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Series 1 - Episode 1

George VI's coronation microphone is here - but what to say?

Saturday 26 February 2011, 08:04

Paddy O'Connell Paddy O'Connell

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King George VI at the microphone at Buckingham Palace.

Editor's note: a live experiment is planned this weekend to hear the microphones made famous once more in 'The King's Speech.' As the film world prepares for the Academy Awards, the film starring Colin Firth as George VI is among those tipped for success. "Broadcasting House" is working with the custodian of the 1937 Coronation Microphone to plug it into the transmitters once again, live. The experiment will be the first live use of the devices that anyone here can remember. There is just one thing missing, and BH presenter, Paddy O'Connell, who took the small photo of the mic itself, explains here what it is - SB.

One of the coronation microphones from the BBC's collection.

So we're ready to go. We've got the green light to turn on the 1930s era microphone, the two million modern day BH listeners will be poised by their receivers, and waiting for two important moments. One, the red light, and the answer to the question; will the old thing work? (The microphone, not the presenter). Then the second question, what on earth are they going to say on it. In this blog posting, we're all ears. The team is divided between those who favour a modern material the editor) and those who favour 1930's or even more ancient material. As you sit there reading this, do you have any advice, ideas or comments for us? Type them in triplicate using carbon paper and post them first class, in the style of the 1930s, or tap them here beneath, whilst multi-tasking, in the modern way.

Paddy O'Connell presents Broadcasting House on Radio 4

  • Listen to Broadcasting House at 0900 tomorrow or for seven days after that on the Radio 4 web site.
  • The black & white picture shows George VI using other specially made microphones at Buckingham Palace in 1937. It's from the BBC's picture archive.
  • Podcast: download Broadcasting House to listen to whenever you want, on your computer or MP3 player and follow Paddy on Twitter.
  • There are more pictures of King George VI at the BBC on Flickr.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    You have to do the "standard" sound check.

    Testing, testing one, one two. (etc etc)

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    More importantly, what to wear?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    "And the winner is...The Social Network"

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    If you haven't seen "The King's Speech" you may not wish to read further, since this is a detail from the end of the film.

    In it, we see Colin Firth, as King George VI, striding past a desk atop which are two of the 1937 Coronation Microphones and into a tiny room at the end of the hall. There, alone with Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the King gives his speech (standing up) into a very different microphone. Afterwards he returns to the desk, sits, and poses for the official photograph.

    Assuming this is historically accurate (for all I know it could be a complete fabrication) ... where is that microphone, the one the King actually spoke into?

    (In answer to the question "what to present?", why not ask Colin Firth to reprise his performance?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    You may have the Kings micophone but up here in Birmingham we have the Kings Car. His personal Lancester straight 8 - 32 horse Lanchester. On display in Cineworld, Borad Street. Its wonderfull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I enjoyed The King's Speech except for the way I kept expecting Jeffrey Rush to turn back into a pirate, and roll his eyes and wave his cutlass as he spoke. So why not test the mike by growling: "Ahhhhrrr, so ye be wantin' to learn to give a pretty speech, do ye, lad?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Re Lars Hoel's question on the microphone at the end of the hall.

    I'm sorry to have to report that this microphone (along with almost all the microphones in the film) is just wrong. The microphone shown in the film is a Carbon type microphone, (although not of a type used by the BBC). Carbon microphones were obsolete by about 1934. No self respecting BBC OB Engineer would have rigged such a relic for a Royal Broadcast.

    If the scenario of the King in a room at the end of the hall is correct, then the microphones would have been either Type A Ribbon microphones (of the type hidden inside the ornate desk cases)or, (and more likely in my opinion), they would have been STC 4017 moving coil microphones.

    Note I say "microphones" as this is another serious error in the film. Any Royal Broadcast was considered "Grade 1", in which case everything from the microphone, mixers, amplifiers, even the lines back to the BBC would be duplicated. So, there would have been 2 microphones.

    At the end of the day it's HOLLYWOOD but it's a shame they couldn't seek advice and get the history right for a change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Thanks for the background, Christoph. Does this explain the two mics on the table in front of his majesty in the top pic?

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Thank you, Christoph. I rather suspected the "microphone at the end of the hall" (which can be seen on the film's official web site: http://www.alliancefilms.com/en/89/details/display/12532/) was an anachronism.

    Interestingly, if you do a Google search on "king's speech microphones," you'll get several variations of this same news article:

    Three priceless microphones with gilt, silver and chrome details, bearing the royal coats of arms and other insignia, were dug up from the vaults of British music company EMI and used to record music for the film at Abbey Road Studios.

    "It was exciting to know we had the very microphone used by King George VI, the central character of this film, and I thought how appropriate and inspiring it would be to have the microphones present at our recording sessions," Peter Cobbin, senior recording engineer at Abbey Road Studios, said in a statement.


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