This film is held by the BFI (ID: 23739).


A short story for children about a Basuto-boy herdsman and his adventures in dealing with cattle thieves.

The second reel (of two) shows Lesaoama, a Basuto boy, as he travels across icy mountains on a Basuto pony in order to tell his villagers that some of their cattle have been stolen. After explaining to the village men where the thieves went, the locals set off in pursuit. They round up the thieves and the villagers hold a dance in Lesaoama's honour.



In November 1947, an advertisement for the J. Arthur Rank Organisation appeared in The Times, under the heading ‘Leslie Meets Lesaoama’. The advertisement stated: ‘Last Saturday morning Leslie took a sixpenny trip to Basutoland – in his seat at the Children’s Cinema Club. A group of British producers, which makes over 50 films a year for the clubs, finds that what children like best is seeing how other children live’ (The Times, 27 November 1947, 6).

This advertisement referred directly to Basuto Boy, which was produced by Children’s Entertainment Films (C.E.F. and formally the ‘Children’s Film Department’). Arthur Rank, the chairman of the Odeon and Gaumont cinema chains, had set up C.E.F. in 1943 in order to produce suitable material for children’s cinema clubs. Rank believed that, although his cinema clubs housed an estimated half a million children every Saturday morning, the film programmes were not designed to morally improve or educate young people.

Basuto Boy was thus intended as an educational film for children, teaching geography, as the advertisement later noted, but also moral lessons. Mary Field, the head of the unit from 1944 until its closure in 1950 explained that ‘we set out to provide the children in the cinemas, Saturday by Saturday, with an opportunity of coming into contact with children and adults who were, unconsciously, good examples. These screen characters behaved well, but not too well, in circumstances into which our young audiences could readily project themselves’ (Field, 1952, 28). 

Basuto Boy played at the Edinburgh Festival in September 1948, as one of a selection of films for children. The Cinema suggested that ‘the interesting setting and the suitably naïve story make this ideal entertainment for children’ (Cinema, 24 November 1948). Yet Basuto Boy, and indeed all of the C.E.F. films, were not intended only for British audiences. Mary Field noted that ‘the educationists of Australia, themselves rather bored by the simplicity of Basuto Boy, were surprised how this story of life in Africa captivated the children of Melbourne’ (Field, 1952, 104).

Basuto Boy was shot by Gaumont British Africa Ltd, and directed by Aubrey Singer. Singer would subsequently serve as controller of BBC Two from 1974-1978, as Managing Director of BBC Television and as Deputy Director General in the 1980s.

The film was produced on a tight budget and, like many C.E.F. films, was shot on location, which avoided the cost of hiring a studio. The cast consisted entirely of Basuto villagers and (very typically of low-budget films of the time) was photographed without sound, ‘which was added economically in England’ (Field, 1952, 128).

The small mountain area of Basutoland, surrounded entirely by South Africa, had traditionally been an agricultural community, producing and exporting grain. However, after the great drought of the 1930s, the country became a net importer of grain, and increasing numbers of men moved to work in the mines.

In March 1947 the Royal Family visited Basutoland, now governed by the High Commissioner, Sir Evelyn Baring. The Times’ special correspondent reported that ‘Basutoland is conspicuously a black man’s country, where a tiny white community is present only to help him make the best of it.’ A census in 1936 found that there were 559,000 Africans in Basutoland, and only 1,000 whites. The Timesadded that Basutoland served as a reminder that ‘there are places where the great tradition of paternal imperialism has still its indispensable part to play’, before adding that ‘this is a happy people… exempt from the preoccupations of industrial civilization’ (The Times, 12 March 1947, 3). 



[The analysis refers to Part 2]

Basuto Boy presents a heroic and moral African protagonist. Furthermore, as an educational film, the picture requires that the audience identifies with the African boy, Lesaoama. The film thus attempts to create a shared identity between the African boy and the children watching the film in England. In doing this, the film ascribes ‘British’ values to the African boy. The voiceover announces that ‘his father is proud of him’, and presents Lesaoama as a moral exemplar. The central moral is reiterated at least three times: ‘Don’t lose heart Lesaoama. It is as important as not losing your head’. After the cattle thieves are captured, the voiceover twice states ‘Lesaoama sees that his schoolmaster’s advice was good advice. Never lose your head Lesaoama.’

The film does highlight the physical differences between Lesaoama and his British viewer. This is evident in The Times advertisement mentioned earlier, which included a drawn picture of an English boy, dressed in shirt and jacket, smiling as he faces an unclothed African, who carries a spear. The film itself represents the distinctive customs of the area, as a traditional dance is held in Lesaoama’s honour, yet ultimately these are presented as superficial distinctions as the African boy serves as a role model to white children. 

Generically, the film would appear to combine aspects of the traditional ethnographic picture, particularly in its close-up shots of the African body dancing, with aspects of the Western. The film adopts conventions of the Western in its narrative, in its long shots of the Basutoland landscape and in the music adopted as the men of the village ‘ride out in hot pursuit of the cattle thieves’. However, the film also modifies such conventions. For example, the lone rider, a boy, rides a Basuto pony, and the Western heroes, traditionally white and targeting non-white enemies, are here African.

Although Basuto Boy features only Basuto villagers, a British influence is evident throughout in the form of the voiceover. The authoritarian British voiceover watches the action and offers advice to the African boy as he travels: ‘Leave the pony or he may break a leg’, ‘Careful! Men have been frozen to death here’. The voiceover would thus appear to endorse a paternal imperialism, though didactic narrations can also be found in numerous classroom films on non-colonial subjects. Regardless of its historical validity, the film supports the assessment of Basutoland put forward by The Times correspondent. The lack of any non-African characters – aside from the commentator – promotes the notion that this is ‘conspicuously a Black man’s country’, benefiting from the paternal assistance of the British.

Tom Rice (February 2008)


Works Cited

‘Basuto Boy’, The Cinema, 24 November 1948.

Crowder, Michael ed., The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 8 from c. 1940 to c. 1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

Field, Mary, Good Company:The Story of the Children’s Entertainment Film Movement in Great Britain, 1943-1950 (London: Longmans Green and Co., 1952).

‘Royal Party in Basutoland’, The Times, 12 March 1947, 3.

‘Leslie Meets Lesaoama’, The Times, 28 November 1947, 6.

‘Films for Children’, The Times, 28 August 1948, 6. 




Technical Data

Running Time:
15 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
1350 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
SINGER, Aubrey
ALLEN, James
Production Company
Gaumont-British Instructional
BIRCH, Peter





Production Organisations