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WATCH: Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's home movies discovered under the stairs of Lossiemouth house in Moray


By Alistair Whitfield

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Home-movie footage featuring the UK's first Labour Prime Minister has been discovered in a cupboard under the stairs of a house in Moray.

Yvonne Findlay (left) and Iona Kielhorn have discovered reels of home film footage of former Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
Yvonne Findlay (left) and Iona Kielhorn have discovered reels of home film footage of former Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.

In his day Ramsay MacDonald was possibly an even more contentious figure than Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair.

Born illegitimate and working-class in the fishing town of Lossiemouth, he rose to become Prime Minister no fewer than three times during the 1920s and 30s.

However he ended up being thrown out of his own party.

The home-movie footage from that period was discovered by documentary-filmmaker Yvonne Findlay while researching Ramsay's extraordinary life.

Several round metal cannisters of film were unearthed at The Hillocks, the house he built in his hometown, where he could temporarily escape the pressures of running the country.

Yvonne decided to have it developed on the off-chance it contained something relevant.

The results – more than an hour of high-quality footage – exceeded all her expectations.

Ramsay can be seen relaxing at The Hillocks, working in its garden and chatting to five of his six children.

He's also shown taking off from a field in a two-seater biplane on his way back down to London.

In addition, there are the scenes of Lossiemouth's old fish market and its harbour.

Highlights from the unique find have been included by Yvonne in her film 'From the Darkness into the Light', which tells Ramsay's story and has an exclusive preview in Lossiemouth next month.

Making the documentary has been a labour of love for Yvonne, who lives in Forres and has made several films before.

She said: "Finding the footage was just amazing. It's like a window into the past – as though Ramsay has waited a hundred years to show a different side of himself.

"It was hard to fit the story of such an historic figure into a 90-minute documentary, but I wanted to present a more balanced view of the man.

"He worked very hard to improve the lives of working people, however his expulsion from the Labour Party has cast a long shadow over his reputation and achievements which has lasted to this very day.

"Basically, I think he was a good person who found himself in an impossible situation."

Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister three times during the 1920s and 30s.
Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister three times during the 1920s and 30s.

The footage pre-dates the invention of synchronised sound but is very sharp and clear.

It was filmed by Ramsay's daughter, Ishbel, who bought what was then a state-of-the-art camera during a trip to America.

That camera is still at The Hillocks.

It's one of the many items with connections to Ramsay that remain in the custody of the family.

Iona Kielhorn, who's Ramsay's granddaugther, came to live in the house 15 years ago.

Amongst the memorabilia there's a hand-written note to Ramsay from Gandhi.

One photo shows him chatting to Albert Einstein; another attempting to persuade Italian dictator Benito Mussolini to withdraw invading troops from what's now Ethiopia.

Iona laughed: "For years I hardly knew anything at all about my grandfather, but people kept asking me questions so I thought I'd better find out more.

"I've seen Yvonne's documentary and I'm very impressed. A lot of hard work and feeling has gone into it."

Ramsay MacDonald deep in conversation with famed scientist Albert Einstein. Photograph: Erich Saloman.
Ramsay MacDonald deep in conversation with famed scientist Albert Einstein. Photograph: Erich Saloman.

Ramsay was born in Lossiemouth in 1866.

His mother, Anne, struggled to make a living, doing various jobs such as making clothes and fish filleting.

Ramsay attended Drainie School which stood where RAF Lossiemouth air base is now.

Despite being identified as a brilliant student he left aged 15.

Eventually he made his way to London, where he had a series of jobs, including envelope addresser and invoice clerk.

Increasingly interested in socialist politics, Ramsay joined the Labour Party in 1894, the year after it formed.

His great skills as a public speaker quickly led to him being selected as a parliamentary candidate.

After two defeats he found himself elected as an MP for Leicester in 1906 at the age of 40.

Ramsay went on to become Prime Minister three times – in January 1924, 1929 and, most controversially of all, in 1931.

It was the Great Depression and he agreed to head up what was called a National Government.

His opponents, claiming he had betrayed the working-class roots by going into a coalition with the Conservatives, expelled him from the Labour Party.

His supporters maintain he did what he thought was best to bring stability to the country.

Ramsay MacDonald in talks with Benito Mussolini. Photograph: Erich Saloman.
Ramsay MacDonald in talks with Benito Mussolini. Photograph: Erich Saloman.

When Ramsay died in 1937 a service was held in Westminster Abbey.

A few days later, back home in Moray, thousands of local people joined a procession to walk the three miles from Lossiemouth to Spynie Old Cemetery where his ashes were buried.

'From the Darkness into the Light' features interviews with Iona as well as two local personalities no longer with us.

They are the much-admired Lossiemouth historian Donnie Stewart and the former Forres Academy teacher Hugh Robertson who, as a boy, witnessed Ramsay coming to Moray.

The documentary's music is by Ivan Drever and Sonia Allori, while its editor is Tim Flood from Forres.

It will be screened at Lossiemouth Town Hall on December 8.

Tickets are available for cash from Ian Watt’s Garage, The Square, Lossiemouth.

Several screenings are scheduled for 2024 to mark the 100th anniversary of Ramsay first becoming Prime Minister. These include: Eden Court in Inverness on March 1; and Forres Tollbooth on April 18.


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