This film is held by the BFI (ID: 12189).


A Ugandan family re-organizes itself to increase its output of murram (hard gravel) blocks.

The film opens with a shot of blocks and then shows an African man working on their production in a small hole in the ground. With his wife preparing mixture and his children carrying items on their heads, the father creates a cast for the blocks and pours the mixture into the hole. He prepares the mixture, while another member of his family crushes it down. The father knocks out the cast - watched by his wife and daughter - while another daughter carries further items on her head. The block is then put into place and covered with straw. A title reads 'For the Foundations' as a block is placed on a clearly marked spot. The man then rubs mixture along the wall, and after a further close-up of a block, the film shows a completed house with a thatched roof. The titles offer some detail into the process, as the film shows the production of blocks from lime. The process is then shown again, this time with cement. Finally the film compares the 'life and price of the three kinds of block' - made from dung, lime and cement - before demonstrating the size of the murram block, which is six times that of a regular brick.



In January 1949, Arthur Creech-Jones, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, announced the formation of an East African Film Production Unit. Although the Colonial Film Unit had employed a film crew in East Africa from 1946 – headed by Robert Kingston-Davies – the unit would now consist of ten technicians under the control of a senior director, H.L. Bradshaw. Three one-man units were sent to the public relations offices in Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika – and subsequently Zanzibar – with a central editorial section established in Nairobi (Smyth, 1992, 170). Colonial Cinema explained that this editorial department would ensure that ‘before going to England for printing, films in their final shape suited the requirements of sponsor departments’ (Colonial Cinema, December 1949, 54).

Working with the CFU in Uganda was Norman Spurr, who was described by George Pearson as ‘an education officer and film pioneer’ (Pearson, 1957, 213). Spurr wrote extensively on the pedagogical function of film in Africa. He argued in Colonial Cinema that film audiences in East Africa were less advanced than their West African counterparts – where literacy rates were higher – and so proposed a less ‘sophisticated’ level of production (Colonial Cinema, May-June 1952, 42). Spurr’s attitudes towards the local audiences are also revealed in his comments on a proposed Colonial Film Unit training school in Uganda. Spurr stated in 1948 that he was ‘apprehensive lest the proposed training course may be overloaded beyond the capacity of African trainees’ (Smyth, 1992, 170).

In December 1949, Colonial Cinema listed as a work-in-progress Murram Block Making, which was described as the ‘first of three films showing the correct method of making the blocks, their uses and a family building a house’. The film was reviewed in September 1950 along with Why Not You?. Colonial Cinema stated that Why Not You? ‘shows that by organising a family unit more murram blocks can be made every day, and the making of three kinds of blocks is demonstrated’ (Colonial Cinema, September 1950, 72).

Rosaleen Smyth argued that these two films, and two further films produced by Spurr in 1950 – A Challenge to Ignorance and Dysentery – were ‘virtually visual aids, for illustrating lectures’. These educational films would be presented with a commentator who ‘should be an expert on the subject, familiar with the methods of extension work, and on hand to oversee the follow-up’. Spurr further argued in Colonial Cinema that ‘films designed to teach and films designed to entertain make poor bedfellows’ as he disapproved of placing entertainment films on the same programme as instructional pictures (Smyth, 1992, 171). 



The title - Why Not You? – directly addresses its African audience and encourages them to actively follow the practices depicted within the film. The film ostensibly serves as an instructional film, demonstrating the methods of block making. Yet, it also endorses a broader social message, as it emphasises the collaborative work of the family. The film is subtitled ‘A film for the family’ and represents a traditional family – a husband, wife and two children – working together to build the blocks. The husband performs the most physically demanding manual tasks, while his wife prepares the mixture and the children carry the materials.

Given Norman Spurr’s views of East African audiences, it is significant to note the manner in which Why Not You? seeks to instruct the audience. First, the film relies on repetition, displaying the process of block making on three occasions. Secondly, it uses a number of shots and cuts – certainly more than many films for African audiences – but regularly intercuts shots of the process, with a shot of the finished product, to build up an association in the audience’s mind. Thirdly, the film does not attempt to present this message within a comic framework. George Pearson wrote that Spurr sent the Unit ‘delightful films in which he had created a nit-wit character, a kind of African Monsieur Hulot, whose mistakes brought gales of laughter from the people’ (Pearson, 1957, 213). Such a character may have featured in the comic film A Challenge to Ignorance but Spurr evidently followed his own argument – ‘films designed to teach and films designed to entertain make poor bedfellows’ – in producing Why Not You?

Finally, Why Not You? highlights the integral role of the expert commentator in Spurr’s films. Rosaleen Smyth argued that Spurr’s films were ‘virtually visual aids, for illustrating lectures’, and it is perhaps most helpful to consider Why Not You? in these terms. The film contains a few titles – ‘a block made with cement instead of lime is even stronger’ – but these are sporadic and the edited images are not always entirely clear in themselves. The film is evidently intended as a visual component of a broader lecture and this reminds modern viewers that readings of colonial films were often heavily reliant on, and directed by, the local commentator.

Tom Rice (August 2008)


Works Cited

Colonial Cinema, December 1949.

Colonial Cinema, May-June 1952, 42.

‘Why Not You?’, Colonial Cinema, September 1950, 72.

Pearson, George, Flashback: The Autobiography of a British Filmmaker (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1957).

Smyth, Rosaleen, ‘The Post-War Career of the Colonial Film Unit in Africa: 1946-1955’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 12, No.2, 1992, 163- 177.




Technical Data

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

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
SPURR, Norman
Production Company
Colonial Film Unit





Production Organisations