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Earl Cameron
August 8, 1917- July 3, 2020
Pioneering actor

The death of trailblazing actor Earl Cameron in the UK at age 102 generated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

UK media, including The Times of London, The Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the BBC, along with the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and US trade publications Hollywood Reporter and Variety hailed Cameron’s place in history as the UK’s first black film star.

The British Film Institute’s (BFI) tribute said he “blazed a trail for black performers in Britain”. He was also praised for his refusal to accept roles that were demeaning to black people.


For someone who entered the work world at age 13 as a plumber’s apprentice and fell into acting by accident, Cameron’s own life story had the makings of a movie. After a stint in the Merchant Navy, he landed in wartime London, where he found work as a dishwasher and was back at sea for a time.

A bit part in a musical was the spark that sent his life in a new direction. After nearly a decade spent honing his skills as an actor, he had his breakout role in the 1951 film Pool of London. The BFI tribute said the part of the Jamaican seaman Johnny “launched him into a career as Britain’s first home-grown, non-American black movie celebrity”.


Pool of London was hailed both for Cameron’s performance and for tackling racial themes. It was said to have been the first British film to portray an interracial romance. Cameron never looked back after Pool of London. His career would span 60 years. Throughout the 1950s, 60s and early 70s, he worked consistently, with roles on radio and in television and film.

He took a 15-year hiatus from acting when he moved to the Solomon Islands with his first wife, Audrey, and their five children after converting to the Baha’i faith.  Upon his return to the UK, his career took on a second life and he enjoyed acting roles well into his 90s.


Born Earlston Jewitt Cameron, and raised on Princess Street, Hamilton, he was the youngest of six children of Edith and Arthur Cameron. He attended Central School until age 13 when he left to become a plumber’s apprentice. He later became a hotel bellman and waiter.

An adventurous spirit had him setting his sights beyond Bermuda. At age 19, he signed on with the cruise ship Monarch of Bermuda, a sister ship to the Queen of Bermuda. A year later, he transferred to the Eastern Prince. He worked as a steward on that ship, which sailed to ports in South America.


With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the ship was rerouted to London and the crew discharged. Cameron got a taste of the West End and “the fascinating dives in Soho” and decided to stay put.  Finding a job and housing was difficult because London was not welcoming to blacks, he later recalled.

He eventually found lodging and work as a hotel dishwasher, but following a near-death bout with pneumonia, he decided to return to Bermuda. The lack of a passport, for which he had applied but failed to collect, meant he would not be allowed on a UK ship, either as crew or a passenger.

Taken on by an Egyptian ship, he was lucky to survive the ordeal. The ship was “filthy” and the crew quarters “appalling”.  There was no respite from the misery he encountered on shore: the “human suffering” of people in Calcutta and the “degrading treatment of blacks” in Durban, South Africa. Rundown because of bad food and still recovering from pneumonia, he ended up in hospital in India.

Thanks to his own wiles and support from a local doctor, he was able to make the return trip to London on the same ship, but as a passenger. Back in the UK in 1941, his job search went more smoothly and he landed a job as hotel kitchen porter.

“By this time, Churchill had taken over and had got the country on the move and jobs were now available—even for the coloured folk!” he told the Workers Voice in 1988.


One day, a friend got him a ticket to see a musical Chu Chin Chou. The show had six black cast members. He cockily told his friend he could what they did. Incredibly not long afterwards, a spot opened up. Cameron was interviewed by the director and hired. He was terrified, but being on stage was better than washing dishes. He went on tour with Chu Chin Chou for six months. Next came a speaking part in the play The Petrified Forest.


He then toured with ENSA, the entertainment wing of the British Armed Forces.  He did another stint with the Merchant Navy and upon returning to the UK in 1944, he went to India with ENSA, performing in a song and dance act.

In 1946, that gig over, he returned home. Five months on the island was enough for him to realise he had outgrown Bermuda and he wanted to pursue a life on the stage. Shortly after returning to London, he was taken on as an understudy in Deep are the Roots, a play set in the US South.


Serious about developing his craft, he took acting classes with Amanda Ira Aldridge, a daughter of African-American Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge, and others. He acted in a couple of plays in the West End, including Anna Lucasta, but worked mainly in repertory theatre in England, Scotland and Wales, eventually assuming the lead role in Deep are the Roots.


Then came the role of Johnny in Pool of London, which he got after shaving six years of his age and being called back three times to audition.  He won out over Earle Hyman, who would later have a recurring role on The Cosby Show as Bill Cosby’s father.  Cameron described his breakout role as “fabulous…the amount of fan mail I received was amazing”. A slew of films followed including The Heart of the Matter (1954), Simba (1955) and Sapphire (1959).


He continued to work in film and in British television during the 1960s and 1970s. He was Sean Connery’s chauffeur in the 1965 James Bond film Thunderball. While many of his films were shot on location in England and in film studios, others took him to the Bahamas, Africa and the US.  

In 1973, he appeared in Warm December, a film Sidney Poitier directed and starred in. The two men had struck up a friendship when both auditioned for a role in the 1951 South African film Cry, the Beloved Country.  Bahamian Poitier won the part, but their common ancestry as islanders ensured a lifelong friendship.


In 1954, Cameron married actress Audrey Godowski, whom he met during a production of Deep Are the Roots. They had five children.  In 1979, the family moved to the Solomon Islands where Cameron ran an ice cream shop and was a Baha’i missionary. They returned to the UK five weeks before Audrey’s death of breast cancer in 1994.  He remarried Barbara Swainson, a fellow Baha’i whom he had met in Bermuda. Barbara, who was originally from the UK, moved back with him to the UK.


Over the years, Cameron returned to Bermuda on a regular basis. Local media reported on his career, with the Bermuda Recorder’s Ira Philip giving him the most extensive coverage. 

In February 1951, during a two-month stay in Bermuda, Cameron directed local actors in an excerpt from the play Anna Lucasta at the Opera House on Victoria Street. He was billed in newspaper ads as a “star of stage, screen & radio”. Cameron returned to the UK a few days before the Pool of London premiere and to glowing reviews.


However, the movie was not screened in Bermuda until 1954. Even then, the screening was out of the way, at a theatre in Mangrove Bay, Somerset and ads promoting the movie were decidedly low-key.

On November 7, 1952, an anonymous letter writer to the editor of The Royal Gazette, wondered why Bermudians had to go overseas to see a film in which Cameron had been acclaimed “by nearly every film critic in London”. According to the Recorder, when Pool of London was released, one theatre manager had said “point blank” that if the movie had a racial theme it would not be shown on the Island.


Several of Cameron’s later movies were shown.  Sapphire, which was voted Outstanding British Film of the Year by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in 1960 and featured Cameron in the role of a doctor whose sister had been passing for white, and Killers of Kilimanjaro were screened at two Hamilton theatres over the same period in late 1959 and early 1960.  The Recorder cited that as an indication of social change.

In 1964, Cameron led a protest by black British actors against a decision by the UK’s immigration department to grant a work permit to American actor Ossie Davis to appear in a UK film The Hill, starring Sean Connery. The producer’s response was Davis was the best person for the part.  His role in Thunderball came a year later.  Cameron often spoke of the frustration experienced by black British actors of his day at being overlooked for roles in favour of black Americans.


In 1970, Cameron was tapped for the lead role in Othello, which was to be staged as part of a summer arts festival in Bermuda. But the director dropped out. His replacement, Mike Leigh, who would later find fame as the director of Secret and Lies and other acclaimed films, presented The Life of Galileo. The production, which was staged at City Hall, was a disaster.

The play was four hours long and Cameron fumbled his lines. Leigh blamed Cameron for the debacle. Cameron did not disagree. He said he wanted to pull out, but felt obliged to continue. Despite the disappointment for the home audience, it did not affect his film career.


From 1975 to 1977, Cameron was head of the UK and Eire Committee for Festac ‘77, the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, staged in Lagos, Nigeria. The extravaganza was several years in the planning. In 1975, Cameron expressed disappointment that Bermuda had turned down an invitation to participate.


When Cameron returned to the UK from the Solomon Islands, he resumed his acting career with small parts on radio and television. In 2005, out of the blue, came an offer from director Sydney Pollack to appear in the film The Interpreter. Cameron, then in his late 80s, described the role, which starred Nicole and Sean Penn, as a “very good break.”

He told the Bermuda Sun while he was not on screen for very much, the film revolved around his character, an African dictator. Cameron was given the star treatment and was put up in a swank New York hotel for seven weeks. Parts of the action were shot in the United Nations, the first for a feature film. 

The following year, he had a cameo role as a portrait painter in the film The Queen, which starred Helen Mirren.


In 1999, Cameron received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council. In 2002, journalist Ira Philip, in his ‘Island Notebook’ column in the Mid-Ocean News, said that Cameron had been the subject of a retrospective in the UK that year. Philip felt he was deserving of greater recognition locally and wondered whether the powers that be were waiting until Cameron “passes off the scene”. Soon local honours came rolling in. In 2007, he was honoured by the Bermuda International Film Festival which presented him with its Prospero Award, screened three of his films, including Pool of London.


In 2012, City Hall Theatre was renamed in his honour.  In 2017, he was honoured by Government’s Department of Community and Cultural Affairs on the occasion of his 100th birthday. On the stage of the theatre that now bore his name, he gave a reading from Othello and was interviewed by veteran journalist Charles Webbe.

UK honours included a CBE in 2009 and a Doctor of Letters from Warwick University in 2013 and a tribute by BFI Southbank when he turned 100.


Cameron did not achieve the superstar status of Sidney Poitier. The BBC obituary said there was a near-miss quality to his career. Yet, for someone who left school with no aspiration of being an actor his accomplishments were remarkable. He shared the stage and screen with acting heavyweights including Laurence Olivier. And he had staying power.


Cameron’s bout with pneumonia during his early years in London had left him with one functioning lung. Incredibly, that did not slow him down. As the Covid-19 pandemic raged in Bermuda, the UK and around the world, he died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Kenilworth, Warwickshire on July 3, 2020.


Not long afterwards, tributes poured in from around the world.
A graveside service was held on July 9, 2020. Cameron was survived by his wife Barbara; his five children with wife Audrey, Jane, Simon, Helen, Serena and Philippa; and Quinton Astwood, his eldest son by a relationship with Marjorie Astwood.

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August 8, 1917—Born in Pembroke, Bermuda

1930—Leaves school and becomes a plumber’s apprentice

1936—Signs on with the Monarch of Bermuda cruise ship; later transfers to the Eastern Prince

1939—Lands in London following the outbreak of the Second World War and decides to stay

1939-1940—Struggles to find housing and employment; after recovering from pneumonia, returns to sea

1941—Back in London, gets a job as a hotel kitchen porter; following a lucky break, joins the cast of the musical Chu Chin Chow, which jump starts his acting career

1942—Gets a role as understudy in the play The Petrified Forest, eventually taking on the lead

1944-1946—Tours with ENSA, the entertainment wing of the British Armed Forces

1946—Spends several months in Bermuda before returning to London; joins cast of Deep Are the Roots

1946-1951—Works in repertory theatre throughout the UK

1951—Lands breakout part as Jamaican seaman Johnny in Pool of London; despite strong reviews, film is not shown in Bermuda until 1954

1954—Marries actress Audrey Godowski

1964—Leads a protest by black British actors after African-American actor Ossie Davis is granted a work permit to appear in a UK film

December 1959/January 1960—Cameron films Sapphire and Killers of Kilimanjaro are screened in Bermuda; the Recorder says it is an indication of social change

1963—Becomes member of the Baha’i faith

1964—Leads a protest by black British actors after African-American actor Ossie Davis is granted a work permit to appear in a UK film

1951-1970s—Works steadily in film and television.

1970—Stars in a disastrous production of The Life of Galileo at Bermuda’s City Hall Theatre; Cameron shoulders much of the blame

1975-1977—Serves as Head of the UK and Eire Committee for Festac ‘77, a black arts festival staged in Lagos, Nigeria

1979—Moves with his wife and their five children to the Solomon Islands, where he has an ice-cream shop and is a Baha’i missionary

1994—Audrey Cameron dies weeks after the family returns to the UK

Mid-1980s-1990s—Remarries Barbara Swainson; resumes acting career with voice-overs and small television and radio parts.

1999—Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bermuda Arts Council

2002—Honoured by the National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank)

2005—Director Sydney Pollack offers him a role in The Interpreter—Cameron describes it as a “very good break.”

2006—Has cameo role as portrait painter in The Queen starring Helen Mirren

2007—Bermuda International Film Festival mounts a retrospective of Cameron films and presents him with Prospero Award

2009—Awarded CBE in Queen’s New Year’s Honours List (UK)

2012—City Hall Theatre is renamed in his honour

2013—Awarded honorary doctorate by the University of Warwick

2016—Becomes first inductee into Screen Nation (formerly black filmmaker Film and TV Awards) Hall of Fame

2017—Honoured in Bermuda by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs for his 100th birthday and in the UK by BFI Southbank; gives on-stage interviews at both events

July 3, 2020—Dies at his home in Warwickshire, England


Earl Cameron Filmography

Pool of London (1951)

Emergency Call (1952)

The Heart of the Matter (1954)

The Heart Within (1957)

Sapphire, Killers of Kilimanjaro (1959)

Flame in the Streets (1961)

Guns at Batasi (1964)

Thunderball (1965)

The Revolutionary (1970)

A Warm December (1973)

Cuba (1979)

The Interpreter (2005)

The Queen (2006)

Inception (2010)

Up on the Roof (2013)



The Petrified Forest (BBC, 1956)

A Man From the Sun
 (BBC, 1956)

Soldier of Fortune (ITV, 1956)

A World Inside (BBC, 1962)

The Dawn (BBC, 1963)

Drama ’64: A Fear of Strangers (BBC, 1964)

Wind Versus Polygamy (BBC, 1968)

Doctor Who (The Tenth Planet) (BBC1,1966)

The Prisoner (The Schizoid Man) (BBC 1, 1972)

Lovejoy (BBC 1, 1995)


“I never had time for any religion, until I learned about the Baha’i in 1963. My main purpose in going to the Solomons was to take the message of the Baha’i—the greatest message for mankind since the coming of Jesus Christ.”—Workers Voice, July 1, 1988.


“I had a real Bermudian drawl then and I think Bermudians spoke worse then than what they do now. But it was very embarrassing as the director said he couldn’t hear me. So I had diction lessons with Amanda Ira Aldridge, daughter of the first black American actor (Ira Aldridge} that made a name for himself in England... “

“I don’t think actors ever retire. If I came back to Bermuda to settle, I would have to find some means of support. Actors in England don’t make the kind of money they do in the US, so it frightens me, financially, to think of coming back. Bermuda is a very expensive place to live. And I still get parts from time to time in London.

“By the way, one of my old TV plays is to be given a special showing on local TV on December 4. It’s a two-hander with the great Stanley Baker and even though we did it 30 or 40 years ago it’s still topical as it deals with the subject of police ‘roughing up’ black guys. It’s now in the National Film Museum in London…”

—Mid-Ocean News, December 3, 1999.


"Prejudice in England never bothered me. I met with awful incidents of racism on tour. I’ve had doors slammed in my face. But I believe a lot of people who act prejudiced aren’t it in their hearts. I don’t find any obvious prejudice in England today. There was a time, yes.”

“Nothing beats the good feeling of being back with your own people and watching a typical Bermudian cricket match.”

“I grew up in a nice comfortable little Island, playing tennis and swimming. It was a good life in those days. You could leave one job in the morning and get another one in the afternoon. When I go back to Bermuda now, I squirm at what I see. I do not see any poverty as such, but what I do see are drugs and a fair amount of AIDs cases too. And when I go up Court Street and where I used to hang about, where everyone was friendly and would say hello, there is a different attitude today. But it is not just Bermuda. The whole world is changing.”

—The Bermudian, July 1999


“I never saw myself as a pioneer. It was only later, looking back, that it occurred to me that I was.”

“I haven’t lived a good life. I used to be a regular drinker—but I gave that up when I became a Baha’i. And I have to be honest, I’ve finally reached the stage in my life when I don’t have to take a second look at an attractive girl. And that has been a weakness. So I’ve made a lot of mistakes. A lot of things I’d have done different, if I’d only been wiser.”

—The Guardian, August 8, 2017


“I just drive James Bond around on a Caribbean island. But whatever comes along, you play it. Who wants to be typecast! Anyway I had seven glorious weeks in Nassau. I didn’t have much to do in that film, but it was a lovely location!”—Cameron recounting his role Thunderball, Stephen Bourne’s BFI tribute, July 7, 2020.


Earl Cameron pictured during a visit back home to Bermuda.

Earl Cameron and wife Barbara with (back, from left) Kim Dismont Robinson, Heather Whalen and Veney Sims of the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs at his 100th birthday tribute in Bermuda in 2017.

Earl Cameron with his first wife Audrey and their children Jane, Helen and Simon on the cover of Fame magazine in August 1962.

Local media, including The Royal Gazette, kept readers abreast of Cameron’s career,  but the Bermuda Recorder gave him the most extensive coverage. 


Bermuda Recorder ad promoted a play featuring local actors and directed by Earl Cameron during a two-month stay in Bermuda in 1951. He flew to London a few days before his breakout film, Pool of London, premiered in London.



Further Reading

Earl Cameron was the subject of numerous interviews, both in Bermuda and the UK, during his 60-year career. Here is a selection:

“Former Plumber Here is Now a Film Star”, The Royal Gazette, July 10, 1960

“They Left Here to Find Fame”, Mid-Ocean News, February 24, 1962

“Fame ‘Coffee Breaks’ with Earl Cameron”, Fame magazine, August 1962

“Cameron’s Movie ‘Pool of London’ To Be Shown Here,” Bermuda Recorder, May 22, 1964

“Cameron Dominates Fare at Both City Cinemas”, Bermuda Recorder, January 7, 1961

“Former Actor Now Makes Ice-Cream in Solomon Islands”, Workers Voice, July 1, 1988

“A Star of Our Own”, The Bermudian, July 1999

“Bermuda’s Peerless Actor Earl”, Mid-Ocean News, December 3, 1999

“Earl’s Back in the Spotlight”—Ira Philip’s ‘Island Notebook’”, Mid-Ocean News, September 13, 2002

“Star Power—Bermudian Acts Alongside Superstars in His Latest Movie”, Bermuda Sun, July 9, 2004

“Pioneering Actor, now 100, Reflects on Life, Faith and Change”, Baha’i World News Service, August 8, 2017

“An Actor and a Gentlemen: Earl Cameron (1917-2020)”, By Stephen Bourne, A British Film Institute tribute, July 7, 2020

Earl Cameron obituaries:

The Guardian, July 5, 2020

BBC, July 4, 2020

LA Times, July 4, 2020

New York Times, July 10, 2020


Video interviews

An Evening With Earl Cameron
Interview with Dr. Kim Dismont Robinson for the Department of Community and Cultural Affair' Historial Heartbeats Lecture Series (2012)

London on Film: Earl Cameron CBE in Conversation
Cameron looks back on his career with British Film Institute curator Dylan Cave (BFI, 2015)

Earl Cameron CBE in Conversation
Interview with Samira Ahmed to mark Cameron's induction into the Screen Nation Hall of Fame (British Film Institute, 2016)

Matt Frei talks to legendary actor Earl Cameron. Channel 4 News, UK (2016)

Our Earl is 100 Years Young!
Conversation with Charles Webbe hosted by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs shortly after Mr. Cameron's 100th birthday in 2017.



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