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Celebrating its 85th anniversary this year, the Royal Christmas Message has been a staple of Christmas Day for people in the UK and around the Commonwealth for most people's entire lives, but how did the tradition begin? 

The message began life as a radio broadcast on the BBC's Empire Service during the reign of King George V, as the His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech on Christmas Day 1932. The speech was written by none other than Rudyard Kipling, who also contributed to Overseas during its early years.

It was actually first suggested to the King a decade earlier in 1922, but at the time, he thought the BBC's radio broadcasts were an entertainment and not suitable. But with the launch of the Empire Service in 1932, the BBC approached the King again, who finally agreed. The first broadcast reached an estimated 22 million people in Australia, Canada, India, Kenya, South Africa, and the UK.

George V continued the annual message until his death when his son Edward VII took the throne in January 1936. Edward abdicated on 11 December of that year to marry Wallis Simpson, meaning he never made a Christmas Day broadcast.

His brother, George VI then continued the tradition, seeing it as a key means of bringing the nation and the Empire together during the dark days of the Second World War. His struggles with public speaking, as memorably dramatised in the 2010 film The King's Speech, show the difficulty he faced when making the Christmas Message, but the importance he placed on it.

Our patron, HM Queen Elizabeth II, has continued making the annual broadcast since ascending the throne in 1952, overseeing the transfer from radio to television in 1957, to the present day, as empire has turned to Commonwealth, prime ministers and presidents have come and gone, and the UK's place in the world has changed dramatically. 

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