This film is held by the BFI (ID: 234188).


Comedy. Mr. Mensah entrusts the building of his house to his irresponsible nephew, who wastes all the money and materials. The situation is retrieved when Mr Mensah takes part in a government scheme that provides locals with free building materials for their houses.

Mr Mensah, having saved his money, retires from his job and intends to move back to his hometown, into a new house that he has been building for three years. Kofi, his nephew, is in charge of the project, and visits his uncle to ask for more money. However, Kofi spends this money on drink, expensive presents for his girlfriend and at the racetrack. Meanwhile Mr Mensah and his wife enjoy his retirement party before packing up their bags and moving to their new home. On arriving Mr Mensah discovers a ramshackle frame and his house unbuilt. An African government minister explains that a new department of rural housing will help Mr Mensah complete his house, provided that all of the community helps. The entire community works together using modern machinery. Amongst the workers is Kofi, who is repaying his debt to Mr Mensah. The film ends with a pot of white paint falling on Kofi.



Mr Mensah Builds a House was ‘designed to encourage better rural housing’ and was used ‘in conjunction with the Community Development services’ (Gold Coast Film Unit Catalogue, 1955). A government report in 1955 noted that the film had been ‘completed on behalf of the Ministry of Housing’ and was distributed by cinema vans, which were ‘used for special campaigns on behalf of ministries and government departments’. The department supplemented cinema shows ‘as much as possible with practical demonstrations by appropriate government departments, and with photographs, pictures and booklets when available’. The report further explained that the Information Services cinema vans ‘undertook regular tours in 1955 throughout the territory and gave in all 249 performances and 66 lectures to an estimated audience of 257,530’ (Report on Togoland, 1955, 68).

Mr Mensah Builds a House also played at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1955 and was widely reviewed in the British press. Film Forum described the picture as ‘gay, naïve, quite delightful’, while Glasgow Herald, in noting the ‘charming inventive touches’, described the film as ‘friendly and gay’ and suggested it was ‘made with all the freshness and enthusiasm that is a young country’s birthright’. Other reviews followed a similar vein –‘gay and fluent’, ‘a cheerful and colourful story’, ‘a charming human short’ – while Films in Review, an American publication, suggested that the whole film ‘will be liked everywhere for its original, though naïve, human touch’ (A Digest of Films, 1955, 13). Look and Listen noted that the film benefited from a ‘highly professional script’ by Jerrard Tickell, the author whose works included ‘Appointment with Venus’ (Look and Listen, November 1955, 30). Mr Mensah Builds a House was also nominated for the Special Award at the BAFTA Awards in 1955.

Mr Mensah Builds a House complemented new house building initiatives introduced in the Gold Coast. In 1953, the Gold Coast government established a Department of Rural Housing, and at the end of 1954 the United Nations Technical Assistance Administration sent a team of housing experts to the territory and offered a series of recommendations. This led to the introduction of the Roof Loans Scheme in 1956, which provided financial assistance and building materials for locals within rural areas.  A subsequent United Nations report stated that ‘the principal objective must be the mobilizing of the capacity of the villagers to help themselves and their great experience in traditional building methods’ (‘Housing in Ghana’, 1957,179).

Dr Nkrumah, the Gold Coast Prime Minister, stated in 1954 that his ‘second development plan’ from 1956-61 would lay greater emphasis on ‘rural housing, and rural development’ (The Times, 26 August 1954, 4). By 1955 subsidised housing estates were being constructed at Ho, Kadjebi and Jasikon, while in 1956 West African Reviewreported that ‘an ideal home exhibition, the first of its kind to be held in the Gold Coast, has been on view at Accra Community Centre’. Opened by the Governor’s wife, Lady Arden Clarke, and organised with the assistance of the housing department, the exhibition sought to ‘help visitors to appreciate and understand the beauty and the advantages of an “ideal home”’, and included demonstrations from Mass Education officers on the production of blocks ‘from simple, inexpensive local materials for rural housing’ (West African Review, November 1956, 1029).



As with other Gold Coast Film Unit productions, such as Progress in Kojokrom (1953), Mr Mensah Builds a House presents its instructional message for African audiences within the framework of a comedy. Again, Mr Mensah concludes with an address from a government officer – on this occasion directed at the characters within the film, rather than the audience themselves – outlining the benefits of the new government rural housing scheme. However, in a number of respects, Mr Mensah differs from earlier Gold Coast Film Unit productions.

First, Mr Mensah contains no voiceover. While in The Boy Kumasenu (1951) the British commentator provides virtually the only voice, in Mr Mensah the narrative is told almost exclusively through the dialogue of the predominantly African characters. There is additional narrative guidance from the soundtrack – ‘Own your house and love your wife, you’ll taste happiness all your life. Until a few weeks ago Mr Mensah did not know’ – but this is sung by African voices. Furthermore, the film uses local dialects with a lot of dialogue spoken in Fante. The characters move between English and Fante, without subtitles or attempts at translation.

The formal structure of Mr Mensah Builds a House also appears more complex than earlier Gold Coast Film Unit productions, and particularly in comparison to other productions made for audiences elsewhere in Africa. Popular colonial rhetoric had claimed that European and African audiences possessed different cognitive abilities, yet Mr Mensah Builds a House uses western narrative techniques and relies on its audience to construct meaning within the film, without the benefit of a commentator. For example, the narrative of Mr Mensah Builds a House opens at the end – ‘now his house is all but done, let me tell you how it all began’ – while the film parallel cuts between two stories. Shots of Mr Mensah enjoying his retirement party are intercut with his nephew, Kofi, gambling at the racetrack. Kofi’s request to Mr Mensah for more money to complete the building work on his house is immediately followed by a close-up of a trolley with alcohol and expensive beauty products. The film thus relies on the audience to relate and construct meaning from these images without the benefit of a commentary.

The editing between the lives of Mr Mensah and Kofi privileges the audience, so that they are aware of Mr Mensah’s impending fall. In one respect, this intercutting presents Mr Mensah as a moral exemplar in contrast to his gambling nephew, yet Mr Mensah’s failure to recognise these problems – as he fails to supervise his nephew and enjoys British tea parties – highlights his dislocation from the African community (and audience). Mr Mensah is at ease with his British colleague, chatting informally about his future plans – ‘oh I must look you up sometime’ – while at his retirement tea party, a British man presents Mr Mensah with a clock ‘for his long and devoted service to the company’. Yet, once Mr Mensah returns to his hometown and his unbuilt house, he no longer occupies this privileged position. Now, as the officer talks to the locals about the new housing scheme, Mr Mensah is dressed in traditional clothing – as opposed to the shirt and tie he has appeared in thus far – and ultimately he must work together with the community in order to rebuild his house.

Mr Mensah is a further significant example of the ways in which the Gold Coast Film Unit sought to use film to enact social change and communicate to the local public. The film also indicates the developments within the unit, in the way it represents African characters and society, and also in its attitude towards its African audiences.

Tom Rice (May 2008)


Works Cited

Colonial Office, ‘Report by her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the General Assembly of the United Nations on the Administration of Togoland, 1955’ (London: H.M.S.O., 1955).

‘A Digest of Films Shown at the Ninth International Edinburgh Film Festival, 1955’ (Film House, Edinburgh, 1955).

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

‘Mr Mensah Builds a House’, Look and Listen, November 1955, 30.

‘Development Plans in Togoland’, The Times, 26 August, 1954, 4.

‘The Cinema in Edinburgh: Films From 38 Countries’, The Times, 1 September 1955, 6.

United Nations Technical Assistance Housing Mission to Ghana, ‘Housing in Ghana’ (1957).

‘“Ideal Homes” in Accra’, West African Review, November 1956, 1027-1031.




Technical Data

Running Time:
36 minutes
Colour (Eastmancolor)

Production Credits

Production Countries:
TICKELL, Jerrard
A Camera Operator
NOBLE, George
Production Company
Gold Coast Film Unit
Production Manager
HOYLE, Peter







Production Organisations