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Blast From The Past

In the first of our fortnightly series, Geoff Hinder from the National Badminton Museum goes back 100 years to profile a truly remarkable, and multi talented, sportswoman…

1920 was the first All England Championships after the end of the First World War.

Our focus is on one of the most remarkable All England Champions and sportswomen of the past. Kitty McKane (later Godfree) not only racked up eight (!) All England titles in the 1920s but she also won an Olympic gold medal. Added to this, she won two silvers and two bronze medals for tennis. When you consider she also won Wimbledon, you begin to see how truly extraordinary she was.

Born on 7 May 1896, she showed early sporting prowess – at the age of just nine, she cycled from London to Berlin with Margaret, her sister, and their parents. This is just the small matter of 600 miles; it’s tiring just to think about it!

Kitty was somewhat ambidextrous, though she often wondered if some early advice may have hindered her – incredible when you consider her achievements! In the excellent biography by author Geoffrey Green, Kitty notes that “the only advice - not coaching - I got from uncles and cousins when I first picked up a racket at the age of ten. ’Use your right-hand’ they used to urge. ’Tennis is played with the right-hand’.

So right it became. Yet basically I am left-handed. I used to play cricket left-handed, as batsmen, bowler, fielder and thrower; I was left-handed at lacrosse; I serve cards and write left-handed. I now wonder if I would have better on my natural, port side. Because of my tennis I played badminton with my right hand. This cannot now be answered, but sometimes I wonder.”

1920 marked the start of a remarkable run of success for Kitty. She won three consecutive All England badminton Women's Singles titles and the Women's Doubles title with her sister Margaret in 1921. At the 1924 Championships Kitty achieved a hat-trick of titles by winning the Singles, as well as the Doubles again with her sister. In this year, however, she also added the Mixed Doubles crown with Frank Devlin. To make it eight All England titles in 1925, she won the Mixed again with Frank Devlin.

In the 1920 Antwerp Olympic Games she came away with a set of medals for tennis, claiming the Women's Doubles gold, Mixed Doubles silver and the Women's Singles bronze. At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris she won the Women's Doubles silver and Women's Singles bronze.

Kitty won the Wimbledon singles titles twice. In the 1924 final, Kitty recovered from a set and 4-1 (40-15) down against Helen Wills Moody to win the title. Two years later, Kitty recovered from a 3-1 and game-point-against deficit in the third set to defeat Lili de Alvarez.

Interestingly, Kitty and her husband Leslie Godfree are the only married couple ever to win the Mixed Doubles Championships at Wimbledon, which they did in 1926.

This remarkable sportswoman was also selected to play lacrosse for England, demonstrating the breadth of her abilities. A true All England legend.

Photos: - National Badminton Museum.

Geoff Hinder - National Badminton Museum.