King George V: the First Christmas Speech 

King George V gave his first Christmas speech to the nation just after 3 p.m. on Christmas Day 1932, however, the King, a reluctant speaker, had previously rejected the idea for almost 10 years!

With radio being the new and exciting medium for entertainment in homes, in 1923 the King was asked by John Reith, Director of the BBC, to broadcast to the citizens of the Empire on a festival such as Easter, Christmas or New Year. The King didn’t think he was much of an orator and declined the invitation. 

George V in coronation robes

The following year the BBC gifted the King a radio that was used frequently. Throughout the 1920s the King’s speeches were recorded by the BBC and some would be transmitted via radio across the Empire attracting millions of listeners. However, he still would not be persuaded to broadcast via the medium. 

In 1929, Britain had a new Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald, who the King respected and admired. By 1932, he could apply a level of influence in which other advisors before him had failed. MacDonald suggested that Rudyard Kipling write the speech, the King was assuaged of some of his fears and the date was set.

King George V, always more comfortable in small rooms, broadcast his inaugural Christmas speech to over 20 million people in the box room under the stairs at Sandringham House and not in the grand drawing room where he was photographed. Nervous, his hands shook and the rustle of the papers he held was muffled by the thick cloth covering the table where he sat for the two and a half minute duration of the speech. The King reported that his Christmas had been ruined with nerves.

King George V broadcasting to the nation (Photo: credit)

The King thought that his Christmas speech was a one-off, never to be repeated, but MacDonald had other ideas. He told the King that it was a shame that Queen Elizabeth I’s speeches were unrecorded. The King is alleged to have said, ‘Damn Queen Elizabeth’. The King’s decision was further tested when he was informed that the people from all over the Empire had written to the government to say how much they had enjoyed hearing the King speak. His strong sense of duty ensured that a new royal tradition had begun.



16 thoughts on “King George V: the First Christmas Speech 

    1. Yes. He was a funny soul I think. I’m warming to him. He had such an odd childhood in a lot of respects, a controlling grandmother, a mother that was all about the boys and his brother Eddy espescially, a father that was known to chase after countless women. It’s a wonder that he came out half-normal. I think, his strictness, rigidity and dedication to duty was a direct response to this upbringing as an attempt to regain control. Once his brother died and his life was mapped out for him he lost autonomy in most things he could only really control his person and those around him.

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  1. An old lady, I am still too young for his speeches. But, the post evokes very warm memories of family crowding together, to co-take radio delivery from Queen Elizabeth. The simpler, or quainter, in today’s view; the more memorable in the accounting of one’s life treasure. Family interaction.

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    1. It was never part of our family tradition, we were always eating Christmas dinner at 3 o’clock. However, I’ve always checked the news on Boxing Day to see the royals walk to church.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for a great morning read. I’m sure you’ve read the book by Catrine Clay – King, Kaiser, Tsar – Three Royal Cousins Who Led the World to War. Such an interesting era. The way Europe was so interconnected via Queen Victoria – still amazes me.

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