This film is part of Free

House That John Built

Empire buying begins at home: John Bull gets a makeover in this cartoon promoting British farmed goods

Advert 1928 7 mins Silent


The iconic John Bull figure makes an engaging turn as a hunky farmer in this 1920s animated short. The recently established Empire Marketing Board saw animation as useful tool to promote the value of British farmed goods to the nation's economy. The popular nursery rhyme about Jack’s house is adapted to give a neat structure to a seemingly simple tale that hides a complex reality of tariff reform and protectionism.

Established in 1926 by Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government, the Empire Marketing Board put film very much at the heart of its publicity strategy for British Empire goods. It's best known as a key part of the new school of British documentary filmmaking established under the influence of John Grierson, who made films such as Drifters (1929). Although a number of politically sponsored cartoons were produced in the late 1920s, the trend quickly dissipated. Animation would form part of the strategy of the EMB's successor, the GPO Film Unit, but in very different shape - that of the more avant-garde delights of Len Lye and Norman McLaren.