This film is held by the BFI (ID: 408637).


Coverage of the Colonial Exhibition in Oxford Street held during Colonial Month in the summer of 1949 to 'spread the spirit of co-operation and mutual understanding'.

A suited black man and woman within London point at a banner that reads 'Colonial Month June 21st - July 20th 1949'. Outside Nuffield House, the flags of the colonies fly, while the commentator explains that 'the events of Colonial Month gave the British people a new chance to learn more about the Colonial territories and their peoples'. After further shots of London landmarks, a black man chats informally to an older white man on the edge of a fountain. The film next shows the Gold Coast Mounted Police, who came over 'especially for the occasion', riding down the Mall. Large crowds, 'including many visitors from the colonies', wait outside Church House for the King and Queen to open Colonial Month. A young Malayan girl, 'whose father is now studying at Oxford University' presents the Queen with a bouquet. We then hear the King deliver his speech from a platform featuring the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Prime Minister.

Next, the film shows the entrance to the exhibition, before taking a tour inside. 'Entering the exhibition', the commentator states, 'visitors make their way along a realistic jungle pathway. Hot, damp and loud with noises strange to English ears'. The film shows Indian visitors learning about the 'great wealth and importance of the colonial territories'. Life sized models of Africans 'introduced visitors to various types of colonial peoples', while a model of a hospital in Malta 'represented the great progress being made in colonial health services'. The exhibition then shows the 'enemies of progress' - 'pests and disease' - before highlighting the raw materials from the colonies used in Britain. 'This section of the exhibition is most important. It shows very clearly that Britain and the colonies need each other today more than they have ever done before. To stress this point was one of the main purposes of Colonial Month'. Outside the exhibition a Nigerian girl brings flowers to the Queen, who is visiting the exhibition with the King. Finally, an evidently staged scene features British and colonial men leaving the exhibition and informally talking and joking together. The commentator explains that 'The Colonial Month gave British people and visitors from the colonies a great opportunity to meet and talk as these young men are doing here. It is small discussions like this that hold great hope for the future'. The final shot shows the men waving and going their separate ways.



Colonial Month ran from 21 June to 20 July 1949 in support of the Colonial Exhibition held at Oxford Street Hall in London. In publicising the event, the Colonial Office explained why such an initiative was needed: ‘An enquiry carried out by the Social Survey in 1948 revealed that there is astonishing ignorance in this country about the Colonies. This ignorance is particularly unfortunate at the present time when so much depends upon a wise development of Colonial resources in the interests of the Colonial peoples (to enable them to raise their standard of living), of the people of this country (in view of the need for developing imports from sterling sources), and of the people of the world as a whole (in view of the world shortage of food supplies and raw materials)’ (‘Colonial Month – 1949’, INF 12/350). A.A.W. Johnson of the Empire Advisory Unit, who was prominently involved in organising Colonial Month, explained that the survey had revealed that ‘only a quarter knew the difference between a Dominion and Colony: a half could not name a single Colony correctly: Only a third knew that the Colonies do not pay taxes to us’ (‘Letter from Johnson to Sir E. Graham Savage, 14 January 1949’, INF 12/350).

The Colonial Office stressed that the event would not only stimulate interest in the colonies at home, but would also highlight this popular support back to the colonies. ‘Plans for colonial development can only succeed’, it wrote, ‘if they receive the whole-hearted support of the Colonial peoples; and one bar to obtaining their support is their feeling that the people of this country are not interested in them and their problems’. Stimulating interest in colonial affairs was, the Colonial Office added, ‘of vital importance in the long term if we are to maintain that unity of thought and feeling between Britain and the Colonies which is essential to a survival of the Empire’ (‘Colonial Month – 1949’, INF 12/350).

The Colonial Office had already launched a campaign in schools at the end of 1948, consisting of ‘lecture and film services and the production of special written and visual material about the Colonies’, but now sought to generate further interest in Britain by staging an exhibition. The exhibition was planned on a ‘somewhat modest scale’ and ‘with the minimum of expenditure and with the minimum use of staff’ (‘Letter from Colonial Office, February 1949’, INF 12/350). The Colonial Office recognised that this could be problematic when compared to the Wembley exhibition of 1924/25 or the Exposition Coloniale in Paris. ‘The public expect to see complete “native” villages and extensive life-size displays of life in the Colonies’, it noted. ‘A colonial exhibition in the Oxford Street Hall, limited severely to space, is likely to create considerable disappointment; and this disappointment will be reflected in the Colonies which may feel that they are being given an inadequate showing’ (‘Colonial Month – 1949’, INF 12/350). In an attempt to overcome this problem, the Colonial Office encouraged shops, businesses and publications to participate in organising window displays, arranging events and lectures, and publishing special supplements relating to colonial month. Those that supported this initiative ranged from London Zoo to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Film also played a prominent part throughout the month. First, a small cinema at the exhibition displayed agricultural and health films, Revolution in Farming and The Fight against Disease, which were specially compiled for the exhibition by the CFU. Furthermore, films on colonial subjects – including Maranguand Accra Market – featured at lectures and small exhibitions throughout the month, while the Oscar-winning Crown documentary Daybreak in Udi was released in the West End during Colonial Month (Colonial Cinema, September 1949, 33-34).

The success of Colonial Month was celebrated in Colonial Cinema. It noted that the exhibition had been extended and suggested that this ‘is a measure not only of the interest which has been taken by Londoners and visitors to London in the Exhibition itself, but also of the success of Colonial Month as a whole’. In its extensive review of the month’s events, it noted the wide range of nationalities represented at the inauguration – ‘people from nearly every Colony, many in colourful national robes’ – and claimed that nearly 9,000 visitors a day had visited the (free) exhibition (Colonial Cinema, September 1949, 29-30). In light of this success, the exhibition toured eight cities between May and December 1950, and at each location a ‘Colonial Week’ was held. Film again played a prominent role here with CFU films playing in mobile cinema vans, for schoolchildren in halls and schools and within the exhibition itself. At the first stop on its tour in Southampton, 123 film shows were given at the exhibition to a seated audience totalling 11,302 (INF 12/351).

The CFU film of Colonial Month played across Africa – for example The Gold Coast Public Relations Department showed it in Togoland in 1950 – and was also screened theatrically in the West Indies at the Carib theatre in Jamaica in March 1950 (Togoland Report, 1950, 262; Daily Gleaner, 16 March 1950, 4). In discussing the Colonial Month on a broadcast across the Caribbean, Major C. E. Wakeman, Regional Information Officer, West Indies, noted its ‘huge success’ and reiterated that ‘thousands of British folk who were ignorant about the colonies must have had their minds enlarged and enlightened’ (Daily Gleaner, 7 October 1949, 8). 



A letter from the Colonial Office in February 1949 detailed two of the main functions of Colonial Month: ‘There can be few better ways of strengthening these links [between Britain and the Colonies] than by awakening the interest of the British public, and thereby showing the colonial peoples that we in this country are really concerned in their problems and in their development’ (INF 12/350). While the exhibition and surrounding events in London were primarily intended to awaken interest within Britain, the publicity surrounding them, including this CFU film, tried to convince audiences in the colonies of Britain’s continuing interest, support and work for them.

Colonial Month displays colonial men and women within the established landmarks of London. A detachment from the Gold Coast Mounted Police ride down ‘London’s famous Mall’ as the commentator points out that ‘Buckingham Palace is in the background’. As with other CFU films produced in London, Colonial Month positions the colonials within an established British context and celebrates their acceptance within British life. This image of Britain as the physical and ideological heart of the Empire is reaffirmed by the presence of the Royal family. The film displays the popular support for the King and Queen from British and colonial figures within the crowds, and records the King addressing the ‘men and women of the colonies’ directly. This relationship between Britain and her colonies is perhaps most neatly illustrated as the commentator describes how ‘Eda, a little Malayan girl whose father is now studying at Oxford University presented the Queen with a bouquet’. The Queen, as a universally recognisable imperial figurehead, receives gifts from her colonies, but the commentator also points out here Britain’s continued responsibilities and role in their development, noting that her father is ‘studying at Oxford University’.

The film offers a tour of the exhibition, which focuses predominantly on the crowds and on the different nationalities attending. It outlines familiar themes, most notably the importance of trade, and progress in health and agriculture, and emphasises the need for continued co-operation (‘Britain and the colonies need each other today more than they have ever done before’). The opening sequence in the exhibition – ‘visitors make their way along a realistic jungle pathway. Hot, damp and loud with noises strange to English ears’ – draws on dominant representations of Africa, and highlights the inhospitable, and unfamiliar, conditions facing both Britons and Africans as they travel outside of their own country. In a film that seeks to show predominantly African audiences the welcome and acceptance of colonials within Britain, this emphasis on broad differences is somewhat contradictory.

Although the film, through the exhibition, displays Africans as ‘life-sized’ exhibits, it functions not only to show Africans in London, but also to illustrate Britain’s interest, from royalty to the general public, in the colonies. The film, and the depicted events, seek to enact a form of union that responded to the post-war economic and political situation of the British Empire, endorsing the value of Africa within the Empire (shortly after India had achieved independence) and promoting sterling economic areas, in response to American economic dominance. The message of co-operation is illustrated in two scenes, which frame the film and show colonial and British men talking. These evidently staged ‘informal’ sequences ostensibly position the ‘British people and visitors from the colonies’ as equals. While this undoubtedly serves to promote imperial unity, this message is undone slightly by the final shot in which, on finishing their discussion, the British men walk off in one direction and the Colonial ‘visitors’ another.

Tom Rice (October 2009)


Works Cited

‘Colonial Month’, Colonial Cinema, September 1949, 29-34.

Colonial Office, Report by His Majesty’s government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the General Assembly of the United Nations on the administration of Togoland under United Kingdom Trusteeship for the year 1950 (London: H.M.S.O., 1950).

‘Regional Officer Reveals Information Plans Developing’, Daily Gleaner, 7 October 1949, 8.

Daily Gleaner, 16 March 1950, 4.

‘Home Publicity. Colonial Affairs, Colonial Month, January 1949 - May 1949’, INF 12/350, accessed at National Archives.

‘Home Publicity. Colonial Affairs, Colonial Weeks, September 1949 – August 1950’, INF 312/351, accessed at National Archives. 



  • COLONIAL MONTH IN LONDON 1949 (Alternative)

Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
300 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
Colonial Film Unit