This film is held by the BFI (ID: 15072).


A profile of the West Indian cricketer Learie Constantine, showing him at work as a welfare officer in Liverpool and on the cricket field.

After a shot of the street and of workers arriving at a factory, the film shows Learie Constantine getting out of his car and entering a building. Constantine shakes hands with a white man who talks on the phone and then hands him a piece of paper, apparently to illustrate his credentials as a welfare worker. Constantine is next shown on the factory floor, examining the working conditions and talking to the West Indians as they operate the machinery. He then gets back in his car and drives off. He is next shown in his own office - with four posters from the 'Our Allies the Colonies' series on the wall - and talks to West Indians seemingly about their problems at work. The final sequence shows a cricket match. Crowds pay to enter, before Constantine arrives in his car and is greeted by various men. The footage shows the toss, action shots from the boundary, crowd scenes - with white and black supporters - and fans gathering for autographs. The film ends with shots of the West Indians in the crowd applauding.



In December 1945 Colonial Cinema offered a description of one of the latest Colonial Film Unit releases, Learie Constantine: Welfare Worker and Cricketer. ‘Famous all over the world as a cricketer’, the review began, ‘Learie Constantine has done valuable work for the Ministry of Labour as welfare officer looking after the interests of the large number of West Indians who came to assist this country in war production’. The review went on to explain that the film was ‘made for special distribution in the West Indies; but as usual copies will be supplied for the East And West African libraries’ (Colonial Cinema, December 1945, 96). As a Colonial Film Unit production, the film was made exclusively for overseas distribution and played in Jamaica in April 1946. An advertisement listed ‘Leary [sic] Constantine: War Worker and Sportsman’ at the ‘Movies’ theatre, where the Errol Flynn film Santa Fe Trail was also playing (Daily Gleaner, 27 April 1946, 4).

Learie Constantine had been working in an English solicitor’s office preparing to get articled, when he received a telegram asking him to take up a position as Welfare Officer in the Ministry of Labour and National Service in the North-West. Gerald Howat wrote that Constantine ‘worked long hours, travelling by car or train from Nelson to Liverpool two or three times a week, and [was] constantly leaving his office to examine working conditions for himself’ (Howat, 1975, 128). In his 1954 book Colour Bar, Constantine explained the problems that he had to confront as West Indians were recruited to Britain to replace the men being called up. Initially it was problems of adjustment. ‘A lot of the men were unskilled and entirely unused to factory conditions’, he wrote, while ‘employers were very suspicious, and other employees felt at first some resentment at the idea of their mates’ places being taken by coloured people’. Constantine had to arrange lodgings, sort out wage disputes, deal with Trade Unions – which often resisted the admission of West Indian workers – and regularly experienced and dealt with ‘unpleasant discrimination’. He recalls how he settled one strike dispute with ‘some cricket gossip’ (Constantine, 1954, 146-47).

Constantine also established himself as a broadcaster during the War. In June 1942, as part of the BBC’s ‘Calling the West Indies’ radio series, he spoke of the success in bringing 200 technicians over from the West Indies, describing ‘this pioneering movement of bringing Colonial workers into the mother country, mixing and merging with their white fellow workers’ (Rose, 2003, 246). He also considered the industrial work of the West Indians in Britain in the 1943 films Hello! West Indies – which was intended for overseas distribution – and a shorter version West Indies Calling, which was intended for British audiences. These films featured Constantine delivering an address from Broadcasting House and promoted an image of imperial unity.

However, Constantine was increasingly concerned about the discrimination faced by West Indians within Britain. By 1943 Constantine noted the steady deterioration in the relationship of white Americans to ‘our own colonial people’ and during that summer Constantine and his family were refused accommodation, despite paying a deposit, at the Imperial Hotel in London on the grounds that his presence would offend the American visitors. This incident received national press coverage and led to a court case, in which Constantine won damages. Later in the year, Constantine proposed a talk for the BBC on the subject of racism, but it was rejected for a Sunday Postcript as it was deemed ‘too controversial’. The director of radio talks explained that ‘the object of the series is to stress unity rather than diversity’ (Webster, 2005, 334). Constantine complained again about his treatment by white Americans after an incident in a London pub in 1944, while in the summer of 1944, Arnold Watson, the North-West Regional Controller for the Ministry of Labour, spoke out strongly against the lack of action against discrimination in Liverpool (Rose, 2003, 249).

Colonial Cinema noted that the film shows Constantine ‘playing in one of the many cricket matches he arranged in the course of his welfare work’ (Colonial Cinema, December 1945, 96). Before the war, Constantine had played in 18 tests for the West Indies and with enormous success for Nelson in the Lancashire Leagues. As a welfare officer he often used the charity matches as an opportunity to speak to the crowds on the subject of ‘the West Indies and the War’. In 1945 he played for, amongst other teams, a Colonial XI, and the British Empire XI. In August, as the only black player on show, he captained the Dominions against England in the end of war match at Lords (Howat, 1975, 139).

Constantine was awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours List of 1946 and was knighted in 1962. He became the first member of the House of Lords of African descent when he accepted a peerage in 1969 (Campbell, 2007, 116). 



Learie Constantine: Welfare Worker and Cricketer illustrates the West Indian contribution to English life during the War. It highlights Learie Constantine’s position as a figurehead for West Indians, established and respected within British society. Finally it presents an image of integration and in particular of West Indian acceptance within Britain, at a moment when opportunities for immigration to Britain were increasing.

The film’s missing film commentary may have acknowledged some of the grievances of the West Indian workers – as the film does depict workers visiting Constantine’s offices with complaints – yet ultimately the film appears to promote a message of imperial unity and of West Indian development and establishment within Britain. This is achieved primarily through the image of Learie Constantine, who is shown working with white figures of authority (he is constantly shown shaking hands) and is brought a note by what appears to be his white secretary. His acceptance within the establishment is further demonstrated at the cricket, where he is shown being met by crowds of white supporters and then being led inside the pavilion by four white men.

Indeed the cricket provides the most striking image of West Indian integration, as the West Indians sit alongside local white supporters. There are parallels here with the crowd sequences within a 1949 Colonial Film Unit production, Nigerian Footballers in England, which again shows crowds of black and white fans united within Liverpool, only a year after the city was beset with race riots. The sequence in Learie Constantine indicates the large West Indian community within Britain – the black population on Merseyside was an estimated 8,000 by 1948 – but it also positions the West Indians within an established, traditional image of British identity. This is particularly pertinent at a moment when increasing numbers of the intended audience of West Indians were looking towards England. This new wave of immigration was exemplified by the arrival of 492 West Indians on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Learie Constantine: Welfare Worker and Cricketer seems to promotes an image both of an individual West Indian firmly accepted within the British establishment – at the time when Constantine received his MBE – and more broadly of West Indians integrated into British life. It acknowledges the contribution of the West Indians in Britain during the War, but in its depiction of racial integration at the cricket, it also looks forward and presents a new image of Britain to the West Indian audience, which integrates West Indians into traditional British life. The veracity of this image may be questioned, not least by Constantine, but it is a significant image to present to West Indian audiences at a moment when many began to consider making the move to Britain.

Tom Rice (August 2008)


Works Cited

Colonial Cinema, December 1945, 96.

Constantine, Learie, Colour Bar (London: Stanley Paul, 1954).

Campbell, Christopher, ‘Learie Constantine’ in The Oxford Companion to Black British History, edited by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

Daily Gleaner, 27 April 1946, 4.

Howat, Gerald, Learie Constantine (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1975).

Rose, Sonya O., Which People’s War?: National Identity and Citizenship in Britain, 1939-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Webster, Wendy, ‘The Empire Answers: Imperial Identity on Radio and Film, 1939-1945’, Rediscovering the British World, edited by Phillip Buckner and R. Douglas Francis (Calgary: University of Calgary, 2005).




Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
869 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Colonial Film Unit