Earlston J. Cameron, CBE known as Earl Cameron, Bermuda-born British actor died age 102 on 3rd July 2020. He is one of the first black actors to break the “colour bar” in the United Kingdom.]
1951’s film Pool of London, made 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.
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.” He also had repeated appearances on many British science fiction programmes of the 1960s, including Doctor Who, The Prisoner, and The Andromeda Breakthrough.
Cameron was born in Pembroke, Bermuda. He joined the British Merchant Navy, and sailed mostly between New York and South America.
At the arrival of the Second World War broke he was stranded in London, arriving on the ship The Eastern Prince on 29 October 1939. In an interview he said: “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.
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.
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. Written by Arnaud d’Usseau and James Gow, this play was staged at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London for six months (featuring Gordon Heath) 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 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”.
His TV career saw him in role in: 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 Who – The Tenth Planet (the first Black Actor to portray an astronaut on any film or TV series in the world), Neverwhere, Waking the Dead, Kavanagh QC, Babyfather, EastEnders (a small role as a Mr Lambert), Dalziel and Pascoe, and Lovejoy.
In 2009 he was awarded a CBE. 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.”
He lived in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, in England.[ He was married to Barbara Cameron. His first wife, Audrey Cameron, died in 1994.[ He had six children.
Earl Cameron died on 3 July 2020, at the age of 102.