King’s Speech success gives Birmingham stammerers hope

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King’s Speech success gives Birmingham stammerers hope
Commercial and critical success has followed the film, The King’s Speech, and West Midlands speech therapy charities are hoping to be able to profit from its popularity. The film is a dramatic retelling of the battle fought between King George VI (Colin Firth) and his stammer, with the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

But modern day speech therapists and communication professionals are hoping that the public interest in the film at the box office will translate into support for the National Year of Communication, a national campaign being run by a consortium of big charities in the world of speech, language and communication such as I CAN, KIDS and Scope.

It is estimated that 5% of all children will experience some difficulty with their speech – either as a stammer or a related condition – and that 80% of those will regain normal fluency, with or without help. However, it is also a life-long condition for some people.

The Birmingham Mail caught up with some stammerers before The King’s Speech was launched in January and the film got a positive welcome from them, including from 29-year old Jonathon Bell from Harborne who particularly picked out Firth’s performance which won the actor a Bafta and, more recently, an Oscar; “I thought Firth really captured the negative feelings that go along with stammering.”

But even in adulthood, stammerers can be cured and Jonathon has seen a dramatic improvement in his condition since seeing a speech therapist at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital – to the extent that he is now training to be a teacher; an outcome unthinkable to him before treatment.

However, The King’s Speech has not impressed everyone and Wendy Lee, Professional Director for The Communication Trust, has described the stammer George VI struggled with as just “the tip of a massive iceberg” of language difficulties;

“10% of children in Britain have some form of long term and persistent communication difficulty – that’s on average 2‐3 children in every classroom. The Kings Speech will help people understand the impact of a stammer, but for many children and young people, their communication difficulties are more hidden.”

The National Year of Communication, branded as the ‘Hello’ campaign, is seeking to increase understanding of how important it is for children and young people to develop good communication skills and has the backing of over 40 charities as well as the Department for Education and corporate sponsors too.

But as free publicity goes, the campaign could not have asked for a bigger boost than bums on seats at cinemas and the sight of Firth holding his Bafta and Oscar for his role as one of history’s most famous stammerers.

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