If a T&A reporter hadn't changed his mind 70 years ago, history might have been different. MIKE PRIESTLEY reports.

Seventy years ago today a bombshell was dropped in Bradford.

The ripples it created rapidly spread outwards, grew in strength, and within nine days had led to the abdication of the monarch who had only briefly been known as King Edward VIII but was never crowned as such.

It came about largely because a Telegraph & Argus reporter did his job properly and professionally and succeeded in understanding the subtleties of a carefully-crafted speech made by the Bishop of Bradford, the Right Reverend Alfred Blunt, to his Diocesan Conference.

On December 1, 1936, Dr Blunt spoke his mind on a subject many of those in power were aware of but had chosen to remain silent about. As the nation waited to celebrate the Coronation of George V's successor, there were mutterings in influential circles about Edward's relationship with Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee with whom he had long been obsessed.

There was plenty of gossip abroad about the relationship, but at home Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin was keen on keeping the matter as quiet as possible. Even so, there was considerable tension between No. 10 and Buckingham Palace about the King's determination to marry Mrs Simpson once her second divorce had been granted.

While Bishop Blunt was preparing his historic speech, Baldwin was mulling over an ultimatum presented to him by Edward: either Mrs Simpson became his Queen or he would abdicate.

The British Press barons were well aware of what was going on but as members of the Establishment they felt unable to rock the boat. So although the newspapers were in touch with the situation, nothing was said about a state of affairs which was to lead to the first king abandoning the throne since James II fled from the advancing army of William of Orange in 1688.

Enter stage (or pulpit) left Dr Blunt, speech in hand. And there sitting in his audience with his professional tools of notebook and pen was Telegraph & Argus reporter Ronald Harker who had been sent along by his Editor to cover the conference - a job allocation which will probably have been received with sighs of relief by his newsroom colleagues, it not being considered the most exciting assignment of the day.

As the Bishop spoke, Harker's pen traced the shorthand outlines of his words. For a while the speech seemed worthy but unexceptional - although with hindsight there were subtle hints of unease as Bishop Blunt discoursed on the forthcoming Coronation service, emphasising one point which he said was material for a proper understanding of the intention of the service.

"On this occasion the King holds an avowedly representative position. His personal views and opinions are his own, and as an individual he has the right of us all to be the keeper of his own private conscience. But in his public capacity at his Coronation, he stands for the English people's idea of kingship. It has for long centuries been, and I hope still is, an essential part of that idea that the King needs the grace of God for his office. In the Coronation ceremony the nation definitely acknowledges that need. Whatever it may mean, much or little, to the individual who is crowned, to the people as a whole it means their dedication of the English monarchy to the care of God, in whose rule and governance are the hearts of kings.

"Thus, in the second place, not only as important as but far more important that the King's personal feelings are to his Coronation, is the feeling with which we - the people of England - view it. Our part of the ceremony is to fill it with reality, by the sincerity of our belief in the power of God to over-rule for good our national history, and by the sincerity with which we commend the King and nation to his Providence.

"Are we going to be merely spectators or listeners-in as at any other interesting function, with a sort of passive curiosity? Or are we in some sense going to consecrate ourselves to the service of God and the welfare of mankind?"

Ronald Harker must have been wondering where all this was leading. He didn't have to wait much longer as the Bishop dropped his bombshell at the end of a passage in which he continued his analysis of the benefit of the Coronation which he said depended, under God, upon two elements.

"First, on the faith, prayer, and self-dedication of the King himself; and on that it would be improper for me to say anything except to commend him to God's grace, which he will so abundantly need, as we all need it - for the King is a man like ourselves - if he is to do his duty faithfully. We hope that he is aware of his need. Some of us wish that he gave more positive signs of such awareness."

With the last sentence, implying that the King had become detached from grace and had therefore put the rites of the Coronation in doubt, Bishop Blunt lit the blue touchpaper. Ronald Harker's hand might have trembled as the significance of it dawned on him.

He took his notes back to the office and conferred with his colleague Charles Leach (who would later go on to be T&A Editor). They agreed that the national media might be interested and sent the story over the wire to the Press Association.

The constitutional crisis was now out in the open. There was no turning back. Nine days later the King declared in a broadcast to the nation that if he couldn't reign side by side with the woman he loved, he wouldn't reign at all. Two days after that the Abdication Act was passed by Parliament. The following May Edward's younger brother was crowned King George VI. And Edward and Mrs Simpson ended their days as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

Fortune had smiled that day on Ronald Harker, the Press Association's accredited Bradford correspondent at that time on top of his T&A duties, giving him the story of his career. In the week before the Coronation, when national newspapers were recapping on the circumstances which had led to the abrupt change in its star player, the Editor-in-Chief of the Telegraph & Argus, the legendary O B Stokes, had sent a stern letter to the Editor of The Times pointing out that it was the T&A reporter's despatch to the Press Association which had broken the story nationally, and not an Editorial in the Yorkshire Post.

He wrote: "Shortly before the Diocesan Conference the correspondent had offered the Press Association his resignation but had, at their request, continued to represent them. A few days after the speech had been published he received from Mr Henry Martin, Editor-in-Chief of the Press Association, a letter of thanks."

The letter made it clear that if the report had not been sent to the Press Association and instead had been carried only in the Telegraph & Argus, the outcome might have been different.

"Had you carried out your desire to resign the correspondentship," he wrote, "we should not have had this excellent story - and who knows whether a few hours or even a day's delay, until your paper had sunk into Fleet Steet, would not have postponed the crisis. Thank you again."