Earl Cameron (actor)

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Earl Cameron
CBE
Earlp8.jpg
Born Earlston J. Cameron
(1917-08-08) 8 August 1917 (age 100)
Pembroke, Bermuda
Occupation Actor
Years active 1951–present
Spouse(s) Audrey J. P. Godowski (1959[1][2]-1994; her death)
Barbara Cameron (1994–present)[3]

Earlston J. Cameron, CBE (born 8 August 1917), known as Earl Cameron, is a British actor, born in Bermuda and a long-time resident in England. Along with Cy Grant, he is known as one of the first black actors to break the "colour bar" in the United Kingdom.[4]

With his appearance in 1951's Pool of London, Cameron became one of the first black actors to take up a starring role in a British film after Paul Robeson, Nina Mae McKinney and Elisabeth Welch in the 1930s.[5][6]

According to Screenonline, "Earl Cameron brought a breath of fresh air to the British film industry's stuffy depictions of race relations. Often cast as a sensitive outsider, Cameron gave his characters a grace and moral authority that often surpassed the films' compromised liberal agendas."[7] He also had repeated appearances on many British science fiction programmes of the 1960s, including Doctor Who, The Prisoner, and The Andromeda Breakthrough.[8]

Early career[edit]

Cameron was born in Pembroke, Bermuda.[8] 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: "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."[9]

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.[8]

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.[8]

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.[10] Written by Arnaud d'Usseau and James Gow, this play was staged at the Wyndham's Theatre[11] in London for six months (featuring Gordon Heath)[12] 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. (In 2012, Cameron participated alongside local actors in Bermuda in a reading of Deep Are the Roots, which the Bermuda Sun described as a play "dear to Earl’s heart, for it not only gave him his first break in the West End as Britain’s first black actor, but he also met his first wife when he travelled on tour with the production.")[11]

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 she 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 directed by Basil Dearden, set in post-war London involving racial prejudice, romance and a diamond robbery. He won much critical acclaim for his role in the film, which is considered "the first major role for a black actor in a British mainstream film".[13]

Film career[edit]

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

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 again set in the London docklands; and Sapphire (1959) in which he played Dr Robbins, the brother of a murdered girl; and The Message (1976) – the story of the Prophet Muhammad, where he played the King of Abyssinia.[14]

Other film appearances have included: Tarzan the Magnificent (1960), in which he played Tate; 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; and Battle Beneath the Earth (1967), in which he played Sergeant Seth Hawkins; A Warm December (1973), in which he acted with Sidney Poitier and played the part of an African ambassador to the UK.

Cameron was strongly considered for the role of Quarrel in Dr. No (1962) by both director Terence Young and co-producer Albert R. Broccoli, whom he knew from his Warwick Films work; however, Harry Saltzman did not think him suitable for the role and cast American John Kitzmiller.[15] They asked Cameron back to the James Bond series for Thunderball (1965), in which he played Bond's Caribbean assistant Pinder. 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..." and Rolling Stone described his 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 portrait artist in the film The Queen (directed by Stephen Frears), 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,[16] the cast also featuring Errol John, Cy Grant, Colin Douglas and Nadia Cattouse.

Cameron appeared in a range of popular television shows including series Danger Man (Secret Agent in the US) alongside series star Patrick McGoohan. Cameron 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 three 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 WhoThe Tenth Planet (playing an astronaut), 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 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.

Following the death of Olaf Pooley on 14 July 2015, Cameron became the oldest living actor to have appeared in Doctor Who, and on 8 August 2017 he became the third "Doctor Who" actor to reach the age of 100 (after Zohra Sehgal and Olaf Pooley).

Personal life[edit]

Since 1963[14] Cameron has been a practitioner of Bahá'í,[17] joining the faith at the time of the first Bahá’í World Congress, held at the Royal Albert Hall in London.[18] The Bahá'í community held a reception in London in 2007 to honour his 90th birthday.[19] He currently lives in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, in England.[20] He is married to Barbara Cameron. His first wife, Audrey Cameron, died in 1994.[5] He has six children.[21]

Honours[edit]

He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 New Year Honours.[22][23]

The Earl Cameron Theatre in Hamilton, Bermuda was named in his honour at a ceremony he attended there in December 2012.[24]

The University of Warwick awarded Cameron an honorary doctorate in January 2013.[25][26]

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1951 Pool of London Johnny Lambert
There Is Another Sun Ginger Jones
1952 Emergency Call George Robinson
1955 Simba Karanja
The Woman for Joe Lemmie
Safari Jeroge (Njoroge)
1956 Odongo Hassan
1957 The Heart Within Victor Conway
The Mark of the Hawk Prosecutor
1959 Killers of Kilimanjaro
Sapphire Dr. Robbins
1960 Tarzan the Magnificent Tate
1961 No Kidding Black father
Flame in the Streets Gabriel Gomez
1963 Tarzan's Three Challenges Mang
1964 Guns at Batasi Captain Abraham
1965 Thunderball Pinder
1966 The Sandwich Man Bus Conductor
1967 Battle Beneath the Earth Sgt. Seth Hawkins
1968 Two a Penny Verger
1969 Two Gentlemen Sharing Jane's father
1973 A Warm December
1976 Mohammad, Messenger of God Najashi
1979 Cuba Col. Leyva
2001 Revelation Cardinal Chisamba
2005 The Interpreter Edmond Zuwanie
2006 The Queen Portrait Artist
2010 Inception Elderly Bald Man

References[edit]

  1. ^ "England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005". FamilySearch. 
  2. ^ "England and Wales Marriage Registration Index, 1837-2005". FamilySearch. 
  3. ^ "Earl Cameron - Actor", Bermudians in the UK.
  4. ^ "Video: Channel 4 Interviews Actor Earl Cameron - Bernews". Bernews. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Imogen Blake, "Pioneering actor Earl Cameron, 98: ‘Showbusiness was just a means to an end’", Ham & High, 7 April 2016.
  6. ^ Nathalie Morris, "Paul Robeson: the singer and activist who pioneered a path for black actors", BFI, 3 April 2017. As the movie posters on this website show, Robeson, McKinney and Welch all received top billing for their work on the 1930s British screen.
  7. ^ Dylan Cave, "Cameron, Earl", Screenonline, BFI.
  8. ^ a b c d Bourne, Stephen (2001). "Earl Cameron:A Class Act". Black in the British Frame. London and New York: Continuum. pp. 104–10. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s Earl Cameron added a touch of class to a number of British film and television productions. 
  9. ^ Yvonne Brewster, "Earl Cameron—Actor", in Rodreguez King-Dorset, Black British Theatre Pioneers: Yvonne Brewster and the First Generation of Actors, Playwrights and Other Practitioners, McFarland & Company, 2014, p. 112.
  10. ^ Owain Johnston-Barnes, "Acting legend Cameron thrilled to be back on island", The Royal Gazette, 20 October 2017.
  11. ^ a b Sarah Lagan, "Earl Cameron in play reading", Bermuda Sun, 27 April 2012.
  12. ^ Eleanor Blau, "Gordon Heath, 72; Co-Starred in Play 'Dweep are the Roots'", The New York Times, 31 August 1991.
  13. ^ Wendy Mitchell, "Earl Cameron on breaking racial boundaries in Pool of London", The Telegraph, 12 July 2017.
  14. ^ a b Bahá'í World News Service. "100-year-old pioneering actor reflects on life, faith, and change", 8 August 2017.
  15. ^ Bourne, Stephen, Black in the British Frame (2005), p. 110.
  16. ^ Carl Daniels, "Man From The Sun, A (1956)", BFI Screenonline.
  17. ^ Robert Weinberg, "Veteran actor Earl Cameron brings a sense of world citizenship to UN role", One Country, Volume 17, Issue 1, April–June 2005.
  18. ^ Jonathan Bell, "Legendary actor Cameron hits 100", The Royal Gazette, 8 August 2017.
  19. ^ Brian Watson, "Earl Cameron 90th Birthday Tribute", The Unmutual.
  20. ^ "Breakthrough black actor who starred with 007 turns 100", BBC News, Coventry & Warwickshire, 8 August 2017.
  21. ^ Xan Brooks, "'I've not retired!' Earl Cameron, Britain's first black film star, on Bond, racism – and turning 100", The Guardian, 8 August 2017.
  22. ^ "No. 58929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2008. p. 7. 
  23. ^ Smyth, Chris (31 December 2008). "Terry Pratchett "flabbergasted" over knighthood". The Times. London, UK: News International. Retrieved 31 December 2008. 
  24. ^ Rebecca Zuill, "City Hall Theatre named after ‘back of town boy’", The Royal Gazette, 6 November 2012.
  25. ^ "Bond, Baking, Buildings & BBC in Roll Call of Honorary Graduates Announced by University of Warwick", News & Events, Warwick.
  26. ^ "Lifetime Achievement Award For Black Acting Pioneer", The Voice, 29 January 2013.

External links[edit]