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.
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.
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.