This film is held by the BFI (ID: 18580).


An annual race meeting at Maseru, Basutoland.

Introduced as the 'annual native race meeting' at Maseru in Basutoland, the film opens with shots of the crowds travelling on the roads to the races. During the journey wayside dancers perform to the camera, and upon arrival the Basutos give themselves over to feasting' as women prepare the food and the Basuto ponies are let loose. Shots from the race meeting are then shown: Basutos displaying their costumes, a bookmaker, Basutos studying the form, a Basuto on horseback with a spear and shield, some jockeys dressed in colours, the parade in the paddock, the jockeys mounting the horses and heading to the starting post. This is followed by footage from the race, before the winner is taken by a 'police escort' back to the paddock. The successful punters collect their winnings, while the winning jockey sits eating. The crowds set off home, as the course is cleared away. The film concludes with a family departing in an ox-cart 'across the trackless veldt'.



Although An African Derby was released in February 1927 as one of six shorts in the second set of The Empire series, the film was seemingly filmed in May 1925 during the Prince of Wales’ tour of Africa. An intertitle at the opening of An African Derby claims that ‘The following motion pictures are the first ever taken in the native territory of Basutoland’, yet images from Basutoland had featured in part six of The Official Record of the Tour of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales and in Basutoland and its People, both of which were released in 1925, and also produced by British Instructional Films and distributed by New Era Films. Indeed An African Derby includes footage also contained in Basutoland and its People (1925), while the horse race would again feature in British Instructional’s 1948 children’s educational film, also titled Basutoland and its People.

Reviewers responded favourably to An African Derby, suggesting that the film should ‘supplant much of the utter drivel now seen in “shorts”’ (KW, 24 February 1927, 76). Bioscope wrote of  ‘a wonderful picture of a native race meeting in Basutoland’ (Bioscope, 24 February 1927, 72), while Kinematograph Weekly noted that ‘much humour and fine pictorial values are in An African Derby, a revelation in its way. This Basuto race-meeting is as refreshing as it is quaint’ (KW, 24 February 1927, 76).

The Prince of Wales concluded his speech in Basutoland in May 1925 by remarking that ‘The Basutos were a nation of horsemen with excellent ponies’ (The Times, 30 May 1925, 12). Horses were integral to the agricultural landscape and economy of Basutoland. Professor Tim Quinlan recently observed that ‘Horses were necessary means of transport and, through selective breeding, the ‘Basotho pony’ evolved as a breed appropriate for the mountainous terrain; small, sure-footed, and strong’ (Quinlan, 1995, 493). Thousands of Basuto ponies were exported and killed in action during the Boer War, although the horses were also used for racing.

Although Basutoland was a British protectorate from 1884, the land remained the ‘inalienable property of the Basuto’ and, during the 1910s, the white population comprised barely 2,000 officials, missionaries and traders, out of a total population of 662,000 (Roberts, 1986, 557). The professed role of the British was outlined by the Prince of Wales on his visit to Basutoland in 1925 as he promoted a form of paternal imperialism. ‘To-Day you live in peace and prosperity under British rule’, he stated. ‘The King continues to watch over you with fatherly care. You must show yourselves worthy of his protection by listening to the words of the officers appointed to guide and instruct you. They will educate you’ (The Times, 30 May 1925, 12).



An African Derby presents the people and events of Basutoland within a distinctly British context. The title, reinforced by the intertitles, presents the action in relation to the Epsom Derby. A title remarks that ‘excitement runs high as the field rounds Tattenham Corner’, referring to a famous part of the Epsom course, and the winning jockey is described as a ‘dusky Donoghue’. This is a reference to Steve Donoghue, a six-time Derby winner, who appeared regularly in cinema programmes during 1926 in films such as Riding for a King, A Knight of the Saddle and The Stolen Favourite.

The film ‘westernises’ this event within Basutoland, in order to produce comedy and provide a familiar narrative framework. It is the disparity between the intertitles and the images, between the British and African customs, that generates this comedy. For example, after an intertitle that states ‘This being the great social function of the year, the leaders of fashion give full play to their imagination’, there is a shot of Africans wrapped in modest local costume. The next title - ‘many of the new season’s models are extremely “chic”’ – is followed by a shot of two local men with hats on. As in Basutoland and its People, and other films from the series, the comedy is generated by this sense of difference between the local people and the British viewers. The distinctions highlighted by the commentary privilege the British viewer, prompting Kinematograph Weekly to describe the race meeting as ‘quaint’ (KW, 24 February 1927, 76).

Presenting the horserace in familiar British terms also places the images within a clear narrative framework. The narrative style is largely akin to a newsreel report on the British Derby, as the film shows the gamblers, the parade around the paddock, the race itself, and then the crowd’s departure for home. This positions the film as a documentary, yet this is clearly a manufactured representation of Africa. For example, some images from Basutoland and its People are reused here within a fresh context, while a number of shots are evidently staged to fit the narrative. In its use of familiar ethnographic shots within the narrative – such as local women carrying baskets on their heads – the film further legitimises its manufactured image of Africa to the British audience.

Tom Rice (February 2008)


Works Cited

Bioscope, 24 February 1927, 72.

Kinematograph Weekly, 24 February 1927, 76.

Kinematograph Weekly, 17 February 1927, 12.

Quinlan, Tim, ‘Grassland Degradation and Livestock Rearing in Lesotho’, Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3. (September 1995), 491-507.

Roberts, A. D., ed., The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 7 1905-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

‘S. African Native Territories’, The Times, 16 December 1924, 13.

‘The Prince in Basutoland’, The Times, 30 May 1925, 12.



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
11 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
760 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
British Instructional Films





Production Organisations