'The last queen of Scotland' to be celebrated in award-winning filmmaker's documentary

“This isn’t going to be another little film about an activist. This film is going to kick Scotland up the backside to give Kath Duncan the recognition she deserves.”

Kath Duncan, left and Ray Woolford, right, at Kath's Place in Lewisham picture: supplied
Kath Duncan, left and Ray Woolford, right, at Kath's Place in Lewisham picture: supplied

Those were the words of Ray Barron-Woolford, a multi award-winning filmmaker who, in his new documentary, will be bringing to life the experiences of Kirkcaldy teacher Kath Duncan, an unsung political heroine who led some of the biggest civil rights campaigns of the 20th century.

Despite the working-class woman’s fierce fight for social equality and “extraordinary” friendship with Winston Churchill, the lauded suffragette who influenced some of Scotland’s most historic uprisings, including the Invergordon mutiny, has gone largely unnoticed by a modern audience.

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But Woolford is determined to change that with his film.

Kath Duncan addressing a crowd of about 30,000 in London. Woolford said she had red hair and "shocking" blue eyes and was a real "fashion diva."

Taking to the streets of Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh and London this year, the 63-year-old will visit the doorsteps of where Duncan lived and campaigned to recreate some of the activist’s most historic moments for today’s screens.

“The aim is to get everyone talking about Kath Duncan,” said Woolford. His enthusiasm for her is infectious.

Not only has he memorialised Duncan in a play – Liberty – and a book – The Last Queen of Scotland – but he also runs a food bank in Lewisham called Kath’s Place which became the subject of his most recent award-winning documentary Feeding Lewisham.

Duncan, a powerful orator, led the 1920s hunger marches and the fight against Oswald Mosley’s fascists. She took on slum landlords, rallied against gas price rises for the poor and, being a gay woman herself, has been hailed by Wooldford as “the mother of LGBTQ campaigns in the UK.”

Ray Barron-Woolford is an award-winning filmmaker. It won best short film in the Five Continents International Film Festival and best short film in the London International Short Film Festival among others.

“She was sent to jail twice for her activism,” Woolford said, “and one of her jail sentences led to the first ever civil rights debate in the House of Commons, and the establishment of the National Council of Civil Liberties [Liberty]. All these things came from this one woman.

“She fought with Emmeline Pankhurst, she was Clementine Churchill’s best friend, and she ran Winston Churchill’s 1917 by-election campaign in Dundee, securing him a massive vote - but her name remains barely known.”

He said her allegiance to the Communist Party later on in her life could be one reason why her legacy has been largely airbrushed in history.

Yet Woolford’s connection to Duncan, who died aged 66 in 1954 after contracting tuberculosis in prison, runs deeper than his respect for her activism.

He spoke of his tumultuous start in life after his mother fell pregnant with him when she was sexually assaulted.

The attack haunted Woolford’s childhood and left him feeling neglected by his mother, so much so that he ran away from home as a teenager.

Why was Duncan relevant to this?

“A lot of women helped me in difficult times, housed me, gave me their last cigarette, but all my life I longed for my mother to walk through the door,” he said.

It had been decades without seeing her until she contacted Woolford four years ago after seeing his work on Kath Duncan and the two agreed to meet.

"She told me she was really proud of what I had done, proud to call me her son, and it honestly meant so much to me after all those years of neglect.

“Discovering Kath led me to build a relationship with my mother again.”

Woolford secured funding for the project in March this year and has asked anyone with a connection to Duncan to contact him as he prepares to start filming this September.

For Feeding Lewisham he was awarded best overall film and best audience in the Toronto International Film Festival, best short film in the Five Continents International Film Festival and best short film in the London International Short Film Festival among others.

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