The first Christmas Broadcast was delivered by George V in 1932 and Queen Elizabeth II continues her grandfather’s tradition today. Listening to the monarch’s speech is an important part of the Christmas Day celebrations for many in Britain and across the Commonwealth.
Sir John Reith who founded the BBC had the idea in 1932 that a Christmas speech from the Sovereign would be the ideal way to introduce the new Empire Service (which we now know as the BBC World Service).
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Although a little unsure at first, the King was reassured after a visit to the BBC and agreed to take part. The logostics of the task were huge and two rooms at Sandringham had to be converted into temporary broadcasting rooms for the King. Microphones at Sandringham were connected through Post Office land lines to the Control Room at Broadcasting House and from there the connection was made to BBC transmitters in the Home Service, and to the Empire Broadcasting Station at Daventry with its six short-wave transmitters.
The time chosen for the speech, which had been written by the poet and writer Rudyard Kipling, was 3.00pm – it was decided that this would be the best time to reach most of the countries in the Empire by short waves from the transmitters in Britain. However, a five minute delay meant the Broadcast didn’t start until 3.05pm.
On Christmas Day 1932, at 3.05pm, King George V spoke on the ‘wireless’ to the Empire from a small office at Sandringham. This was what he said:
‘Through one of the marvels of modern Science, I am enabled, this Christmas Day, to speak to all my peoples throughout the Empire. I take it as a good omen that Wireless should have reached its present perfection at a time when the Empire has been linked in closer union. For it offers us immense possibilities to make that union closer still.
It may be that our future may lay upon us more than one stern test. Our past will have taught us how to meet it unshaken. For the present, the work to which we are all equally bound is to arrive at a reasoned tranquility within our borders; to regain prosperity without self-seeking; and to carry with us those whom the burden of past years has disheartened or overborne.
My life’s aim has been to serve as I might, towards those ends. Your loyalty, your confidence in me has been my abundant reward.
I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all. To men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them; to those cut off from fuller life by blindness, sickness, or infirmity; and to those who are celebrating this day with their children and grand-children. To all—to each—I wish a Happy Christmas. God Bless You!’
As the sound of a global family sharing common interests, the Broadcast made a huge impact on its audience of 20 million. Equally impressed, George V continued to make a Broadcast every Christmas Day until his death in 1936.
King George V’s last Christmas Broadcast in 1935 came less than a month before his death and the King’s voice sounded weaker. He spoke of his people’s joys and sorrows, as well as his own, and there was a special word for his children.
The tradition of a 3.00pm Christmas Day speech carried on through subsequent monarchs and continues to play an important part of many families Christmas festivities today.
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