This film is held by the BFI (ID: 60573).


The making of Star lager from Nigeria.

The film opens with the Star lager trademark as local music plays. As three African men sit outside drinking Star lager, a close-up of a tray reveals the company logo. The voiceover states that 'These gentlemen, typical of many thousands of satisfied customers, can tell you why they insist upon Star'. There are further close-ups of the beer being poured and then drunk. A sign reveals that that the beer won 'First prize at the Brewers Competition in London in October 1954'.

Next, we go to the brewery on the Apapa road to see the 'many wonderful processes that go into the making of Star, Beer at its Best'. The materials are transported to the factory, and then we see the modern machinery in operation. Malt is loaded into the malt store, the 'skilled brewers' carry out a final inspection, and the mashing process extracts the 'goodness' from the grain. Further quality tests are carried out in the laboratory. Hops and sugar are now added, producing wort, and this is followed by the 'most intriguing process', fermentation. The beer is then returned to air-conditioned cellars, while cases are made from 'good African timber'. The bottling process is shown next, which the commentator notes is performed entirely by machinery. The process continues - '8000 bottles per hour' - while the finished product makes 'its last journey, to the consumer'. As men drink the beer, the commentator addresses the viewer: 'These gentlemen could tell you why they prefer Star, or you could find out for yourself. Have a Star this evening'. The film concludes with a further shot of the Star logo.



On 14 July 1949, the Nigerian Brewery Limited produced its first bottle of Star lager at Iganmu, Lagos. Until this point Nigeria had relied on imported beer (bringing in 2,387,681 gallons in 1949) as the colony had no substantial manufacturing sector. Historian Simon Heap noted that in 1950 the sector accounted for only 0.45% of GNP, ‘the smallest proportion of any country in the world producing data’ (Heap, 1996, 70). The colonial economy had instead been founded on commerce, and as import liquor duties had traditionally helped to fund its administration, the government had little interest in home production or in promoting industry through subsidies or tariff protection.

The immediate post-war period saw the introduction of the ‘Ten Year Plan of Development and Welfare for Nigeria’ in 1946 and an increasing attempt by the British administration to establish import-substitution industries in Nigeria. Nigeria already had two successful import substitution industries, in The West African Soap Company and British-American Tobacco, which had run a factory in Nigeria since 1933, but the administration now sought to increase domestic production (Heap, 1996, 80). Jeremiah I. Dibua argues that this policy was ‘essentially a market protection strategy’, as the United States now championed ‘an open door policy in the colonies’ so that her firms would be able to compete for these markets (Dibua, 2006, 77). Simon Heap emphasises the influence of the war in instigating this policy shift. ‘It would take’, Heap argued, ‘the drastic supply shortages experienced during the Second World War for far more positive colonial policies on the advantages to be gained by encouraging an alcohol import substitution industry’ (Heap, 1996, 84). 

Heap further argues that the establishment of a Nigerian brewery was not a ‘conscious effort to develop the economy’ but rather an attempt ‘by some foreign merchant firms to protect and promote their interest in the growing domestic market’ (Heap, 1996, 82). Nigeria Brewery Limited was formed by the leading beer importers in 1946 and it was these importers – such as John Holt and Company and UAC (United Africa Company) – that developed this domestic production. By 1955 Nigerian Breweries Ltd was producing 1,762,000 gallons of beer, although it still imported over three times this amount. Within another ten years, it would produce almost 13 million gallons and import less than 500,000 gallons, so that, as Simon Heap recognised, within twenty years, Nigeria had ‘almost entirely substituted one of its previously largest import trades’ (Heap, 1996, 83, 85).

Beer at Its Best was produced by the Lagos-based company Niger Films. Owned until the mid-1980s by John Williamson, Niger Films was a British company, which produced advertising and documentary films during the 1950s (Balogun, 1987, 47). Star Lager was launched with the advertising campaign ‘Ah, Star – Beer at its Best’ and was one of the first brands in Nigeria to be advertised in the cinema (Newswatch, 1989, 28).



Beer at its Best serves as an advertising film for Nigerian Breweries but it also illustrates a move towards industrialisation and large-scale domestic production within post-war colonial Nigeria. 

The film’s advertising strategies are fairly blatant. There are the repeated close ups of the Star logo, the oft-quoted tagline ‘Star – Beer at its Best’ and the commentator’s direct address to the viewer and consumer; ‘Maybe this load is going to you’, ‘Have a Star this evening’, ‘this process is to ensure that your Star beer comes to you pure, fresh and mature’. The film is evidently intended primarily for its African consumers – for example, the film shows African men drinking the beer – yet in appealing to this audience, it emphasises the European influences within the industry.

On two occasions, the film notes the success of Star at the Brewers Competition in London, highlighting the beer’s validation from Britain, while the commentator also explains that ‘we use only the finest selected raw materials imported from Europe’, proven over hundreds of years ‘in the biggest and best Continental breweries’. The film acknowledges the superiority of British industrial methods, and attempts to show this local Nigerian industry (cases are made ‘from good African timber’) operating within an established western industrial model.

While the Colonial regime had promoted import-substitution industries after the war, its initial development plan in 1946 had prioritised local agricultural industries and noted the importance of developing the colony’s human resources. However, by the 1950s the Nigerian elite argued for the development of Nigeria’s basic heavy industries, and certainly this film celebrates this move towards industrialisation. While acknowledging the ‘skilled brewers’ and the laboratory work, the film favours the equipment and the industrial process over the individual workers. The workers are often on the edge of the frame, or only partially shown, while the commentator repeatedly notes the ‘modern machines’, ‘a wonderful conveyor system’, ‘the electric crane’. The film positively welcomes the lack of human involvement – ‘look no hammer’, ‘these are foaming beers coming untouched from our cellars’, ‘still no hands’ – aligning the company with an industrial modernity, which is celebrated as an entirely positive development. The symmetry and ongoing nature of the process is elegantly photographed, most notably as the beer bottles pass along the conveyor belt. ‘Out they come, like soldiers on parade’, the commentator states, later adding ‘On go the bottles, like soldiers on the march now’. While the beer bottles are anthropormorphised, the workers are largely dehumanised as this sponsored documentary celebrates the machinery within this modern industrial process. 

Tom Rice (October 2009) 


Works Cited

Balogun, Françoise, Cinema in Nigeria (Enugu: Delta Publications, 1987).

Dibua, Jeremiah I., Modernization and the Crisis of Development in Africa: the Nigerian Experience (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2006).

Ekwuazi, Hyginus and Yakubu Abdullahi Nasidi, Operative Principles of the Film Industry: Towards a Film Policy for Nigeria (Jos: Nigerian Film Corporation, 1992).

Heap, Simon, ‘Before “Star”: The Import Substitution of Western-Style Alcohol in Nigeria, 1870-1970’, African Economic History, No. 24, 1996, 69-89.

‘Star and its Advertising’, Newswatch, Volume 9, 1989, 26.




Technical Data

Running Time:
14 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
518 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Nigerian Brewery
Production Company
Niger Films