This film is held by the BFI (ID: 7530).


Promotional film for Rhodesian tobacco.

The film opens with shots over tobacco fields, before showing African labourers working on the fields as the commentator explains the process and the suitability of Rhodesia for tobacco growing. The Virginia leaf is loaded and then taken from the fields to the barns, where the 'cheerful farm labourers' hang up the leaves. The mature leaves are sorted for grading, and packed by the African workers. A European family supervise the process of growing, curing and packing Turkish tobacco leaves on a farm in Matabeleland. This is followed by shots from the Salisbury auction house. The film then shows the production of cigarettes - 'Rhodesian tobacco is particularly suited to the making of high grade cigarettes'. The commentator expounds the benefits of Rhodesian tobacco - low in nicotine, it does not harm the throat or stain fingers and teeth - as the film concludes with a shot of an elegant European woman smoking a cigarette at the camera.



The Consoling Weed was produced by African Film Productions (AFP), the leading production company in Africa, which had been established in 1913 by I.W. Schlesinger and, since 1915, had been based at Killarney Studios in Johannesburg. Andrew Roberts listed the film as an example of the occasional work of the AFP outside of South Africa (Roberts, 1987, 203). It appears that the film was shot by George Noble, who had previously worked as senior cameraman with Strand Films and at the GPO Film Unit. Noble would subsequently serve as chief cameraman for the Canadian Army’s Film and Photo Unit and, then from 1949, as chief cameraman of the Gold Coast Film Unit (Gold Coast Film Unit Catalogue, 1955, 2).

Filmmaker Geoffrey Mangin explained that the AFP films were intended for screening ‘in the majority of public cinemas that were linked to their group, as well as for government departments and industry’ (Mangin, 1998, 67). Andrew Roberts noted that by the 1930s its films ‘were usually aimed at overseas as well as domestic audiences’ (Roberts, 1987, 202). This was certainly the case with The Consoling Weed. In 1939, The Journal of Education listed The Consoling Weed – ‘which reproduces scenes in the growing, curing and marketing of tobacco, one of the Colony’s most prosperous industries’ – as one of 42 films from home and overseas that had been received by The Empire Film Library at the Imperial Institute, South Kensington (Journal of Education, 1939, 107).

A report by the Imperial Economic Committee at the end of 1937 indicated that the amount of tobacco smoked in Britain was increasing and that the sales, and quality, of Empire tobacco was also on the rise (The Times, 26 November 1937, 9). Since 1919 Britain had levied a much lower duty on Empire tobacco, and reports suggested that the production of tobacco in Southern Rhodesia had increased more than sevenfold between 1920 and 1936, while the imports into Great Britain had increased by approximately twelve times during the same period (The Times, 6 November 1937, 18). The Rhodesian tobacco industry was connected to the broader economic goals of the Empire, which encouraged trade between the colonies and dominions. This was conceived, in part, as a way of counteracting American economic dominance. However, according to Ian M. Drummond, American sales rose steadily during the 1930s, ‘in spite of the price-raising efforts of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration’ so that American tobacco ‘continued to provide over 80% of the British demand’ and consequently there were continued efforts during this period to promote Rhodesian tobacco within Britain (Drummond and Hillmer, 1989, 24).

At the beginning of 1937, Sir Herbert Stanley, the governor of Southern Rhodesia, spoke in London at a lunch attended by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He again reiterated the need for a greater share of the British market – ‘If they could only persuade British manufacturers to take a little more of the Rhodesian leaf they need have no fear for the future of the tobacco-growing future of the colony’ – and also referred to the developments within the industry (The Times, 15 January 1937, 14). For example, in April 1936 the tobacco auction rooms were opened in Salisbury, which replicated the American business model and replaced the previous system of private negotiation between buyers and growers.

W.E. Haviland, in his 1952 economic analysis of the tobacco industry of Southern Rhodesia recognised 1936 – also the year of the Tobacco Marketing Act – as a turning point in the industry, stating that ‘the expansion in absolute terms since 1936 of the tobacco industry of Southern Rhodesia has been great’ (Haviland, 1952, 8). Peter Scott, also writing in 1952, argued that ‘Southern Rhodesia, which until World War II was a relatively insignificant producer of flue-cured tobacco, now ranks among the world’s leading tobacco exporters’. Scott further noted that ‘since 1945, when tobacco surpassed gold as the premier export of Southern Rhodesia, production has more than doubled’ (Scott, 1952, 189).



The Consoling Weed targets an imperial – and in particular British – audience. This is evident from the opening lines, as the commentator states ‘In this land, the youngest of the self-governing units of the British Empire, tobacco can be grown in practically any part’. The commentary is aimed at those unfamiliar with Southern Rhodesia, while the country is immediately introduced in relation to the Empire. Furthermore, the film emphasises the quality of the Rhodesian tobacco for the international market – ‘discriminating and meticulous in the standard it sets in catering for smokers throughout the world’ – responding to a perception within Britain that the quality of tobacco from some of the colonies was not as high as that from America. This emphasis on quality is repeated throughout, culminating in the lengthy sequences showing the checking and grading of the tobacco.

As a production made for the Southern Rhodesian Government, The Consoling Weed would appear to be part of a concerted effort to increase exports and expand the Rhodesian tobacco industry in overseas markets. The film illustrates the modernisation of the industry – for example in showing the newly established auction houses – and highlights the production process. In particular, the film attempts to promote an image of a happy workforce. The African workers are described as ‘the cheerful farm labourers of Rhodesia who have become very adept in their work’. When they are shown stringing up leaves, the music is up-tempo and akin to fairground music. The shots here show the Africans working under European supervision, and also reveal the young children working within the industry.

The film ends with what amounts to an advertisement for Rhodesian tobacco. The commentator explains that Rhodesian tobacco is  ‘rapidly acquiring international favour’ on account of its ‘low nicotine content’, which will not ‘soil delicate fingers and teeth’. The final lines appear almost as an advertising slogan – ‘there is consolation in this delightful product for the sun splashed country’ – while the concluding image of a young European woman smoking, again suggests that the film is targeting a European audience. Shown first with a close-up of her hand – wearing a watch and ring (but seemingly not a wedding ring) – the woman is then shown smoking a cigarette directly to camera. In advertising terms, this affluent, modern European woman represents the ideal consumer, as the film seeks to promote Rhodesian tobacco as a fashionable product for the British market.

Tom Rice (September 2008)


Works Cited

Drummond, Ian M. and Norman Hillmer, Negotiating Freer Trade: The United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and the Trade Agreements of 1938 (Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1989).

Gold Coast Film Unit, Gold Coast Film Unit Catalogue of Films 1954-1955 (1955).

Haviland, W.E., The Tobacco Industry of Southern Rhodesia: An Economic Analysis (Salisbury, 1952).

Journal of Education, v.71 (1939), 107.

Roberts, Andrew D., ‘Africa on Film to 1940’, History in Africa, Vol. 14 (1987), 189-227.

Scott, Peter, ‘The Tobacco Industry of Southern Rhodesia’, Economic Geography, July 1952, 189-206

‘Governor Of Southern Rhodesia’, The Times, 15 January 1937, 14.

‘The Lord Mayor’s Show’, The Times, 6 November 1937, 18

‘Changed Habits Of Smokers’, The Times, 26 November 1937, 9.




Technical Data

Running Time:
6 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
565 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Southern Rhodesia Government
Production Company
African Film Productions