This film is held by the BFI (ID: 137236).


An industrial process film for Tate and Lyle, showing the growth and processing of sugar cane, from the fields of Jamaica to the factories of London.

Introduced with the animated image of Mr Cube announcing 'Mr Cube Presents', the film opens with a map, on which the West Indies and England are marked. The camera introduces a West Indian man on his bed, who works on the Monymusk estate. Shots of cane cutting ('you know we cane cutters are happy people when we are cutting') are followed by a brief consideration of the history ('in the olden days they used to make the slaves cut the cane') before showing the industrial developments on the island. The cane workers rest as the cane is sent off to the factory, where it is loaded in sacks and transported to England. The film then shifts to England - represented by a shot of Tower Bridge - with a British commentator, who works at the Tate and Lyle Thames Refinery. The industrial processes are shown - weighing the sugar and taking samples, removing the layer of molasses - and explained through microscopic close-ups and scientific drawings. Women are shown weighing and packaging the sugar, before the film concludes with shots of the West Indian cane fields, as the commentator celebrates the 'initiative and enterprise' of Britain's sugar manufacturers.



In June 1949, the Daily Gleaner in Jamaica reported that ‘a British motion picture unit is visiting Jamaica on behalf of Tate and Lyle, London, to make a documentary film on the island’s sugar industry’. The article stated that Jack R. Greenwood, producer of Verity Films and David H. Villiers, director, had arrived on 17 June with other crew members and would ‘remain in Jamaica for about three weeks and visit the various Tate and Lyle sugar factories’ (Daily Gleaner, 18 June 1949, 3). Verity, a commercial production company that initially made official propaganda films during World War II, became one of the most prolific producers of films sponsored by private industry in the post-war era. David Villiers was one of its regular directors.

The completed film, From Cane to Cube, was intended primarily for school audiences. An advertisement in Film Sponsor, headed ‘A New Film for Schools!’, explained that it was ‘specially produced for school audiences’ and was available for a free loan from the Films Bureau, Aims of Industry Ltd (Film Sponsor, November 1950, 3). Publicity material for the film claimed that it ‘conveys an important message with such a wealth of incidental human interest and details of the processes involved that the twenty minutes of its showing will be a really delightful and memorable experience for all students’. The material further added that ‘it cannot fail to enlarge the student’s knowledge of the science and enterprise that ensure the quality and value of one of our most vital commodities’ (, 22). It appears that the film also played at the West Indian garden within the first British Food Fair at Olympia in the late summer of 1950. Daily Gleaner reported that ‘at one end of the flagged garden, Tate and Lyle show an informative film on sugar production and refining’ (Daily Gleaner, 1 September 1950, 1). 

The displays at the Food Fair – as well as at the Ideal Home exhibition and the Schoolboys’ Own exhibition – were intended as ‘straightforward prestige publicity’ but also to ‘establish the symbolic value of Mr Cube’ (Wilson, 1951, 237). Mr Cube was an animated character, created in 1949 to represent Tate and Lyle’s vigorous campaign against Labour’s plans to nationalise the sugar industry. As part of this campaign, Mr Cube, and his anti-nationalisation slogans, appeared on more than two million packs of sugar a day, on 100,000 ration-book holders and on all Tate and Lyle delivery trucks. There were ‘Mr Cube’ cut-outs for children, sheet music for a song and a complete orchestration for ‘The Cube Dance’.

The Times, in discussing the extraordinary general meeting of Tate and Lyle in September 1949, referred to the ‘country-wide campaign which is to be undertaken by poster, film, and word of mouth against nationalisation’ (The Times, 16 September 1949, 9). Arnold Rogow noted that ‘anti-nationalisation propaganda was circulated in 4,500 schools that used Tate and Lyle “Educational” material on the sugar industry’ and that six mobile film vans toured the country (Rogow, 1952, 218). H.H. Wilson also acknowledged that ‘films were extensively used’ and noted one that dealt with worker reaction and another that considered ‘consumer reaction to the threatened nationalization’. Among the titles were Crystal Clear, while The Sugar Question, which was a series of recordings in sugar refineries made by Richard Dimbleby, reportedly had four million copies distributed to companies on six double-sided 12-inch records (Wilson, 1951, 238).

The issues of nationalisation and the Mr Cube campaign were also evident in Jamaica. Alexander Bustamante, founder of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union and leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, argued in March 1949 that nationalisation would drive foreign investors out of Jamaica. ‘I, of course, believe in private enterprise’, wrote Bustamante, ‘and realise one fact that nationalisation does not lead to the road to success or prosperity, but destruction of a country and its people of all classes’ (Rogow, 1952, 217). Bustamante subsequently threatened a general strike in Jamaica if sugar was nationalised, and his workers did strike briefly at the Monymusk estate in March 1950 (Daily Gleaner, 21 March 1950, 1). Bustamante’s position though was undermined by the growing strength of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), who also ordered strikes at sugar estates during the year, which often resulted in violence – for example at Worthy Park estate in November (Munroe, Garner, Bertram, 2006, 173).



From Cane to Cube attempts to highlight the imperial co-operation between Jamaica and England, yet there is a clear division between the first half of the film, set in Jamaica, and the second half, which is set in London. This division can be explained partly in terms of genre. The film operates within the generic conventions of the industrial process film and this serves to prioritise the British role within this imperial relationship and largely reinforce traditional representations of the West Indies.

From Cane to Cube initially follows a West Indian protagonist, who also provides the commentary for the first half of the film. Yet the voiceover is clearly not Jamaican, but rather an enacted black voice from the American South, popularised in Hollywood films from the 1930s. The voice is claiming authenticity, but in the words ascribed to the Jamaican worker – ‘we don’t tell the time by no hands ticking around the clock face, we just watches the sun’, ‘you know we cane cutters are happy people when we are cutting’ – it is clear that these are British interpretations of West Indian culture.

The second half of the film in London appears an equally manufactured representation of industrial life in Britain. Introduced now by a smart British voice, claiming to work in the Tate and Lyle Thames Refinery  – ‘now I work in that factory over there’ – the film now shifts in its use of generic conventions. The British commentator explains the industrial processes using microscopic close-ups, scientific drawings and shots of a British schoolboy in a laboratory. The British worker states that ‘centrifugal force throws the mixture against the rotating basket’ in order to remove the molasses. In contrast, the Jamaican commentator was presented as an uneducated worker. ‘No, I never was one for knowing just what that machine does with that cane’, he states, merely noting that that the cane is squeezed until ‘it just doesn’t look like cane no more’.

The language used also prioritises the British role within this process, as the Jamaican worker explains that the sugar is taken to England for ‘refining’ as ‘it has to be made clean and white over in England’. The film’s conclusion emphasises the ‘initiative and enterprise’ of the British sugar manufacturers in the ‘constant expansion in the cane-growing areas of the Empire’, again prioritising the active role of the British manufacturers within this imperial industrial process.

The film attempts, in common with other industrial process films of the time, to promote the welfare aspects of the industry. The audience sees the West Indian worker in his bed at home with pictures of Hollywood stars such as Robert Mitchum on his wall. Also on the wall is a picture of King George VI, again emphasising the loyalty of the West Indians to the Empire. British technological developments are shown, with the machinery celebrated – in Jamaica, ‘that factory is mighty hungry for cane’, while in England it works ‘day and night’ through a ‘series of machines that do just about everything except drop the lump into your cup of tea’. The film again directly addresses its British audience – ‘your cup of tea’ – and presents clear gender divisions, as the women in the factory in London work exclusively in packing, while the men work the industrial machines.

Tom Rice (June 2008)


Works Cited

‘Film on Sugar to be made for Tate and Lyle’, Daily Gleaner, 18 June 1949, 3.

‘Strikes at Three Sugar Estates’, Daily Gleaner, 21 March 1950, 1.

‘W.I. Garden at Food Fair’, Daily Gleaner, 1 September 1950, 1.

Film Sponsor, November 1950, 3.

Harrison, Shirley, ‘The evolution of a public relations consultancy; the first American clients; public relations counsel in the 1950s and 1960s – some examples; the Mr. Cube campaign’, accessed at (21 June 2008).

Munroe, Trevor, Steve Garner, Arnold Bertram, Adult Suffrage and Political Administrations in Jamaica, 1944-2002: A Compendium and Commentary (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2006).

Rogow, Arnold A, ‘The Public Relations Program of the Labor Government and British Industry’, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 2, Summer 1952, 201-224.

‘Tate and Lyle at Bay’, The Times, 16 September 1949, 9.

Wilson, H.H., ‘Techniques of Pressure-Anti-Nationalization Propaganda in Britain’, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 1951, 225-242.



  • CANE TO CUBE (Alternative)

Technical Data

Running Time:
18 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
659 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Tate & Lyle
AMBOR, Josef
Production Company
Verity Films