Cameron, Earl 1917–
Earl Cameron 1917–
A highly respected actor of stage, film, radio, and television, Earl Cameron was the only well-known black British actor for most of the 1950s and 1960s. His most famous roles were in the popular British television series Danger Man (Secret Agent), Dr. Who, and The Prisoner. For a wider audience, he played a Bermudan police officer who assists James Bond in the 196 film Thunderball.
Earl Cameron was born on August 8, 1917, in Bermuda. At the beginning of World War II in 1939, Cameron moved to England where he worked at kitchen jobs and on merchant navy ships. After landing in the hospital, close to death with pneumonia, Cameron decided that he wanted nothing more than to return home to Bermuda. Penniless and without a passport, he could not. Instead, he hired onto an Egyptian ship and spent five months in India. Upon his return to England, Cameron found work as a dishwasher and fell in love with London, forgetting all about returning to Bermuda.
One night in 1941, Cameron saw the London West-End musical Chu Chin Chow, in which six black men played slaves. He asked if he could join them and was hired within a few weeks, walking on stage for the first time without a rehearsal. In an interview at London’s National Film Theatre in 2002, Cameron told Dylan Cave: “My thing was to come on and sing about Ali Baba. That night, nothing came out. I was sweating. But I said, ‘This is better than dish-washing. I am going to stay right here. This is what I want. The theatre.’”
Cameron’s first West-End acting role was a small part in The Petrified Forest in 1943. He also played in All God’s Chillun at the Colchester Repertory. When the war finally ended, Cameron returned to Bermuda for five months and then took a job on the London stage as an understudy in Deep are the Roots. The role forced him to improve his acting and diction. He took speech and singing lessons and trained with Amanda Aldridge, the granddaughter of the famous black Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge.
Cameron’s career took off, with more than 70 roles at various repertory theaters over a five-year period. However after an unhappy experience in the U.K.touring company of 13 Death Street, Harlem, he decided to try the movies. Without an agent, Cameron
At a Glance…
Born on August 8, 1917, in Bermuda. Education: Studied acting with Amanda Aldridge. Religion: Bahá’í. Military Service: British Merchant Navy, c. 1939-40.
Career: British stage actor, 1941-68; BBC radio voice actor, 1944-66; British and American film actor, 1951-; BBC television actor, 1956-.
Memberships: African Festival Committee, chairman, 1977.
Awards: British Film Institute, retrospective, 2002.
Addresses: Home —England.
himself approached the famous film company, Ealing Studios. His only previous film experience had been as an extra. Yet he landed his first speaking role on screen in 1951’s Pool of London, where he played a Jamaican sailor who befriends a white girl, played by Susan Shaw. It was the first British film to depict a mixed-race relationship. Cameron became an instant celebrity.
Cameron’s best-known roles were in two other films that dealt with racism in Britain—Sapphire in 1959 and Flame in the Streets in 1961. Among his other early films were La Grande speranza, also known as Torpedo Zone, and released on video as Submarine Attack, and two Tarzan movies.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Cameron was often heard and seen on the British Broadcasting Company’s (BBC’s) radio and television stations. He is best-known for his roles in Danger Man, Dr. Who, and The Prisoner, British television series that all became cult classics.
Cameron made several films with Albert Broccoli, who produced the James Bond movies. These included the hit film Safari, made in Kenya in 1956, and Thunderball starring Sean Connery as 007. Cameron was particularly proud of The Message, an epic film about the life of Mohammed, in which Cameron played Annajashi, the king of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). He also made films in the United States, including A Warm December in 1973, starring Sidney Poitier. He had a small role in the 1979 Richard Lester film, Cuba, once again appearing with Sean Connery. Cameron played an American doctor in the 1997 film Déjà Vu and the role of the cardinal in the 2001 film Revelation. He also appeared in a 2003 episode of the British television crime drama Waking the Dead.
Throughout his career Cameron insisted on portraying intelligent and dignified characters. If he was offered a script that he felt was insulting to blacks, he either refused the role or asked for script changes. Cameron, a member of the Bahá’í faith since 1963, has been a consistent advocate for better stories and roles for black actors.
In September of 2002, at the National Film Theatre in London, the British Film Institute produced a retrospective of Cameron’s films. Still working at the age of 85, Cameron took questions from the audience and showed a clip from The Message.
There Is Another Sun, 1951 (The Wall of Death, 1952).
La Grande speranza, 1954 (also known as Torpedo Zone, Submarine Attack ).
The Woman for Joe, 1955.
Killers of Kilimanjaro, 1959.
Tarzan the Magnificent, 1960.
Flame in the Streets, 1961.
Tarzan’s Three Challenges, 1963.
Guns at Batasi, 1964.
The Sandwich Man, 1966.
Battle Beneath the Earth, 1967 (also known as Battle Beneath the Sea, 1968).
Two a Penny, 1967.
A Warm December, 1973.
The Message, 1976.
Déjà Vu, 1997.
Deep Are the Roots, 1949.
The Green Pastures, 1956.
Under the Sun, 1958.
The University of Hunger, 1960.
Come Along to Freedom, 1961.
Brother Man, 1964.
Wind Versus Polygamy, 1966.
The End Begins, 1956.
The Green Pastures, 1958.
The Dark Man, 1960.
A World Inside, 1962.
First Night (The Dawn), 1963.
The Great Kandinsky, 1995.
Neverwhere (mini-series), 1996.
Baby father (mini-series), 2001.
Television guest appearances
Danger Man (Secret Agent), 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1966.
Doctor Who, 1966.
The Prisoner, 1967.
Health and Efficiency, 1995.
Kavanagh QC, 1997.
Waking the Dead, 2003.
Chu Chin Chow (London), 1941.
The Petrified Forest (London), 1943.
All God’s Chillun (Colchester Repertory), c. 1944.
Deep Are the Roots (London), 1946.
13 Death Street, Harlem (tour), c. 1950.
In White America, 1964.
Janie Jackson (London), 1968.
Mapp, Edward, Directory of Blacks in the Performing Arts, 2nd. ed., Scarecrow Press, 1990, pp. 79-80.
“Earl Cameron,” Blackstage: Talawa, www.talawa.com/educat/blackstage/earl-cam.htm. (January 15, 2004).
“Earl Cameron (I),” Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com/name/nm0131565/ (February 24, 2004).
“Earl Cameron Interview,” Films Now Showing, British Film Institute, www.bfi.org.uk/showing/nft/interviews/cameron/ (January 14, 2004).
“National Film Theatre Honours Earl Cameron,” UK Bahá’í Review, www.bahai.org.uk/uk_review/prev_iss/6/p5.htm (January 15, 2004).
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