Earl Cameron (actor)

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Earl Cameron
Born (1917-08-08) 8 August 1917 (age 96)
Pembroke, Bermuda
Occupation Actor
Years active 1951–present
Religion Bahá'í Faith
Spouse(s) Audrey Cameron, (?-1994) (her death)
Barbara Cameron (1994-present)

Earl Cameron, CBE (born 8 August 1917) is a Bermudian actor. Along with Cy Grant, he is known as one of the first black actors to break the "colour bar" in the United Kingdom. He also had repeated appearances on many British science fiction programmes of the 1960s, including Doctor Who, The Prisoner and The Andromeda Breakthrough.

Early career[edit]

Cameron was born in Pembroke, Bermuda.[1] As a young man, he joined the British Merchant Navy, and sailed mostly between New York and South America. When the Second World War broke out he found himself stranded in London, arriving on the ship The Eastern Prince on 29 October 1939. As he himself put it in an interview for The Royal Gazette newspaper: "I arrived in London on 29 October 1939. I got involved with a young lady and you know the rest. The ship left without me, and the girl walked out too."

In 1941, a friend named Harry Crossman gave Cameron a ticket to see a revival of Chu Chin Chow at the Palace Theatre. Crossman and five other black actors had bit parts in the West End production. Cameron who was working at the kitchen of the Strand Corner House at the time, was fed up with menial jobs and asked Crossman if he could get him on the show. At first he told Cameron that all of the parts were cast, but two or three weeks later, when one of the actors did not show up, Crossman arranged a meeting with the director, Robert Atkins, who cast Cameron on the spot.[1]

According to Cameron, he had a less difficult time than other black actors because his Bermudian accent sounded American to British ears. For example, the following year, he landed a speaking role as Joseph, the chauffeur in the American play, The Petrified Forest by Robert E. Sherwood.[1]

In 1945 and 1946 he took on the role of one of the Dukes in the singing trio “The Duchess and Two Dukes” which toured with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) to play to British armed forces personnel in India in 1945, and The Netherlands in 1946. In 1946 Cameron returned to Bermuda for five months but decided to return to work as an actor in the UK. He then took a job on the London stage as an understudy in the play Deep are the Roots. This play was staged in London for some months and then went on tour. It was during this tour that Cameron first met, and worked alongside, Patrick McGoohan during a production of that play in Coventry.

He understudied in Deep are the Roots with fellow understudy Ida Shepley, a well known singer. As Cameron was having problems with his diction at the time Ida introduced him to a very good voice coach named Amanda Ira Aldridge. Miss Aldridge was the daughter of Ira Aldridge, a legendary black Shakespearian American actor of the 19th century. Cameron's breakthrough acting role was in Pool of London, a 1951 film set in post-war London involving racial prejudice, romance and a diamond robbery. He won much critical acclaim for his role in the film.

Film career[edit]

His next major film role following his work in Pool of London was in the 1955 film Simba. This was a drama about the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in which Cameron Cameron played the role of Peter Karanja, a doctor trying to reconcile his admiration for Western civilisation with his Kikuyu heritage. He played the Mau Mau general Jeroge in Safari in the same year.

From the 1950s to the present day Cameron has had major parts in many films, including: The Heart Within (1957) in which he played a character Victor Conway in a crime movie yet again set in the London docklands; and Sapphire (1959) in which played Dr Robbins, the brother of a murdered girl; and The Message (1976) – the story of the Prophet Muhammad.

Other film appearances have included: Tarzan the Magnificent (1960), in which he played Tate; No Kidding (1960); Flame in the Streets (1961), in which he played Gabriel Gomez; Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963), in which he played Mang; Guns at Batasi (1964), in which he played Captain Abraham; Battle Beneath the Earth (1967), in which he played Sergeant Seth Hawkins; The Sandwich Man (1966), in which he played a bus conductor; and the James Bond movie Thunderball (1965), in which he played Bond's Caribbean assistant Pinder Romania. Cameron also acted alongside Thunderball lead Sean Connery in Cuba, in which he played Colonel Levya.

His most recent film appearances include a major role in The Interpreter (2005), playing the fictitious dictator Edmond Zuwanie. Cameron's performance was universally praised. The Baltimore Sun wrote: "Earl Cameron is magnificent as the slimy old fraud of a dictator..." Rolling Stone described Mr. Cameron's appearance as "subtle and menacing". Philip French in The Observer referred to "that fine Caribbean actor Earl Cameron". In 2006 he appeared in a cameo as a painter in the film The Queen, alongside Helen Mirren. In 2010 he appeared as "Elderly Bald Man" in the film Inception. In 2013 he appeared as "Grandad" in the short film Up on the Roof.

TV career[edit]

Cameron has had roles in a wide range of TV shows but one of his earliest major roles was a starring part in the BBC 1960 TV drama The Dark Man, in which he played a West Indian cab driver in the UK. The show examined the reactions and prejudices he faced in his work. In 1956 he had a smaller part in another BBC drama exploring racism in the workplace, A Man From The Sun, in which he appeared as community leader Joseph Brent.

He appeared in a range of popular television shows including series Danger Man (Secret Agent in the US) alongside series star Patrick McGoohan. He worked with McGoohan again in 1967 when he appeared in the TV series The Prisoner as the Haitian supervisor in the episode "The Schizoid Man".

His other television work includes Emergency - Ward 10, The Zoo Gang, Crown Court (two different stories, each 3 episodes long, in 1973), Jackanory (a BBC children's series in which he read five of the Brer Rabbit stories in 1971), Dixon of Dock Green, Doctor Who - The Tenth Planet, Neverwhere, Waking the Dead, Kavanagh QC, Babyfather, EastEnders (a small role as a Mr Lambert), Dalziel and Pascoe, and Lovejoy.

He also appeared in a number of other one-off TV dramas, including: Television Playhouse (1957); A World Inside BBC (1962); ITV Play of the Week (two stories – The Gentle Assassin (1962) and I Can Walk Where I Like Can't I? (1964); the BBC's Wind Versus Polygamy (1968); ITV's A Fear of Strangers (1964), in which he played Ramsay, a black saxophonist and small-time criminal who is detained by the police on suspicion of murder and who is also racially abused by a Chief Inspector Dyke played by Stanley Baker; Festival: the Respectful Prostitute (1964); ITV Play of the Week – The Death of Bessie Smith (1965); Theatre 625: The Minister (1965); The Great Kandinsky (1994); and two episodes of Thirty-Minute Theatre (Anything You Say 1969 and another in 1971). In 1996 he appeared on BBC2 as The Abbott in Neverwhere an urban fantasy television series by Neil Gaiman.

Personal life[edit]

Cameron is a practitioner of the Bahá'í Faith,[2] and the Bahá'í community held a reception in London in 2007 to honour his 90th birthday.[3] He currently lives in Warwickshire in England. He is married to Barbara Cameron. His first wife, Audrey Cameron, died in 1994. He has six children.

Honours[edit]

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[4][5]

The Earl Cameron Theatre in Hamilton, Bermuda, was named in his honour at a ceremony he attended there on 5 December 2012.[6]

The University of Warwick awarded Cameron the degree of Honorary Doctor of Letters (Hon DLitt) on Wednesday, 23 January 2013.[7]

Filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Bourne, Stephen (2001). "Earl Cameron:A Class Act". Black in the British Frame. London and New York: Continuum. pp. 104–110. "Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Earl Cameron added a touch of class to a number of British film and television productions." 
  2. ^ Tobert Weinberg, "Veteran actor Earl Cameron brings a sense of world citizenship to UN role", One Country, Volume 17, Issue 1 / April–June 2005.
  3. ^ Earl Cameron's 90th birthday.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58929. p. 7. 31 December 2008.
  5. ^ Smyth, Chris (31 December 2008). "Terry Pratchett "flabbergasted" over knighthood". The Times (London: News International). Retrieved 2008-12-31. 
  6. ^ Rebecca Zuill, "City Hall Theatre named after ‘back of town boy’", Royal Gazette, 6 November 2012.
  7. ^ "Bond, Baking, Buildings & BBC in Roll Call of Honorary Graduates Announced by University of Warwick", News & Events, Warwick.

External links[edit]