David Seidler (August 4, 1937 – March 16, 2024)

With profound sadness, we share news of the passing of David Seidler, playwright and Academy Award-winning screenplay writer of The King’s Speech – and a true advocate for the stuttering community.

Following is excerpted from our 2011 Summer newsletter:

Telling the story of the stammering king, George VI, had been a life-time ambition for Seidler, ever since he subdued his own stutter nearly 60 years ago. Born seven months after George took the British throne in 1936, screenwriter Seidler grew up paralyzed by the same impediment he depicts the monarch struggling to overcome in The King’s Speech, the best-picture winner at the 83rd Academy Awards.

“I had huge trouble with the ‘H’ sound, so when the telephone rang, I would break into a cold sweat, because I couldn’t say hello,” Seidler said in an interview. “I don’t know if school still works this way, but in those days, you had set places, and the teacher worked up and down the rows. If I could see her working toward me and she was just going to miss me that day, I would fake sick the next day, so I didn't have to go to school, because it was so terrifying to be called upon. There came a period when I was actually excused from responding in class. I didn’t have to speak in class. It was that bad.”

Born in Britain, Seidler developed a stammer in 1940 on a boat to the United States, where his family moved during World War II. Seidler, who had an uncle with a boyhood stammer, figures his own began from the trauma of German bombs, the sea voyage and abrupt separation from his beloved nanny.

As George VI rallied his country, the young Seidler heard the king valiantly struggling through his radio addresses and hoped he might one day master his own speech troubles.

He eventually did, in his mid-teens, not long after George VI died in 1952 and the crown passed to his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II. Soon after that, the desire to one day chronicle the king’s tale came to Seidler, who had decided he wanted to be a writer while still afflicted with his stutter.

“If you’re born with two conflicting traits — in my case, I was a born ham, but I was a stutterer — and if you want to be the centre of attention but you can't talk, you find another channel, and that’s writing,” Seidler said.

Though he had researched Bertie’s life for decades, Seidler also drew on his own experiences in speech therapy. He underwent many of the tricks depicted in The King’s Speech — having his mouth stuffed with marbles, reciting while listening to music on headphones.

Seidler recalled his own relationship with stuttering, especially during his teenage years. “Adolescence had hit, hormones were raging. I couldn’t ask girls out for a date, and even if I could and even if they said yes, what was the point? I couldn’t talk to them on a date. This was the ‘50s. You did talk on dates,” Seidler said.

Fury over his condition grew to the point that he was jumping up and down on his bed, bellowing profanity. He found it empowering. “If I am stuck with this stutter,” Seidler recalls saying to himself, “you all are stuck with listening to me. I am a human being, and I’m going to talk, and you’re going to have to F-word listen.”

During an interview in 2011 with Stuttering Foundation President Jane Fraser, Seidler responded to Fraser’s inquiry about the impact of his work on The Kings Speech:

Jane: “Being a success is very hard work,” you are quoted as saying. Yet you have already made a difference in the lives of many people by re-telling King George VI’s story. In fact, one might even say you have helped more people in one fell swoop than anyone has!

David: If I have actually accomplished that, I’m thrilled. Indeed, if that is all I have accomplished in my life, I’d consider it a life well spent. The feedback I’ve received from the stuttering community moves me profoundly.

During his acceptance speech at the Oscars, Seidler said: “The writer speaks; this is terrifying… I accept this on behalf of all the stutterers throughout the world. We have a voice. We have been heard.”

Posted March 18, 2024