Page last updated at 09:02 GMT, Sunday, 27 February 2011

The King's Speech inspires two pupils living with a stammer

David and Tim
David and Tim interviewed each other about their stammering

By Kate Poland
BBC News School Report

David and Tim hardly know each other. There are two things that connect them, though. One is that they both go to Cardinal Newman Catholic School in Hove, Sussex - and the other is that they stammer.

Tim is a School Reporter and, inspired by the success of the Oscar-winning film, The King's Speech, he and the Cardinal Newman School Report team, wanted to do a story about stammering and how people live with it and can overcome it.

School Report, now in its fifth year, is a BBC project which gives 11-14 year-old students in the UK the chance to make their own news reports for a real audience, building up to annual News Day, which this year sees around 800 schools taking part on 24 March.

I visited Tim's class with a colleague to discuss the ideas the School Reporters had come up with during the early stages of planning.

I'm primarily a radio person - multimedia, of course, now - but my comfort zone is radio and I work for the World Service.

This story struck me as being a perfect radio story. It's about voices producing sound - or sometimes not.

No celebs needed

When I suggested this, the School Report teacher, Maria Larkin, set up a radio team and we sat together and discussed who they might interview and what questions they would ask. A couple of celebrity names came up - as well as the idea to interview David and Tim.

I thought that it'd be a nice idea for the two stammerers to interview each other - rather than be questioned by the class - because they know the story best.

We decided to do it there and then. They'd written themselves a few questions. We went into a corner of the room and I switched on the recorder. The rest of the group got on with other things in the class or outside.

Their questions were simple:

  • When did you first start stuttering?
  • Do you have any techniques to help your stutter?
  • Does it affect your daily life?
  • Do you feel sorry for yourself?

The answers were plain but strong.

Actor Colin Firth played King George VI in The King's Speech
Colin Firth won an Oscar for his performance in The King's Speech

David's first memory was in reception when the teacher was going through the register. His name is at the end of the alphabet and he became very anxious as he waited to say his name.

"I just repeated the first syllable of my name over and over again... and in almost every register after that I did the same thing," he said.

Tim first started stammering when he left his mother to go to South Africa with his father but he doesn't have any self-pity.

"At first I felt... 'oh I'm not popular' and I did feel sorry for myself," he admitted. "But I thought that if I felt sorry for myself, I couldn't make it better... and it would slow me down and I wouldn't get anywhere."

'Agog'

They described techniques they use to help themselves: taking deep breaths, approaching words slowly or changing a word if they felt they were going to stutter over it. Some of these methods are featured in the film, The King's Speech, as King George VI battles with his own stammer.

They also talked about how their stammer affects them day-to-day. Tim used the example of his daily trip to school asking the bus driver for a child's single ticket. "Sometimes I stutter on that - and it starts off my day badly", he said.

When David and Tim had finished asking their prepared questions, I turned round and saw the rest of the class - completely silent, agog.

I hadn't noticed them because I was aware of nothing apart from the boys' voices and the stories they told (and, of course, being a professional, that the recorder was running!).

Winston Churchill had a stutter and he was voted in to be Prime Minister
School Reporter Tim

I turned the microphone toward the audience without saying anything and they asked their own - unprepared - questions:

  • Does the film, The King's Speech, give you confidence that people that stammer can achieve great things if they try?

Tim: "Winston Churchill had a stutter and he was voted in to be Prime Minister, so, if he had a stutter... I don't see why someone else can't who has a stutter."

  • Has there ever been anything you wanted to do but couldn't because of your stutter?

Tim: "I don't think there's been anything that I haven't been able to do, but it has made some things harder, like putting my hand up in class and answering."

King's Speech parallel

The interest in the interview Tim and David did is similar to that of the film. The boys tell a parallel tale - of overcoming an impediment to daily life - but in this case without awards or fuss.

What's really striking, though, is how powerful human voices are when they are left to tell their own stories.

They don't need any embellishment - no music, no bells, no whistles, no special effects. And I didn't have to edit one word of their answers.

We have their voices. And that's enough.

In our overloaded visual world of television, computers, fashion - whatever - we sometimes forget to listen. But when we do, it can make us stop in our tracks.


The report was broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House from 0900 GMT on Sunday 27 February.

School Report News Day is on 24 March and will feature thousands of students from hundreds of schools across the UK making their news for a real audience.



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