This film is held by the BFI (ID: 26571).


A cartoon parody of Sanders of the River, placing the horse and his rider from the Sunday Express comic strip "Come On Steve" in Africa, where they must escape local cannibals.

Lord Sandy, the Commissioner, leaves his African district for the weekend, and is waved off on his plane by Steve, a white horse, and his rider, Sam. The Africans beat their drums to announce that Lord Sandy has gone, while the local King laughs. Now ignoring a sign stating 'Cannibal stew pot not to be used again by order - Lord Sandy', the locals throw spears, capture Sam and fling him in their pot. The locals perform magic, as the King rides off on Steve. Steve throws the King over the cliff and outwits the locals by pretending to be dead. He beats his own message announcing that Lord Sandy has returned and the locals flee. Steve is now able to rescue Sam and they escape in a chase sequence after they pretend to be a zebra and a tortoise.



Steve of the River offered a direct parody of the 1935 Alexander Korda feature Sanders of the River and as such relates to the earlier film’s representation of British colonialism in Africa. There were further subsequent parodies of Sanders of the River, most notably Will Hay’s Old Bones of the River (1938), but Steve of the River also follows a tradition of animation films, which had used colonial narratives for humour. The 1926 film Felix Tees Off for the Big African Game, depicted the film’s hero’s adventures in Africa, where jungle cannibals attempt to devour him, while Africa Squeaks (1932) parodies Africa Speaks (1930) and features a big game hunter captured by cannibals. Other animated examples include the 1923 film Hunting Lions in Africa, Wildest Africa (1929), and the 1928 Walt Disney cartoon, Africa Before Dark.

At the beginning of 1937, an article in Today’s Cinema announced that ‘The Year 1937 will witness a great expansion in the production policy and programme of Butcher’s Film Service Limited, not only in scope and numbers, but also in scale of production and expenditure’ (Today’s Cinema, 6 January 1937, 212). Included in this expansion was Butcher’s recent ‘entry into the cartoon field with the presentation of the famous Sunday Express character “Steve”’. The character had first appeared as a newspaper strip in 1932, but was brought to the screen by its creator Roland Davies (and a small team which included animator Carl Giles, who achieved fame as ‘Giles’, one of the Daily Express' principal cartoonists from 1943). Davies produced six films during the latter part of 1936 and the first half of 1937. Despite the increased expenditure promised by the distributor, Butcher’s, the production was certainly not a lavish affair. Davies had initially set up a small studio in his kitchen in 1935, after teaching himself animation from existing books. Davies subsequently explained that ‘except for twelve artists, (the) staff consisted of local boys and girls, practically all products of the Ipswich School of Art’ (Gifford, 1987).

The history of Butcher’s Film Service dates back to the earliest days of film. W. Butcher and Sons were chemists and magic lantern manufacturers before moving initially into film distribution and then, around 1909, film production. By the 1930s Butcher’s was a production and distribution company, which specialised in handling low budget and short films. These films were often intended to fill quota targets and were directed particularly at regional audiences.



Described by Pathescope Monthly as ‘a horsey version of the late Edgar Wallace’s Sanders of the River’, Steve of the River baldly reiterates many of the stereotypical depictions of Africans offered in the earlier film (Pathescope Monthly, October 1937). The local people believe in magic, they communicate through drums – this scene is almost directly reproduced – and their civil order is maintained by a single white man. Yet Steve of the River includes broader racial stereotypes. The Africans are now depicted as cannibals and, in the representation of the sleeping ‘minister of information’, they are inherently lazy. Furthermore, while in Sanders of the River there are sympathetic individual depictions – for example Bosambo – and villainous white men, in Steve of the River, the racial boundaries are even more clearly defined. This clear division between white and black is highlighted visually by the central character, Steve, a white horse.

As a parody of an earlier colonial work, Steve of the Rivercould be viewed as a critique of this traditional depiction. Certainly in some of the comic signs presented – ‘Cannibal stew pot not to be used again by order – Lord Sandy’ – the film would appear to lampoon traditional attitudes. Yet in its incendiary depictions and language (‘Now for white man stew’, ‘fetch ‘um white man’) the film serves merely to endorse popular contemporary stereotypes. The implication, first that the Africans are a fundamentally uncivilised race held in check by the British, and secondly that a single white man can exercise control over large populations, harks back to earlier colonial writing.

Sanders of the River combines two interconnected racial stereotypes: the ‘Sambo’ myth and the dangerous African, offering both a paternalistic attitude and violent response – in the final shootings – towards the Africans. Steve of the River largely bypasses the paternalistic attitude, presenting colonial Africa simply as an uncivilised land of cannibals. This is highlighted towards the end of the film. The heroes, attempting to escape, are faced with a sign leading them either to ‘desert’ or ‘jungleland’. The film, in defining colonial Africa as ‘jungleland’, evidently makes no attempt to represent any actual, real space – unsurprisingly given the genre (for example, the same year’s Steve in Bohemia is no more realistic). Rather it recreates an imagined space, popularised by writers and explorers years earlier.

Tom Rice (February 2008)


Works Cited

Gifford, Denis, ‘Come on Steve’, British Animated Films, 1895-1985: A Filmography (Jefferson, NC; London: McFarland, 1987).

Pathescope Monthly, October 1937.

‘Expansion in Butcher’s Plans’, Today’s Cinema, 6 January 1937, 212.




Technical Data

Running Time:
10 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
368 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain