This film is held by the BFI (ID: 15135).


A London schoolboy dreams he visits Buckingham Palace, where he makes the King's Christmas pudding from ingredients collected from different parts of the British Empire.

A boy washes and gets ready for school, noting over breakfast an advertisement in his father's newspaper for 'an Empire Christmas pudding'. On his way to school, the boy passes a large shop window, which says 'The Empire's Offering' and displays the ingredients for 'The King's Christmas Pudding'. A policeman tells the boy to get onto school, and on arriving late in class, his questions about the Empire and the King's pudding are quickly dismissed by his teacher. The boy, evidently bored by his geography lesson, falls asleep, and begins to dream. In his dream, the policeman tells the boy to go to Buckingham Place, where he is greeted by trumpeters and a bagpipe player. After seeing the King, he visits the 'dominions' - India, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Irish Free State are all represented by society women - in the council chamber.

The boy sits on a throne and hands out agendas to each country, while instructing the policeman to fetch a cook from the Palace kitchens to make the pudding. The cook explains that in order to make the pudding, they must first get some coal. After travelling through a secret doorway and climbing in a coal shoot, the boy and policeman arrive at a coal mine, where they watch the process of production. They return to the Palace with coal. Next, South Africa introduces her country - 'mine is a land of sun and fruit' - and shows Africans working the fields and picking oranges. A white farmer explains how the fruit is collected and how brandy is produced. The brandy is transported by steamers to England and collected by the boy. He then travels to Scotland for a loaf of bread, before collecting raisins from Australia. Next he joins two children in searching for eggs in Ireland, while also collecting wheat. Finally, he travels to New Zealand - represented by cattle - where he collects some butter. On his return to his home, the boy is delighted to see his mother baking the Empire pudding, 'like the King's'. After jovial family scenes, a sequence shows the Policeman seeking 'everyman's opinion'. He finds a tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, gentleman, ploughboy, beggarman and finally a thief - 'I ain't done nothing guvnor'. He buys ten tankards for them in the pub. Further Christmas carols play as the film concludes with shots of St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster at night.



In February 1927 the secretary of the Empire Marketing Board (EMB), Stephen Tallents, called together the board’s first film caucus, at which he presented a scenario written by Rudyard Kipling and Walter Creighton for a feature-length fiction film that, it was hoped, would be ‘suitable at its finished stage for distribution on its merits in the ordinary commercial way’ (Swann, 1989, 26). Although the Empire Marketing Board sanctioned One Family and a John Grierson ‘film on herring fishing’ – Drifters – as its first two productions, the Treasury was initially reluctant to fund the films. It finally approved both films on 27 April 1928 at a meeting in Whitehall attended by Tallents and Leo Amery, the Secretary of State for the Dominions (Aitken, 1990, 104).

However, as Paul Swann noted, One Family was ‘dogged by difficulties throughout its production’ and after a lengthy filming process during 1929, a sound track was hastily added early in 1930 in response to the growing commercial demand for sound films. Swann concluded that ‘the film had disaster written all over it even before its completion, and the fate of the film had been discussed with monotonous regularity at successive meetings of the EMB Film Committee’ (Swann, 1989, 34).

One Family was premiered at the Palace Theatre in London on 7 July 1930 and was advertised as ‘the gala presentation of the great Empire talking film’. A poster in Bioscope – with the tagline ‘A dream of real things’ – explained that the premiere would be preceded by music from a band of Irish guards and would lead to an initial ‘premiere run of one week’ (Bioscope, 2 July 1930, 2). However, the film was a spectacular commercial failure, with Swann suggesting that the money generated from commercial bookings – £334 – did not ‘even pay for the cost of the band hired for the premiere of the film’ (Swann, 1989, 35). J.H. Thomas, the Secretary of State for the Dominions, revealed in the House of Commons in 1931 that the film had cost £15,740, which comprised most of the EMB’s film budget for three years, while in 1936 his successor Malcolm McDonald noted that ‘its gross receipts to date… amount to £2,865’, with these receipts covering 24 theatrical and 21 non-theatrical bookings along with the sale of exhibition rights to Canada (Hansard, 28 April 1931 and 31 March 1936). In 1939 a further discussion in the Commons revealed that the film had not been viewed in the past two years and was not available for exhibition, even though A Southern April - a short documentary made by Creighton from off cuts while filming in South Africa – was distributed by the Empire Film Library (Hansard, 5 June 1939). In a 1950 discussion of the Quota Act, Lieutenant-Colonel Elliot referred to One Family as ‘the greatest flop you ever saw in your life’ (Hansard, 30 March 1950).

One Family certainly did not benefit from comparisons with Grierson’s highly acclaimed, commercially successful and still iconic Drifters. Robert Herring, film critic for the Manchester Guardian, contrasted the traditionalism and the ‘flimsily whimsical’ narrative of One Family with the seriousness and convictions of the Soviet productions favoured by Grierson. ‘The minute I think of the story, and the body of men solemnly thinking they can offer such a flippancy to the public’, wrote Herring, ‘I get so angry I lose all sense of proportion’ (Stollery, 2000, 159 and Swann, 1989, 35). Sir Arthur Elton also noted the ‘very old fashioned’ nature of One Family – ‘society ladies playing Britannia, and the Empire Cake, Buckingham Palace and so forth’ – while filmmaker Harry Watt dismissed the film as ‘abysmally vomit-making’ (Sight and Sound, Summer 1972, 149).

Grierson explained the failings as he saw them in 1931, stating that ‘the “dreams of real things” which Creighton made was not quite the dream which the film public was accustomed to turn over in their minds. Symbol does not flourish in these post-Victorian days and One Family was full of symbols. The lesson we learned was that cinema can only at peril depart from the dreams and aspirations of common people’ (‘Annual Report on the activities of the EMB Film Unit’, 1931).

One Family followed existing EMB campaigns and adopted language used in other media. In 1924, the Women’s Unionist Organisation had urged families to ‘make your Christmas pudding this year an Empire pudding’ and had provided a recipe listing ingredients from throughout the Empire (The Times, 5 December 1924, 12). By 1926, The Timeswas reporting on the EMB’s publicity campaigns – ‘the Empire is self-sufficient for all manner of Christmas fare’ – and advertisements in 1927 contained a recipe, listing the country of origin for each ingredient, for an Empire Christmas pudding supplied to the EMB by ‘The King’s Chef, Mr Cedard, with Their Majesties’ gracious consent’ (The Times, 24 December 1926, 7 and 11 November 1927, 11).

The title One Family also borrowed heavily from existing Empire Marketing Board publicity. EMB posters in 1927 had exclaimed ‘The Empire is One Large Family. God Bless us Every One’, while in 1931 posters urged ‘Keep Trade in the Family’ and ‘Remember your Cousins’ (Mackenzie, 1986, 217).



Martin Stollery described One Family as ‘a missing link between the documentary and older British traditions of exhibiting Empire’. The film’s director, Walter Creighton, had previously organised the Wembley tattoo with Kipling, and Stollery argued that the film was organised like a ‘compressed exhibition’ and represented a first attempt ‘to transpose the British imperial exhibition tradition into state-sponsored cinema’ (Stollery, 2000, 157, 159).

The film offers a largely traditional representation of the Empire, with Buckingham Palace – and the King himself – at the heart of this image. The Dominions – represented by society women dressed for a pageant – are defined by, and serve Britain. For example, Australia asks ‘What can we do for you? We’ll do anything you want. Just tell us, won’t you’. Even in its most modern formal elements – the fantasy sequences and the use of sound – One Family endorses an established historical image, with a score containing military marches, carol singers and concluding with bell ringing, that Stollery described as ‘blissful testimony to the divinely ordained permanence of the glorious British Empire’ (Stollery, 2000, 160).

However, the film does attempt to transmit this traditional image of Empire to a new generation through its young, male protagonist. In pitching One Family, the EMB promoted the pedagogical function of film – an issue also discussed at the Imperial Conference of 1926 – and certainly within its narrative, One Family emphasised the need for new teaching methods, as the boy is bored by the established methods adopted by his classroom teacher. While the film may not challenge established gender roles – the boy travels the world to collect the ingredients, which his mother cooks in her kitchen – One Family does promote the integral role of the housewife, both in bringing together the family and, by extension, in uniting the broader family of the Empire.

One Family also depicts India within the Dominions, at a moment when some Indian nationalists were instigating boycotts of British goods and when her position within the Empire was widely debated. In October 1929, in the face of growing Indian hostility, the viceroy, Lord Irwin, had explained that the natural goal of India’s constitutional progress should be dominion status, and this issue was discussed both in India – where the Indian National Congress called for full independence – and in England at, for example, the Imperial Conference of October 1930. One Family may appear to appease and acknowledge India’s shifting imperial status, by assimilating her amongst the Dominions, although it is worth noting that India remains distinct from the other ‘dominions’ as, in the version available, the boy does not visit India and she does not provide ingredients for the pudding.

One Family represents an attempt after the Empire Exhibition and the Imperial Conference of 1926 to use film to re-establish and promote the centrality of Empire. However, while aspects of One Family would re-emerge in subsequent productions – for example the links with the traditions of imperial exhibitions, the emphasis on imperial trade and on the Royal family – the film’s spectacular commercial and critical failure meant that formally One Family remained largely an anomaly of imperial filmmaking. The concurrent success of Drifters ensured that it was John Grierson who now headed the EMB Film Unit, and that it was his documentary aesthetics – as opposed to the full-length fictional framework of One Family – that would become the dominant form for state sponsored imperial filmmaking.

Tom Rice (September 2008) 


Works Cited

Aitken, Ian, Film and Reform: John Grierson and the Documentary Film Movement (London: Routledge, 1990).

Bioscope, 2 July 1930, 2.

‘One Family’, Bioscope, 9 July 1930, 25.

Constantine, Stephen, ‘”Bringing the Empire Alive”: The Empire Marketing Board and Imperial Propaganda, 1926-1933’, in John Mackenzie ed., Imperialism and Popular Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986).

Grierson, John,Annual report on the activities of the Empire Marketing Board Film Unit, 1931’ (1931)

‘Empire Films’, House of Commons, 5 June 1939, accessed from Hansard.

‘Film Quotas (Amendment Order), House of Commons, 30 March 1950, accessed from Hansard.

‘Cinematograph Film “One Family”’, House of Commons, 31 March 1936, accessed from Hansard.

‘Empire Marketing Board (Film)’, House of Commons, 28 April 1931, accessed from Hansard.

Low, Rachael, The History of British Film, 1929 - 1939: Documentary and Educational Films of the 1930's (New York and London: Bowker, 1979).

Stollery, Martin, Alternative Empires: European Modernist Cinemas and Cultures of Imperialism (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2000).

Sussex, Elizabeth, ‘The Golden Years of Grierson’, Sight and Sound, Summer 1972.

Swann, Paul, The British Documentary Film Movement, 1926-1946 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

‘Empire Christmas Puddings’, The Times, 5 December 1924, 12.

‘Christmas Food from the Empire’, The Times, 24 December 1926, 7.




Technical Data

Running Time:
69 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
35mm Film
6208 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Empire Marketing Board
cast member
cast member
cast member
Carlisle, Lady
cast member
cast member
HOGAN, Michael
cast member
HORE-RUTHVEN, Bridget Helen
cast member
cast member
cast member
cast member
cast member
cast member
Production Company
British Instructional Films





Production Organisations