This film is held by the BFI (ID: 11577).


Intended for African audiences, the films shows the opening of the African Conference in London in September 1948 and the visits made by the delegates during their stay.

Delegates from Africa arrive at Lancaster House. Inside the conference room, Herbert Morrison (the deputy PM) welcomes the delegates, flanked by Arthur Creech Jones (the Secretary of State for the Colonies) and David Rees-Williams (the Under-Secretary). The commentary outlines the aims of the Conference - 'Britain has much to offer and gave it gladly' - and reports on Creech-Jones' speech. The film next shows the expeditions made by the delegates during their trip.

First, 'A demonstration of British farming in Hertfordshire'. The African delegates learn 'at first hand' from the British farmers and discuss the role of women within agriculture. Next, 'Delegates visit a motor car factory in Coventry', taking particular interest in the tractors. The commentator notes that the 'delegates have been well entertained and they have learned a great deal'. Thirdly, the delegates witness the 'manufacture of chocolate and cocoa at Bourneville'. The film again emphasises the role of women within the factory and highlights the links between Britain and West Africa as it shows the export of 'Good African cocoa'. A visit to Stratford-Upon Avon, is followed by a trip to Oxford. Finally 'H.M. The King received the delegates at Buckingham Palace'. The delegates arrive by car and pose with the King on the steps of the Palace.



Held at Lancaster House between 29 September and 13 October 1948, the African Conference provided a public demonstration both of Africa’s prominent position within a redefined post-War Empire and of the Labour Government’s new African policy. This policy, responding to an increasing African political consciousness and to Britain’s own declining international standing, is most succinctly described as one of ‘political advancement and community development’ and had been formulated over the previous 18 months (most notably in a Colonial Office report of May 1947) (Hyam, 2006, 139-146).

The African Conference thus marks a reconfiguring of the Empire, particularly in light of the loss of Britain’s South Asian colonies. Speaking at the opening of the Conference (in place of the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, who was ill), the Deputy PM, Herbert Morrison, sought to break away from traditional notions of imperialism; ‘We must wipe out the word exploitation – put it amongst the antiques with piracy and slavery’. Morrison recognised the need for rapid change. ‘Let us keep our eyes on the clock and calendar’, he began. ‘We in Britain are finding it difficult to adapt our ideas and ways and arrangements quickly enough to the greatly changed needs of the post-war world… a glance at Asia is enough to show the type of trouble which could break loose in your own continent if the right answers cannot be found and adapted much quicker than has ever before been thought possible’ (West Africa, 2 October 1948, 996). While encouraging rapid changes and preparing the way for self-government, any plans for political independence were still, as historian Ronald Hyam argued, some way off (Hyam, 2006, 143).

Writing about the Conference in November 1948, David Rees-Williams, the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, illustrated the vast array of subjects covered over the fortnight – ‘mass education, medical services, information, local government and, most important of all, agriculture and the economic position generally’. He concluded that ‘Generally speaking there was a complete agreement on the plans needed to tackle the enormous problem of British Africa’ (West Africa, 13 November 1948, 1152). Such a statement certainly didn’t take into account the views of Churchill and the Conservative Party sitting in opposition. Churchill spoke dismissively of the plans for the Commonwealth outlined by the ‘Socialist and left-wing forces’, adding that the Conservative Party would ‘resist any attempt to destroy the expression British Empire, or to abandon the constitutional term Dominion, or to abolish the word British’ (The Times, 29 October 1948, 4). Morrison was equally dismissive of Churchill: ‘It is this obstinacy, this dogmatism, this doctrinaire, old-fashioned, nineteenth century attitude of the right Hon. Gentleman that… make him a menace to the unity of the nations of the Commonwealth’ (West Africa, 6 November 1948, 1118).

The arrival of the delegates was reported in the London-based weekly West Africa. While noting that ‘Liverpool dockside became a blaze of colour on Monday when delegations to the African conference disembarked’, the journal also noted on more than one occasion that the delegates ‘were not at all sure why they had been invited or what exactly they were going to discuss’ (West Africa, 2 October 1948, 996). The Conference was further criticised (by Roy Welensky) for ‘wasting too much time on platitudes’ and for failing to widely publicise the event at home and overseas (West Africa, 16 October 1948, 1052). Some delegates criticised the plans to hold the Conference behind closed doors, meaning that ‘the people of Britain would get little chance to hear the voices of Africa’. Furthermore, when the King met the African leaders at Buckingham Palace, no allowances were made for the African press. ‘No thought was given to Africans at this African event by the Palace Press Department. A stuffed shirt policy was operated, and a great opportunity missed’ (West Africa, 16 October 1948, 1047).

However, the Colonial Office did contact William Sellers, the head of the CFU, a couple of days before the Conference began, asking that the CFU film the delegates ‘both at the formal proceedings at Lancaster House and during their visits and tours in London and the Provinces before and after 13 October’. The Colonial Office explained that this was with a view ‘to providing suitable publicity for this important Conference in the Colonial territories, particularly in Africa’ (INF 6/55).

Colonial Cinema explained that ‘before their departure overseas, the visitors were able to see the rough cut of the film’ (which was made at a cost of £1,750), while the Oni of Ife also saw a preview of other CFU films, including Mixed Farming, Good Business and an issue ofColonial Cinemagazine (Colonial Cinema, December 1948, 75). The Oni of Ife featured in a number of CFU films produced during his trip. Colonial Cinemagazine No. 20 contained an item entitled ‘Nigerians welcome the Oni of Ife’, which showed him ‘greeted by many Nigerians now living in London’. The film establishes a link between Nigeria and Britain, firstly by showing the Nigerian students, meeting and talking with the Ife, and also by highlighting the partnership between the countries (‘from a free exchange of opinion will come practical measures’). The Oni also features in African Visitors to the Tower of London, which positions the African delegates within a London landmark, while Colonial Cinemagazine 21 showed the African dignitaries visiting the zoo. 



The visit of the African delegates to London for the African Conference provided the Colonial Film Unit with the opportunity to make a series of films, which served primarily to re-imagine Africa at the forefront of a modern Empire. Most of these films show these African dignitaries positioned within familiar London landmarks, and in An African Conference they are shown meeting members of the Government and at its conclusion, the King, who is ‘keenly interested’ in all colonial questions. Later scenes of Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of the ‘great genius’ Shakespeare, and of Oxford reinforce a traditional image of Britain, familiar to African viewers. This image of Britain, with its history, architecture and educational credentials, also serves to reaffirm British primacy to its African audience, generating loyalty towards Britain through this image of a romanticised and aspirational imperial centre. In travelling around Britain, and its landmarks, the film shares many of the generic conventions of early colonial travelogues, imagining a world that is deemed ‘exotic’, and remote to its viewers. While those earlier films of foreign spaces, represented the ‘primitive’ to British viewers, these British travelogues invert this, imagining a form of ‘civilisation’ to their African audience.

However, An African Conference also shows Africans outside of the Metropole, visiting the British countryside and learning directly from British farmers. While the earlier scenes highlighted the formal nature of this imperial relationship, these industrial sequences show the African visitors talking to the farmers ‘at first hand’. We see an African man in conversation with a white female farm worker, highlighting a camaraderie and social partnership between the Africans and the British workers. It may be tempting to view these images of racial interaction within the context of contemporary debates around citizenship and immigration. The British Nationality Act of 1948, which provided a new status of ‘Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies’, elicited broad discussion on the position of colonial subjects within a British identity. At the same time, increased immigration – most clearly represented by the arrival of Empire Windrush in June – and reports of race riots in Liverpool, gave greater visibility to black men and women within Britain (and potentially altered the ways in which African viewers would now perceive Britain). However, An African Conference emphasises throughout that the Africans depicted here are ‘visitors’. They are shown waving goodbye from the car factory and are constantly moved from space to space. Their traditional costume, for the most part, further reminds the viewer of their distance from British society, while the commentator notes that the skills they learn will be taken back ‘to their own country’.

The film outlines the need for continued co-operation between Africa and Britain, as it shows industrial Britain (‘it’s the modern way to progress’) and highlights the ways in which African industry can benefit from this (the African delegates ‘have learned a great deal’). The economic ties between the areas are also shown at the Bourneville factory, as the African delegates watch the export of ‘good African cocoa’, seeing the ‘process through from beginning to end’. The central role of Africans within the film and within the Conference is in marked contrast to the almost complete absence of Africa within inter-war pictures of colonials within London. In films such as the Empire Marketing Board’s One Family or Heart of an Empire (1935), the Dominions and India feature, while Africa is barely a footnote. The recent loss of Britain’s Asian colonies ensured that Africa was now at the forefront of Britain’s image of its Empire.

The African Conference visualised a modern form of Empire (largely avoiding the word ‘Empire’), in which the Africans assumed greater responsibility for their own welfare and government. This is evident in the film, which promotes African leadership and envisages modern (British taught) skills transferred back to Africa. This process can also be seen in the broader practices of the Unit that produced the film. As the CFU marginalised and then closed its Home Unit (which ceased operations in 1949), a visualisation of colonial subjects in Britain is replaced by the representation of Africans living, working and administering their own countries. Furthermore, these films are increasingly produced by local Units, which certainly purported to encourage the training and development of local filmmakers and technicians. The moves towards self-government and to a decentralised form of colonial administration thus also permeated colonial film policy.

Tom Rice (August 2010)


Works Cited

‘Editorial Notes’, Colonial Cinema, December 1948, 75.

Hyam, Robert, Britain’s Declining Empire: The Road to Decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

‘African Conference in London’, INF 6/55, accessed at the National Archives.

Pearce, Robert D., The Turning Point in Africa: British Colonial Policy, 1938-1948 (London: Routledge, 1982).

Phillips, Mike and Trevor Phillips, ‘New Labour, New Nation’, Windrush: the Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain (London: HarperCollins, 1998).

‘Mr. Churchill's Attack on the Government Call For Secret Session to Debate Defence’, The Times, 29 October 1948, 4.

‘Colourful Scene as the Delegates Arrive’, West Africa, 2 October 1948, 996.

‘Oni Says: “Give us the Tools”, West Africa, 2 October 1948, 996.

‘The Oni of Ife sees a Film Show’, West Africa, 2 October 1948, 996.

‘Target for To-night’, West Africa, 16 October 1948, 1047.

‘African Conference Parting Shot’, West Africa, 16 October 1948, 1052.

‘Empire or Commonwealth’, West Africa, 6 November 1948, 1118.

Rees-Williams, David, ‘What the African Conference Achieved’, West Africa, 13 November 1948, 1152.




Technical Data

Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1940 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Colonial Office
Production Company
Colonial Film Unit





Production Organisations