This film is held by the BFI (ID: 154306).


Travelogue, showing the buildings, people and wildlife of Nairobi.

Over shots of modern Nairobi, the commentator outlines the transformation of the city under British rule over the previous fifty years. The film highlights the 'modern colonial architecture', showing the Post Office, government buildings, mosque, Anglican building and Presbyterian church. The film focuses next on the Kikuyu tribe, 'for whom there has been so much unrest in recent times', showing their habitat and work. Further scenes depict the Masai tribes, showing the Great Rift Valley and a 'real' country market, before there are further ethnographic shots of the Kikuyu. The latter part of the film depicts a 'brief visit' to a game reserve. The commentator concludes that 'your visit to Nairobi has been a short one but you have seen enough to want to come back'.



In his 1956 book, Africa, Land of Contrasts, filmmaker Ronald Haines records a 50,000 mile expedition he undertook across Africa with his wife Jean. ‘We visited Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, the Rhodesias, Nyasaland, Swaziland, Basutoland, and the Union of South Africa’, he explained. ‘For a year we travelled around, noticing, photographing, listening and recording. Our purpose was to make a series of documentary films’ (Haines, 1956, 9).

Ronald Haines (real name W. G. Hutchinson) had established British Foundation Pictures in 1937, producing ‘documentary entertainment shorts’, which took advantage of the new quota regulations (Low, 1979, 96). His wife Jean, who also directed and served as an ‘expert saleswoman’ for the company’s films, explained in 1951 that over 15 years of ‘unbroken production, British Foundation Pictures have produced some 500 films in 35mm gauge alone, all of which have been released by major renters’ (Daily Gleaner, 20 December 1951, 10). Its films played internationally and were also often presented on 16mm for schools. The couple filmed ‘all over the world’, recording the ‘survival of Europe after the war’, producing films for the British Admiralty, as well as an annual series of propaganda films for the Government (Boxoffice, 29 January 1949, 103). When the Tourist Board in Jamaica, KLM Airlines and Trinidad Leaseholds Ltd commissioned Haines to produce a series of films from the Caribbean in 1951, they described him as the ‘largest maker of this type of general interest travelogue’ (Daily Gleaner, 20 December 1951, 10).

Ronald and Jean Haines filmed A Day in Nairobi in 1953. Haines explained that they visited Nairobi for two reasons. ‘First we wanted to visit the Game Reserve, as we considered that there the chances of obtaining pictures of lions should be reasonably good’. Haines outlined that his ‘interests are in studying the habits of big game by watching the animal, unaware of any human intrusion, forage for food, choose their mates, or stalk their prey by following instincts which have remained unchanged for thousands of years’. For Haines, filming in Africa ‘was a sporting adventure, with a large dash of pioneering’ (Haines, 1956, 112, 15).

Their second reason for visiting Kenya is potentially of more interest to colonial historians. ‘We hoped to photograph the Kikuyu tribe’, Haines explained, ‘some members of which were the backbone of the Mau Mau movement’. However, in his account of filming in Kenya, Haines makes virtually no other reference to the Mau Mau. He notes only that Colonel Mervyn H. Cowie, Director of the Kenya National Parks, was ‘more than fully occupied with defence matters connected with the Mau Mau disturbances’, and so had to arrange for an assistant to accompany them in the Nairobi National Park, and also comments, after staying overnight with some Masai tribesmen, that he hoped ‘we would not be missed in Nairobi, for people might think we had fallen into Mau Mau hands’ (Haines, 1956, 112, 113, 115). The lack of attention afforded to the Mau Mau is reflected in the completed film and also in the publicity surrounding it. Today’s Cinema, in reviewing this ‘colourful trip to one of Africa’s most Europeanised provinces’, referred to the Kikuyu tribes people only as a ‘much publicised people’, while Film Report wrote of the ‘simple and primitive way of life of the native farm workers’ (Today’s Cinema, 19 November 1955, 10, Film Report, 18 November 1955, 866).

Haines’ account of his time in Nairobi closely follows the tone and content of the commentary provided within the film. ‘As we neared Nairobi we looked down on an impressive landscape’, he wrote, ‘Here Africa relents for a space and one sees land where the struggle for life has become easier, where green coffee country and orderly farms proclaim a victory for good settlers’. His writing, as with the film’s commentary, presents a land of continued development under British rule, with virtually no reference to the extreme problems and opposition that European settlers faced. ‘A little over fifty years ago, a handful of adventurers, prospectors, traders, and hunters made their camp around the swamp of Nairobi.... Then lions drank the same water as men… Today Nairobi is the capital and administrative centre of Kenya Colony – a fine modern city, with wide streets, handsome stone buildings, and excellent shops’ (Haines, 1956, 111).



A Day in Nairobi purported to offer a study of the Kikuyu tribe. It shows their habitat – in contrast to the European homes – and outlines aspects of their ‘simple primitive life’. It displays the ‘raw native’ before the camera in ethnographic terms, while the commentator draws attention to their dress, earrings and ‘lion hunting spears’. It shows the railway where the Masai, ‘who have never travelled come to say goodbye to their urbanised relatives’, and describes this scene as a ‘good opportunity to study a cross-section of the native people’. Yet, despite filming the Kikuyu tribe in 1953, at the height of the Mau Mau uprising, the film makes virtually no reference to these events. The commentator refers on one occasion to the Kikuyu tribe ‘for whom there has been so much unrest in recent times’, but there is no mention, let alone consideration, of the reasons behind this unrest.

Instead, the film celebrates colonial rule by outlining, in terms very similar to the 1950 CFU film Nairobi, the developments introduced by the British. ‘Only fifty years ago’ it was a land of ‘cattle-raising people and Masai herdsmen’, but today, the commentator states, ‘it is a modern city with a population of over 130,000’. The film highlights the modern architecture of the city (‘the city is an example of good town planning’) and shows the ‘impressive’ government buildings. Its only criticism of British influence involves the appearance of the locals, some of whom wear a ‘motley array’ of European clothing. The commentator states that this may prompt the ‘observer [to] think that the white man has destroyed much of the native’s originality, at any rate in appearance’. The commentator notes here the more ‘picturesque’ traditional clothing, again defining the locals entirely by appearance, presenting them as objects of study to be viewed and enjoyed by western audiences.

The film’s final lines – ‘Your visit to Nairobi has been a short one, but you have seen enough to want to come back’ – indicate that this picture is intended primarily to promote Kenya to potential tourists. In particular, the film affords extensive coverage of the wildlife within the Kenyan National Park, reflecting Haines’ interest in wildlife photography, and positions the Kikuyu within this context, not as a modern threat, but as a further tourist attraction. This depiction of tourist attractions, ‘modern colonial architecture’ and British development, also serves to nullify the reports of unrest and violence for British audiences and to endorse the continued role of the British within the city.

Tom Rice (January 2010)


Works Cited

‘British Firm to Film Quebec Winter Scenes’, Boxoffice, 29 January 1949, 103.

‘Personal Mention: Film Director Leaves’, Daily Gleaner, 20 December 1951, 10.

‘A Day in Nairobi’, Film Report, 18 November 1955, 866.

Haines, Ronald, Africa, Land of Contrasts (London: George G. Harrap and Co. Ltd, 1956).

Low, Rachael, The History of British Film, 1929-1939: Films of Comment and Persuasion of the 1930s (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979).

‘A Day in Nairobi’, Today’s Cinema, 19 November 1955, 10.




Technical Data

Running Time:
8 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
751 ft

Production Credits

HAINES, Ronald
HAINES, Ronald
Production Company
British Foundation Pictures