specialist help to do so? In this case it was from Australian, Lionel Logue, wonderfully portrayed by Geoffrey Rush. The film, based on Logue’s diaries and letters, has put speech therapists into the limelight. About time, I say, as very few people know anything about this profession - the one in which I have worked for most of my working life.
‘A four year degree just to teach people to speak properly!’ exclaimed one of my friends. Perhaps I should say former friend, as he never quite recovered from hearing the long list of subjects we studied and the breadth of speech, language, voice and swallowing disorders we now work with. It has been estimated that speech and language therapists deliver £765 million in benefits to the UK tax-payer (but please don’t ask me how this has been assessed) and our work with swallowing problems saves, not only lives, but over £13 million savings to the NHS every year by avoiding other costly treatments and support.
Although now known as ‘speech and language therapists’ the early therapists evolved from working in the speech and drama field, and they worked mostly with people who stammered and had articulation difficulties. The work was, as the film portrays Logue explaining, an experimental approach with no set working methods. ‘Evidence base’ wasn’t a term in common use then!
The first official clinics for speech difficulties was established exactly 100 hundred years ago in 1911 at Bart’s Hospital. A couple of years later the indomitable Elsie Fogarty, Principal of the Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Art, based at The Albert Hall, established specialized training courses and clinics for people with speech difficulties. The First World War saw these new speech therapists pioneering work with ‘shell shocked’ soldiers and those with acquired speech and language disorders from head injury.
In 1925, the same year that the then Duke of York gave his first broadcast public speech, a new department was established in the Central School of Speech and Drama with a three year course for speech therapy. Fifty years later, I became a student there! 1926 saw courses set up at West End Hospital, and the National Nose Throat and Ear Hospital.
The Association of Speech Therapists was instigated in 1930, with members mostly having trained in the remedial section of speech and drama training. Those who had received specialist and hospital based training formed the British Society of Speech Therapists.
Eventually these two associations came together as the College of Speech Therapists, founded in 1945, with Lionel Logue, the King’s speech therapist, as one of the fellows enrolled on foundation. King George VI became patron in 1948 at the request of Logue, for its 350 members. After his death, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother became patron until her death in 2002, since when HRH The Countess of Wessex has taken the role. At the College’s Golden Jubilee in 1995, it became the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.
Sixty five years on the speech therapy diploma is now a four-year undergraduate degree and over 14,000 College members work with a huge range of communication and swallowing problems in a variety of settings, including hospitals and rehabilitation units, clinics and schools, centres for adult with learning difficulties and with young offenders.
The College has just launched its Giving Voice Campaign, attended by Lionel Logue’s grandson along with another of Logue‘s clients from the 1940s. Perhaps, with this publicity I won’t have to explain what I do for a living, and I won’t hear yet another person quipping ‘Oh. I’d better talk proper then!' Perhaps.