In this episode, we’ll learn about historical events that happened this week in history as they were depicted in these movies: W.E., Young Winston, and The Right Stuff.
Events from This Week in History
Birthdays from This Week in History
Movies Released This Week in History
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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things better in the audio.
December 11th, 1936. Windsor Castle, England.
We’re in a room watching some historic footage of an NBC radio broadcast. The man behind the microphone is speaking into a microphone as he announces that they’re interrupting the program to bring a most momentous address by Mr. David Windsor, former King Edward VIII of England.
Then, the movie cuts to a grandfather clock. Then another quick cut to a different microphone, with a man sitting in front of it in the foreground. He’s facing the mic, so we can’t see his face, but we can hear someone else’s voice saying, “This is Windsor Castle. His Royal Highness, Prince Edward.”
The camera moves to in front of him, and he has sheets of paper with writing on it and lots of notes. Many lines are crossed out, it looks like there’s writing in the margins. The man puts a cigarette to his mouth and lights it. The lighter clicks closed, and he takes a long drag on the cigarette.
The clock ticks loudly in the background as smoke swirls around the man. He breathes out the smoke as he takes the cigarette and taps it on an ash tray on the desk in front of him. At least, that’s what I’m assuming he’s doing. His hand moves off camera as instead it focuses on a framed photograph of a man and a woman on the desk. He is the man in the photograph, and although the photograph is a very professional-looking picture of the two of them, it still gives us the sense they’re a couple.
In the foreground, with elbows resting on the desk, he buries his face in his hands now as he’s obviously very nervous about what’s to come.
The camera cuts to some black and white footage racing through a stately manor. In just a couple seconds, that is over and now we’re back inside a luxurious room. As the camera moves around the room, we can hear the man’s voice speaking, “At long last, I’m able to say a few words of my own…”
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie W.E.
That sequence comes from the 2011 movie directed by Madonna called W.E. The event it’s depicting is when David Windsor made his first public address after abdicating the throne of England, which happened this week in history on December 11th, 1936.
The movie’s depiction of this is very dramatized. After all, as you can tell from the scene I described, there isn’t a lot of things happening other than a man being anxious about a radio broadcast. And, I’m sure it’s very true that he was anxious.
After all, no King of the United Kingdom had ever abdicated the throne before—ever. David Windsor was his name after he abdicated the throne. The day before, on December 10th, that man was King Edward VIII.
Here is the statement of abdication that he signed the day before his broadcast:
Instrument of Abdication.
I, Edward the Eighth, of Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Dominions beyond the Seas, King, Emperor of India, do hereby declare My irrevocable determination to renounce the Throne for Myself and for My descendants, and My desire that effect should be given to this Instrument of Abdication immediately.
In token whereof I have hereunto set My hand this tenth day of December, nineteen hundred and thirty six, in the presence of the witnesses whose signatures are subscribed.
Signed at Fort Belvedere in the Presence of
And then we can see the signatures of Edward VIII alongside the witnesses, his three brothers: Albert, Henry, and George. It was George who became the next King of the United Kingdom.
Of course, technically, since that was December 10th, that was last week in history. But, the radio broadcast that the former King made took place on December 11th. After all, when he was King Edward VIII, he was the first King of the United Kingdom to ever issue a radio broadcast. So, he knew this new technology was a way to reach people.
Why did King Edward VIII abdicate the throne? Simply put, he was in love. He was in love with a woman named Wallis Simpson—hence the title of the movie, W.E.
Wallis Simpson was an American socialite, and she was divorced. At the time, the only reason for divorce that the Church of England would recognize was adultery. That’s not why Wallis Simpson got divorced, so if she married Edward that would make the marriage bigamy—basically, a criminal offense marrying one person while still married to another.
That’s not something the King could do. As a result, King Edward VIII made the decision to abdicate the throne so he’d be free to marry Wallis.
Now, I ended the last segment before we could hear the speech. A big reason for that is because I thought you’d prefer to hear the speech from the former King’s own voice instead of having me read it.
So, here is an original recording of the speech that he gave on December 11th, 1936:
At long last I am able to say a few words of my own. I have never wanted to withhold anything, but until now it has not been constitutionally possible for me to speak.
A few hours ago I discharged my last duty as King and Emperor, and now that I have been succeeded by my brother, The Duke of York, my first words must be to declare my allegiance to him.
This I do with all my heart.
You all know the reasons which have impelled me to renounce the Throne. But I want you to understand that in making up my mind I did not forget the country or the Empire which as Prince of Wales, and lately as King, I have for twenty-five years tried to serve. But you must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to
discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.
And I want you to know that the decision I have made has been mine and mine alone. This was a thing I had to judge entirely for myself. The other person most nearly concerned has tried up to the last to persuade me to take a different course.
I have made this, the most serious decision of my life, only
upon the single thought of what would in the end be best for all.
This decision has been made less difficult to me by the sure knowledge that my brother, with his long training in the public affairs of this country and with his fine qualities, will be able to take my place forthwith, without interruption or
injury to the life and progress of the Empire. And he has one matchless blessing, enjoyed by so many of you and not bestowed on me – a happy home with his wife and children.
During these hard days I have been comforted by Her Majesty my mother and by my family. The Ministers of the Crown, and in particular Mr Baldwin, the Prime Minister, have always treated me with full consideration. There has never been any constitutional difference between me and them and between me and Parliament. Bred in the constitutional tradition by my father, I should never have allowed any such issue to arise.
Ever since I was Prince of Wales, and later on when I occupied the Throne, I have been treated with the greatest kindness by all classes of the people, wherever I have lived or journeyed throughout the Empire. For that I am very grateful.
I now quit altogether public affairs, and I lay down my burden. It may be some time before I return to my native land, but I shall always follow the fortunes of the British race and Empire with profound interest, and if at any time in the future I can be found of service to His Majesty in a private station I shall not fail.
And now we all have a new King. I wish him, and you, his people, happiness and prosperity with all my heart.
God bless you all.
God Save The King.
If you want to watch how the movie portrays the event from this week in history, you’ll find it about an hour and 16 minutes into the 2011 movie called W.E.
Now, as you can imagine there’s a lot more to the true story than we talked about today. There’s the politics and drama that led up to the abdication, and of course how it affected the marriage after it was no longer Wallis and Edward but Wallis and David—well, we did a deep dive into all of that when we covered the movie back on episode #208 of Based on a True Story.
December 12th, 1899. South Africa.
It’s nighttime. We’re outside on a clear night, inside a prison complex. There are a few scattered guards around the yard, and a brick building on the right side taking up much of the frame. In the foreground, a man is watching as two other men walk toward him. The three men are all prisoners, but they’re wearing just regular clothes and not any sort of a prison outfit that we might think of today.
As they approach, we can get a better look at who they are to identify them. The two men walking are Edward Woodward’s character, Haldane, and the other is Simon Ward’s character, Winston Churchill. The man in the foreground is Maurice Roeves’ character, Brockie.
Haldane asks Brockie what’s for dinner. Without answering, Brockie walks around the brick column to meet Haldane and Churchill as they get closer. Then, glancing briefly over his shoulder, Haldane says they’re too close. Not the three prisoners, but a camera follows Brockie’s gaze to the prison guards tells us they’re too close to the guards to be talking about—well, whatever they’re going to talk about.
The guards are chatting amongst themselves, though, and don’t seem to be paying any attention to the prisoners. Brockie says Haldane is too afraid, to which Haldane suggests he goes to see for himself. With that, Brockie walks away from the building, across a path and to another building on the other side.
After a moment, Churchill says he’ll go look, too. As Churchill approaches the building, Brockie is walking back out. Once inside the building, the camera shifts to show Churchill standing on top of a toilet. This building is apparently the latrine. From atop the toilet, he can see the prison guards right close by. That must be what the other guy meant by them being too close.
He pauses for a moment, then as an older version of Churchill’s voiceover explains he felt it was now or never. Then, we see Churchill going to another part of the latrine building and climbing up the wall and through a little hole. On the other side, he uses the height of the building to climb over the top of the prison fence. Slowly and quietly, he climbs down the other side of the fence.
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie Young Winston
That sequence comes from the 1972 film called Young Winston. The event it’s depicting is the start of Winston Churchill’s escape from prison during the Boer War, which happened this week in history on December 12th, 1899.
We already heard how Churchill got out of the prison camp through the latrine, but the movie goes on to show how Churchill navigated the 300-mile or so journey from where the camp was located through enemy territory to freedom. And it left a few things out in the process.
Oh, and 300 miles is about a little more than 480 kilometers or so.
To understand more about Churchill’s escape from this week in history, let’s hear a clip from my chat with historian and author Furman Daniel from earlier this year. In the clip, I’ll set up some of the things the movie shows right after the events we started our segment with before Furman shares some more details the movie left out.
According to the movie, we see Winston Churchill escaping from where he’s being held by the Boers by climbing out of a latrine and hopping onto a train. After a while, he jumps from the train while it’s still moving and wanders to a nearby house. Churchill seems to approach the first house he sees so it seems random, but as it turns out the man inside is Mr. Howard, a British man who says he’s the only house for miles that wouldn’t have turned Churchill over. Mr. Howard and his colleague Mr. Dewsnap hide Churchill in their coal mine for three days and nights before coming up with a plan for Churchill to escape safely to the border.
Then we see the plan, which basically involves distracting people enough for Churchill to hide under the tarp on a train until he safely reaches the border.
Was that really how Churchill escaped?
[00:36:36] Dan LeFebvre: You mentioned the escape, and if we go back to the movie, we do see Winston Churchill escaping from where he’s being held by climbing out of a latrine and then hopping onto a train, and after a while, he jumps from the train while it’s still moving and then wanders to a nearby house, and according to the movie, as I was watching, it just seemed like he Approach the very first house that he saw, and it just happens that the man inside, Mr.
Howard, is a British man who says that he’s the only house for miles that wouldn’t have turned Churchill over. So, then we see Mr. Howard and his colleague, Mr. Dewsnap, hide Churchill in their coal mine for three days and nights before coming up with a plan for Churchill to escape safely to the border.
Then we see the plan, which is basically seems to involve distracting people enough for Churchill to hide under a tarp on a train that then he uses to reach the border safely. Was that really how Churchill escaped?
[00:37:30] Furman Daniel: That’s about right. Three very minor things that the, that part of the movie leaves out.
So one is Churchill actually. Upset his fellow prisoners by escaping when he did, and the movie talks about how they didn’t want to include him in their escape plans, and it shows how he went out on his own without the other people he was supposed to escape with. It doesn’t actually highlight the fact this really upset his fellow prisoners.
His fellow prisoners felt betrayed. This fit some of the anti-Churchill narrative that he was this spoiled, selfish person who didn’t play by other people’s rules. So that his fellow prisoners, while they covered for him and helped him escape by keeping guards distracted and not telling them the next day when they discovered him where they, that they knew about this, they were not happy with that.
So it conveniently leaves out the fact that Churchill Upset his fellow prisoners. It also leaves out the fact that Churchill wandered in the middle of the night, after jumping off one of the trains, he wandered in the middle of the night through the desert for quite a while. And he actually used the stars the North star to help guide him through this kind of wasteland in South Africa.
And then it misses part of, it makes the scene where he’s crossing the border. a little more dramatic. He actually does not emerge and jump out of the train and say, I’m Winston Bloody Churchill, fire the pistol in the air. He doesn’t actually do that until he’s two stops into safety, not immediately after the border when he does it in the film.
But, I can understand for all those reasons, wandering in the desert at night’s kind of a boring scene, upsetting your fellow prisoners. Yeah, you probably don’t want that. And then being two stops out rather than just across the border is less dramatic, but three very minor points. The larger thing is entirely true.
And Churchill, you mentioned it was so lucky to knock on the door. He did in the middle of the night and Howard and the British crew at that coal mine, the house of the coal mine were very brave to take him in and really did not have to. And let him hide in the coal mines.
The other thing actually doesn’t talk about is when he was down in the coal mine for three days hiding while they came up with a plan to sneak him out there were rats and he was terrified of rats and the rats were eating his food and eating his candle said it was this gross thing.
And again, I can understand why. The movie doesn’t want to it was a Disney movie. I’m sure they’d be talking rats and they’d be fast brands and help them escape. But given that they’re trying to be historically accurate, they left the rats out.
If you want to see how the event from this week in history is shown in the movies, check out the 1972 film called Young Winston. We started our segment at about an hour and 57 minutes into the movie.
And if you want to learn more about the true story, you can find my full interview with Furman about the historical accuracy of the movie back on episode #259, or through the link in the show notes.
December 12th, 1953. California.
A large, four propeller plane is taking off just as the sun rises over the horizon just as we see the text on the movie’s screen to tell us the date. Inside the plane, Sam Shepard’s version of Chuck Yeager makes his way into the cockpit of an airplane in the belly of the larger plane.
Yeager asks another man there, Ridley, if he has a stick of Beeman’s. Ridley gives Yeager a stick of gum. With that, Ridley secures the glass canopy over the cockpit with Yeager inside. We can hear the pilot of the mothership saying they’re coming up on 20,000 feet at 210 mph. That’s a little over 6,000 meters at about 338 kmh.
Inside, Yeager says he’s ready to be dropped. One of the pilots of the mothership confirms and gives a countdown.
The camera cuts to an outside angle underneath the huge propeller mothership. On its belly is a smaller, silver plane that falls free. After a moment, the rocket engine bursts to life and it speeds ahead of the huge plane that was carrying it a moment ago. For a brief moment we can see some writing on the side of the small plane. It says X-1A and Bell.
Inside the cockpit, Yeager says number three is coming on. Then, he flips a switch on the control panel that says “Engine Ignition.” With a jolt, the plane jumps to a new speed going even faster, pushing Yeager back into the seat. The plane streaks through the clouds in the sky and creating a trail across parts clear blue sky that are visible from below.
Yeager watches the Mach Meter as it hits 1.0. A boom sound is heard.
Yeager keeps going, and when the Mach Meter is at about 1.5 we hear him saying, “Number 4.” He reaches for the same “Engine Ignition” panel and we can see three of four lights are lit red. Pushing the fourth button, now all the buttons are red. There’s another jolt, and Yeager is forced further back into the seat as the plane speeds even faster than before.
The Mach Meter passes 2.0. 2.1. Over the radio, someone tells Yeager he’s got it now, so he can ease it on back. But Yeager says he’s going to push the envelope. The Mach Meter hits the line nearing 2.5. It’s still going, now it looks like it’s passing 2.5…but then, Yeager’s vision starts to go blurry.
Suddenly, the plane is spinning out of control.
On the radio, someone is saying, “Come in, Chuck!”
We can see the plane falling out of the sky, upside down, spinning, in an uncontrollable way that no plane should do. At a bar below, people are listening to the communications as someone over the radio calls, “Mayday! Mayday!”
In the cockpit, Yeager seems to be coming out of whatever daze he was in. The plane is still spinning crazily and Yeager is wrestling with the stick to regain control. After a moment, the fighting seems to pay off as he gets the plane back under control. He says he’s okay now, causing a sense of relief to everyone listening.
The true story behind this week’s event depicted in the movie The Right Stuff
That sequence comes from the 1983 epic film called The Right Stuff. The event it’s depicting is when Chuck Yeager set a new speed record, which took place this week in history on December 12th, 1953, over Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Although it looks like he’s going a little past Mach 2.5 in the movie, the actual speed record he made that day was Mach 2.435, or about 1,650 mph. That’s about 2,655 kmh.
The movie was correct to show the plane that Yeager flew that day was a silver Bell X-1A. It was also correct to show the Bell X-1A was attached to the bottom of a much larger plane that took off to drop the X-1A.
While the movie doesn’t take the time to tell us what aircraft was, it was a modified Boeing B-50 Superfortress. Something else we see happening in the movie is when Yeager’s plane starts to spiral out of control.
That really happened!
In fact, that’s the reason why Yeager didn’t hit Mach 2.5, because the plane started tumbling out of control. Miraculously, after cracking his helmet on the canopy, Yeager was able to get the plane back under control and land it safely.
Actually…do you want to hear the original cockpit audio from Chuck Yeager’s flight?
The audio quality isn’t great, though, so tell you what—I’ll put it at the end of this episode. So, if you want to hear that, stick around ‘til the end.
If you want to watch the event that happened this week in history, you’ll find it about 39 minutes into the 1983 movie The Right Stuff. And if you want to learn more about the true story, we covered that back on episode #75 of Based on a True Story.