This film is held by the BFI (ID: 18933) and Imperial War Museum (ID: CCE 211).


Film records and illustrates a BBC broadcast by West Indians in Britain to explain to the British people the West Indians' contribution to the war effort.

Una Marson introduces: Learie Constantine (the cricketer, then working as Welfare Officer for Ministry of Labour) who speaks on industrial contribution over film of West Indians at a Northern industrial training centre; Flying Officer Ulric Cross (a bomber navigator from Trinidad) who speaks on behalf of West Indians in the forces over suitable film (including a Sergeant Pilot in a fighter squadron); Carlton Fairweather, who introduces film of lumbermen from British Honduras. Broadcast ends with a dance in the studio. Commentary and contributors continually stress the themes of possibilities of peoples learning from each other, benefits of continuing relationship post war, etc.


Film: this is a shorter version (not a mere alternative title) of HELLO WEST INDIES, which is the film named in the MOI catalogue for 1944.



West Indies Calling was produced as a 15-minute version of the three-reeler, Hello! West Indies. The Ministry of Information had commissioned Rotha Productions to produce Hello! West Indies, at a cost of £2,228.17.0d, exclusively for overseas markets. The COI files for the film indicate that it was intended for distribution in the West Indies and the USSR, and during 1944 Hello! West Indies played as part of ‘United Nations Night’ at cinemas in Jamaica (INF 6/1328). An advertisement for the film at the Palace Theatre urged viewers to ‘See and thrill to the important part your fellow Jamaicans are playing in the great world struggle for freedom!’ (Daily Gleaner, 2 March 1944, 4). When the film played at the Gaiety a few days later, the advertisements promised ‘outstanding patriotic entertainment’ (Daily Gleaner, 7 March 1944, 5).

Rotha Productions was then commissioned to produce West Indies Calling – ‘a film of 1,300 ft to be cut from Hello! West Indies’ – with a budget of £629.7.2d. The film was intended primarily for British non-theatrical audiences (INF 6/1328). The title was a reversal of a BBC radio programme, Calling the West Indies, in which guests would send out messages to friends and relatives in the Caribbean, as the West Indians now addressed British audiences.

From 1941, Calling the West Indieswas compered and co-ordinated by Una Marson, the Jamaican activist, poet and broadcaster, who was paid £25, plus £10 expenses for her work on Hello! West Indies. Calling the West Indies included broadcasts from Learie Constantine in 1942 about his work as the Ministry of Labour’s Welfare Officer for the 200 Jamaican technicians working in English factories (Jarrett-Macauley, 1998, 60). Constantine also broadcast for the BBC on the subject of racism in September 1943. A few months earlier, Constantine and his family had been refused accommodation at the Imperial Hotel in London, despite paying a deposit, on the grounds that his presence would offend the American visitors. This incident led to a court case, which Constantine won, yet his proposed talk on racism for the BBC 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’. It instead played on a weekday on the Home Service (Webster, 2005, 334).

West Indies Calling was reviewed in Monthly Film Bulletin in 1944 and more extensively in 1946. The latter review suggested that the film ‘would have been more interesting for British audiences if it had been possible to show something of the speakers’ homes… As it stands, it is not of much value to Schools or Youth Clubs, except for arousing general interest in the Colonies’ (Monthly Film Bulletin, 1946, 27). 



Wendy Webster, in her analysis of West Indies Calling, illustrated three ways in which the film was ‘highly unusual’. First, Webster noted that in showing ethnic diversity on the home front, the film disrupts ‘the boundaries between Empire and metropolis where “home” was shown as white’. Secondly, the film offers a ‘rare example of imagery that includes black women’s active involvement in the War’. Furthermore, it offers an ‘equally rare example’ of a ‘“people’s Empire” that foregrounds black people on active service in Britain’ (Webster, 2005, 333).

While this is undoubtedly unusual, there are a number of films produced by the Colonial Film Unit that offer such depictions. For example Springtime in an English Village (1944) – a film in which an African girl is crowned May Queen in a Northamptonshire Village – depicts black people within a traditional British village. Other Colonial Film Unit titles depict West Indians in Britain – for example West Indians with the R.A.F. in Britain and Your People in Britain – while the efforts of black women are also shown in, for example, Nurse Ademola (1943). Yet, what makes West Indies Calling especially unusual is its intended audience. While the Colonial Film Unit productions played exclusively overseas, West Indies Calling brought these images to a British audience.

It is evident from the introductory speech – ‘Do you know what part of the world they come from?’ – that this is a film intended for a British domestic audience. This is reinforced by the commentator throughout, as he remarks that lumberjacks from British Honduras have ‘come over here to help your own forestry and timber workers’. Yet, the broadcasts, and the material from which the film was cut, originally addressed West Indian audiences and, as such, much of the film relates this work in Britain to post-war West Indian society. Learie Constantine emphasises that the experiences of the West Indian factory workers ‘will mean a lot during reconstruction after the war when plans for a new era of life in the West Indies must be put into effect’. Ulrich Cross explains that West Indian pilots had little experience of flying before the war, but this could provide a ‘new career for many’ afterwards. For West Indian audiences the broadcasts encourage support for the war by illustrating the domestic benefits and social changes that this support will bring in the post-war West Indies. For British audiences, the film not only promotes continued imperial co-operation (the West Indians have ‘come over to help us’), but also endorses Britain’s role in helping and ‘developing’ its colonies.

From the outset the film promotes an image of diverse groups united within the Empire. The film’s introduction recognises the diversity within the West Indies – ‘they call themselves West Indians but they are of a dozen different races’ – and then shows these different groups together at a party, shaking hands and dancing. Over shots of West Indians in a canteen with people from a variety of nations, Ulrich Cross explains that ‘friendships are being made between people who before the war knew little or nothing about each other’. Again, his message espouses post-war social change for the West Indians, as he adds that ‘we find it impossible to believe that these friendships will just fade out when the war is won’.

In its review of West Indies Calling, Monthly Film Bulletin complained that the film did not show the home life of the West Indian speakers. The speakers are presented in a public sphere – not as cultural curiosities or ethnographic subjects – behind the clearly marked BBC microphone, which signifies their acceptance within established British society. The film does represent distinctive aspects of West Indian culture (e.g. the calypso), but it then incorporates them into an imperial identity. In their content, the calypsos relate to war – one begins with the line ‘a painter had a craze to rule the world’ and manages to rhyme ‘sad’ with ‘Stalingrad’ – as this distinctive West Indian cultural form is now reappropriated to present an imperial message.

In promoting a message of unity and showing West Indian acceptance within British society, the film completely ignores the racism and discrimination experienced by many West Indians during the War. Learie Constantine had first-hand knowledge of this discrimination and campaigned against this in his role as a welfare officer. Yet, here he talks of the West Indians being ‘taught side by side with English men and women’ as the film – and the BBC broadcasts – sought to promote ‘unity rather than diversity’.

Tom Rice (August 2008)


Works Cited

‘COI file on West Indies Calling and Hello! West Indies’, accessed at the National Archives (INF 6/1328).

Daily Gleaner, 2 March 1944, 4.

Daily Gleaner, 7 March 1944, 5.

Jarrett-Macauley, Delia, The Life of Una Marson 1905-1966 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1998).

‘West Indies Calling’, Monthly Film Bulletin (1946), 27.

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:
15 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
1300 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Ministry of Information
assistant director
Logie, Seymour
Page, John
Jennings, Al
Page, John
Alexander, Donald
Production company
Paul Rotha Productions
Page, John
Lewis, Archie
sound recordist
Norris, William
studio photography
Suschitzky, Wolfgang