This film is held by the BFI (ID: 12943).


'Three Nigerian students from different corners of Nigeria come to Ibadan University. While they sit talking in a dance club, the film traces back each of their journeys to the university. Scenes of their homes give a new impression of an old country, and we come to understand how a modern network of communications - all dependent on oil and petrol - has opened up what was not so long ago inaccessible territory' (Monthly Film Bulletin, 1961, 14).

Over a map of Nigeria, the British commentator introduces the film. 'This is a short tale of three long journeys which changed three lives', he begins. 'Modern transport and oil power have changed the lives of all Nigeria and that is part of our theme. The rest of our theme is where these journeys lead.' The film shows young students in a dancing club on the campus of Ibadan University. The commentator then introduces three of these students and recalls their journeys here. First, Reuben, an Ibo. After saying farewell to his father - who runs a motorboat - and friends, he sets off on a BP lorry, and then on a bus, before finally crossing the water and reaching the University. Next is Moyo, a Yoruba, cycling through the streets of Lagos and returning home to say goodbye to his family. He travels by train and on his arrival at the University meets Reuben. Finally, Ado, a Hausa, who invites his new friends to travel by plane to visit his family in the North. Ado's father is an Emir, and the film shows the traditional festival - the salah - which greets them. The film concludes with further shots of celebration - including a re-enactment by weapon-brandishing horsemen - as these three men, 'fellow students and fellow citizens of a nation of tomorrow', smile and laugh together.



Although British Petroleum sponsored a plethora of high quality, internationally popular films in the post-war era, it did not, unlike Shell, use its own production unit. For Three Roads to Tomorrow, the Film Producers Guild – a consortium body which farmed out industrial film commissions – employed Greenpark Productions. Greenpark worked regularly with BP but also produced documentaries on colonial (and other) subjects for other organisations. In 1946, it made Cyprus is an Island for the Ministry of Information, and in 1960 produced Achievement in Africa for the Imperial Tobacco Company, showing the ways in which the company had helped raise the standard of living for Africans in Northern and Southern Rhodesia. Three Roads to Tomorrow was directed by Greepark’s then head, Humphrey Swingler – the brother of Labour MP Stephen Swingler and the poet and communist, Randall Swingler – and at the time a well-known fixture on the sponsored film scene.

In its review of the film, Monthly Film Bulletin noted that ‘visually the film is attractive and informative, with striking Technicolor photography’. ‘Boats, bridges, even lorries and buses – the emphasis is heavily on transport – are imaginatively caught by the camera’ but the ‘drawback’, it added, was the ‘fulsomely rhetorical tone of the commentary’ (MFB, 1961, 14). Discovery Journal, while suggesting that ‘sociologists would probably find it interesting, as it shows Nigeria emerging as a nation, influenced by European and American ideas, yet consciously drawing on their cultural tradition’, argued that it dealt with West Africa in a ‘diffuse and almost pointless manner’ (Discovery, 1957, 531).

The film was distributed by Anglo-Amalgamated and was also exhibited at conferences and official functions. For example, at the end of May 1957, the chairman and directors of BP showed the film at a reception at Grosvenor House in honour of the delegates attending the Nigerian Constitutional Conference (The Times, 1 June 1957, 8). The film was shown in February 1958 at the film evening of the Royal Society of the Arts – introduced by Dudley Knott, the Films Officer of BP – and played at the conclusion of a two-day course at the Guildhall in London in January 1959, entitled ‘Africa Today and Tomorrow: A Continent on the Move’ (Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, August 1958, 655, and African Affairs, July 1960, 227). The film was also available for non-theatrical hire in North America and in the UK. 



The introduction to Three Roads To Tomorrow outlines the two main themes of the film. ‘Modern transport and oil power have changed the lives of all Nigeria and that is part of our theme’, the commentator explains. ‘The rest of our theme is where these journeys lead.’ These themes are inherently linked, as the film aligns the development of transport – brought about by BP, as the lorry with the company logo emblazoned on it indicates – with the social advancements within Nigeria. ‘You can go places in Nigeria nowadays. Both in the figurative sense, because of advanced education and in the literal sense’, the commentator explains. In following the journeys – by a variety of methods – the film illustrates how ‘modern transport enables them [students] to get there [Ibadan University] although their homes are far apart’. Credit here is also given to the government as ‘the government has given Ibadan University as a goal’.

By following three individuals from different backgrounds – a narrative device Humphrey Swingler also used in Distant Neighbours (1956), another Greenpark production for BP – the film illustrates the social impact of improved transport in uniting different cultures within a national identity. These disparate cultures embrace a ‘shared life’ at the University, and at a time when Nigeria was increasingly decentralised – the Western and Eastern regions achieved self-government in 1957 and the Northern region would follow in 1959 – the film imagines a modern united country. It does so by talking vaguely of a ‘nation of tomorrow’, rather than directly referring to independence. This modern, future nation is defined by education and transport, but also by the modern dance club in which they meet. The dance club, to which the camera returns after each journey, signifies a space of heterosociality, and of modern urban nightlife.

In the final sequence, the friends visit Northern Nigeria, which is described as this ‘country that nevertheless is part of their country’. The film attempts to show the confluence of regional and national identities, which are defined primarily in terms of the traditional and the modern. The three friends celebrate ‘the traditional festival of Salah’ – acknowledging the importance of existing customs – yet the commentary still recognises that these traditions are giving way to a new future (‘the past salutes the future’). Although the film imagines a modern Nigeria, run by educated (and affluent and privileged) Nigerian students, there is little room for Nigerian voices within this British production, aside from in the music. The British commentator speaks for, and at, the Nigerian students and explicitly outlines the film’s message. Monthly Film Bulletin criticised the commentary for its ‘fulsomely rhetorical tone’, yet evidently the commentator was speaking directly to audiences here about Nigeria’s future, as not only was the film exhibited as part of BP’s internationalist social programme, but it was also part of the wider context of debates regarding the future of Britain’s African colonies.

Tom Rice (April 2009)


Works Cited

‘The Royal African Society Annual Report of the Council – 1959’, African Affairs, Volume 59, Number 236, July 1960, 226-230.

Discovery: A Monthly Popular Journal of Knoweldge, 1957, 531.

‘Annual General Meeting Incorporating the Annual Report of the Council, 204th Session, 1957-1958’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, August 1958.

‘Three Roads to Tomorrow’, Monthly Film Bulletin 28:324/335, 1961, 14.

The Times, 1 June 1957, 8.




Technical Data

Running Time:
23 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
Colour (Eastmancolor)
2112 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
SWINGLER, Humphrey
Sound Recording
ABBOTT, Ronald
British Petroleum Company
WILLS, Colin
BOND, Trevor
Production Company
Film Producers Guild
Production Company
Greenpark Productions