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Earl Cameron: Pioneering black film star famed for Thunderball and Doctor Who dies aged 102

The Independent logo The Independent 04/07/2020 Andy Gregory
Earl Cameron wearing a suit and tie © Provided by The Independent

Pioneering film star Earl Cameron, one of the first black actors to break through in British cinema, has died at the age of 102.

The man “with the voice of God and the heart of a kindly prince” passed away at his home in Warwickshire on Thursday.

Cameron’s six-decade career began with a breakthrough role in 1951 starring in Pool of London, which was credited as being the first British film to feature an interracial relationship.

He would later appear as James Bond’s assistant, Pinder in Thunderball, in Sidney Poitier’s 1973 film A Warm December, going on to star alongside Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter in 2005.

He also notched up appearances in Doctor Who and a final cameo in the mind-bending 2010 blockbuster Inception, shortly after being awarded a CBE in 2009. Four years later, he was given an honorary doctorate from the University of Warwick.

Tributes poured in after his death was reported in Bermudan newspaper The Royal Gazette from colleagues and admirers.

“Giant Man. His generation’s pioneering shoulders are what my generation of actors stand on,” tweeted actor Paterson Joseph, famed for his roles in Peep Show and, more recently, Noughts and Crosses.

“No shoulders were broader than this gentleman with the voice of God and the heart of a kindly prince. RIP Earl Cameron.”

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Film production company StudioCanalUK wrote: “We’re deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Pool Of London actor Earl Cameron – one of the first prominent black actors to break through the ‘colour bar’ of British cinema.”

Homeland actor David Harewood described Cameron as “a total legend”, while Hot Fuzz co-star Nicholas Pegg also paid tribute to him and Louis Mahoney, the Fawlty Towers and Doctor Who actor whose death, aged 81, was announced recently.

“Fine actors, and back in the day two of the most prominent people of colour in a profession overwhelmingly white,” Mr Pegg said.

Historian David Olusoga added: “A remarkable and wonderful man. Not just a brilliant actor but a link to a deeper history.”

Dance choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne said: “Sad that we didn’t see more opportunities given to this fine actor during his long career ... but a groundbreaker certainly and a great legacy to celebrate today.”

In 2017, Cameron told The Guardian: “I never saw myself as a pioneer. It was only later, looking back, that it occurred to me that I was.”

“Unless it was specified that this was a part for a black actor, they would never consider a black actor for the part,” he added. “And they would never consider changing a white part to a black part.

“So that was my problem. I got mostly small parts, and that was extremely frustrating – not just for me but for other black actors. We had a very hard time getting worthwhile roles.”

Born in Bermuda's Pembroke Parish, Cameron joined the British merchant navy and arrived in the UK in 1939. He told the Royal Gazette that he made his debut in the chorus of Chu Chin Chow, a West End show, when he was working as a dishwasher at a restaurant and they needed someone quickly.

The paper said that the father-of-five lived in Kenilworth with his second wife Barbara.

Additional reporting by PA


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