This film is held by the BFI (ID: 18147).


"This is a brief survey of progress made by the British Government in helping forty separate colonial territories to raise their standards and increase their wealth. After a summary of past difficulties - diseases that killed people and cattle, inclemencies of nature, locust plagues - the film concentrates on scientific progress made to combat these various enemies: farmers being taught new productive methods, anti-locust research stations in Africa, laboratory experiments and training in the prevention of tropical diseases. The commentator finally points out that increased productivity and wealth in the Colonies means increased supplies and economic aid for Britain and other countries on the world. It is impossible, of course, to present such a subject in a ten-minute film in anything more than the most generalised terms, but this is done adequately and intelligibly." (Monthly Film Bulletin, 17: 193-203, 1950, 73).



In 1948 the Treasury approved the production of twelve films  – subsequently reduced to eleven – addressing economic subjects under the auspices of the Economic Information Unit. Budgeted at a maximum cost of £72,000 ((£8,000 as the maximum for any one film), the series included From the Ground Up (1950), which outlined to British industry the importance of the national capital investment policy and Pop Goes the Weasel (1948), which showed how revenue from direct taxation was spent and which was cited in the House of Commons as an example of the wasteful and unnecessary governmental spending on film propaganda (The Times, 24 May 1949, 2). The Economic Information Unit had come into operation in June 1947 and co-ordinated and propagated the Labour government’s productivity drive, promoting export and the regeneration of British trade.

Spotlight on the Colonies, produced by the Government’s in-house Crown Film Unit, was thus intended to illustrate and promote the Labour government’s colonial policy and, in particular, the continuing economic links between Britain and her colonies. This is evident in the COI press release for the film, which noted not only Britain’s social responsibilities within the colonies, but also the more specific economic advantages for Britain. ‘But in an age of shortage, there’s another side to this plan for the Colonies’, it stated. ‘The development of the Colonies also means that they can become suppliers of more food and raw materials, not only for themselves, but for a needy world outside’. ‘If the Colonies are given our continued help’, the release concluded, ‘we shall in the coming years have staunch partners on our common road to progress’ (‘COI Press Release’, INF 6/1337).

The initial ‘investigation and story outline’ for the film was undertaken by Dr Rita Hinden. Dr Hinden was a socialist campaigner on colonial issues who in 1940 had set up the Fabian Colonial Bureau with Arthur Creech Jones, a future Secretary of State for the Colonies. She outlined the initial role of the bureau in a 1946 essay. ‘Its work was, implicitly, to fight the abuse it knew of in the British Empire’, she explained, ‘to urge on economic change, and to hasten the day when self-government, or – if desired – independence, could be achieved’ (Pearce, 1982, 109). Hinden advocated strong economic links and trade across the Empire. ‘The trouble in the past was that only the economic interests of Britain were considered, and colonial economies were geared to suit British needs’, she explained in 1948. ‘It is now a matter of mutual advantage, each country concentrating on producing what it is best suited for – even though we may not have yet succeeded in convincing all the colonial peoples that it is as above board as that’ (Hinden, 1948, 283). Hinden encouraged moves towards independence in Africa and the West Indies, and argued in 1950 that the post-war transformation of the Empire – ‘particularly in India, Pakistan and Ceylon’ – would be proclaimed by history as ‘the crowning achievement of the 1945 Labour Government’ (Brooke, 1995, 105, 106). In particular Hinden reiterated the need for continued investment and development in the colonies if they were to achieve independence. However, by 1950 public opinion was increasingly opposed to large-scale expenditure on the colonies (Pugh, 2004).

The commentary for Spotlight on the Colonies serves to re-contextualise footage, much of which is reused. Although the film does include some new footage – principally for the sequences in London – it largely utilises library material, which originated from a variety of sources, including Rank’s This Modern Age and the Malayan Government film, Five Faces. In particular, the film reuses footage from other COI films, such as the This is Britain series, Tin from Nigeria and Fight for Life, while also relying heavily on Colonial Film Unit footage, for example from Towards True Democracy, Yaws, and especially from editions of the organisation’s newsreel, Colonial Cinemagazine.

Spotlight on the Colonies was the COI monthly release for April 1950, and was trade shown at the COI theatre in Baker Street on 5 April 1950, along with Help Yourself, the May monthly release. It was initially hoped that the Economic Information Unit films would obtain worldwide distribution, under the title ‘World in Action’. This plan – and the series title – was dropped, but a COI press release still reported that Spotlight on the Colonies would be distributed to ‘some 3,000 cinemas beginning April 10th’ (INF 6/1337).



As a film produced for the Economic Information Unit, primarily for British audiences, Spotlight on the Colonies places particular emphasis on the economic benefits that continued investment and development within the colonies will provide for Britain. The commentary talks repeatedly of ‘this enterprise of mutual prosperity’ and outlines how ‘the British colonies are expanding their horizons… increasing their own food supplies and supplying much needed raw materials to the world’. ‘To us in the factories at home, this plan for mutual exchange may seem remote’, the commentator notes, ‘but we are – every one of us – a part of it; for if the colonies are to send us the food and raw materials we’re short of, we must send them the tools to do the job’. The film again notes – as did the press release – the economic benefits to Britain, ‘in an age of shortage’, but now carefully avoids presenting this as colonial exploitation (‘for the British colonies, these needs are an opportunity’).

Although the film emphasises this ‘common purpose’, it still creates a clear distinction between the British people (‘us’) and the colonial men and women (‘them’). The commentator begins by stating that ‘up and down the country, you meet them everywhere, men and women from the British colonies… working with us, learning from us’. As with much of the Colonial Film Unit output (from which much of the footage comes), Spotlight on the Colonies shows Africans and people of the colonies contributing to and working within the British establishment (at law college, in London, at Cambridge). In the CFU films this serves to promote to African audiences the support and acceptance of Africans within Britain, and to encourage imperial loyalty. Here, it shows to a British audience the value and benefit of hosting colonial workers in Britain, and in the context of the broader benefits of the Labour government’s training and development programmes.

The film may appear to endorse the liberal imperialism of the post-war government and, as with much of the official post-war output, it creates a largely idealised image of imperial co-operation and harmony. The commentary does acknowledge that ‘the colonies have long had their difficulties’, but these problems are all ‘natural’ ones, such as disease and drought, with no mention of any of the social unrest or colonial mismanagement, which Hinden noted, and which led to the rise of nationalist movements and anti-colonial violence at this time. Even more strikingly, the film makes no reference at all to India. Although Rita Hinden suggested that India’s independence should be celebrated as the ‘crowning achievement’ of the Labour government, the film avoids this subject entirely and largely eschews any mention of the dissolution of the Empire. Instead the commentary celebrates the vastness of the Empire – ‘more than 40 separate territories, more than 60 million people’. It does conclude that the colonies will ‘in coming years’ become ‘staunch partners’ and will ‘take their places in the Commonwealth’, but there is certainly no timescale offered for this, with the commentator suggesting simply that this will happen ‘eventually’.

Tom Rice (April 2009)


Works Cited

Hinden, Rita, ‘The Empire’ in Donald Munro (ed.), Socialism: The British Way (London: Essential Books, 1948), 281-283.

Hinden, Rita, ‘Labour’s Greatest Achievement’ in Stephen Brooke (ed.), Reform and Reconstruction, Britain after the War, 1945-1951 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 105-106.

Pearce, Robert, The Turning Point in Africa: British Colonial Policy, 1938-48 (London: Routledge, 1982).

Pugh, Patricia M., ‘Hinden , Rita (1909–1971)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, http://0 view/article/59962 (Oxford University Press, 2004, accessed 15 July 2009).

‘Spotlight on the Colonies’, Monthly Film Bulletin, 17, 1950, 73.

‘Spotlight on the Colonies’, INF 6/1337, accessed at the National Archives (PRO).

The Times, 24 May 1949, 2. 




Technical Data

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

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
PINE, Diana
LEGG, Stuart
Central Office of Information
Economic Information Unit
FREEMAN, William
Production Company
Crown Film Unit