Earl Cameron

Earl Cameron Photo
Forename/s: 
Earl
Family name: 
Cameron
Awards and Honours: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Industry: 
Interview Number: 
678
Interview Date(s): 
3 Nov 2015
Duration (mins): 
65

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Interview

Earl Cameron Interview

Transcript

Earl Cameron interview notes.

 start

EC recalls how he came to the UK in the Eastern Prince as a merchant seaman; he jumped ship.

Difficult to get  job due to skin colour. He worked at the Charing Cross Hotel as a dishwasher. Gets very ill, with pleurisy and pneumonia, hospitalised, feeling very down, nothing to live for.  Night nurse tells him to pull himself together and eat his food, and he will get well. Asks him how he thinks his mother will feel if he dies. He follows her advice, asks different nurse next day if he can see the night nurse to be told that there was no such nurse. Earl describes her as an angel. Goes to Liverpool to try and ship out on the Normandy but has no papers/no passport.

He works at Lyons Corner House back in London; sees Chu Chin Chow show at the Palace Theatre and sees his friend Harry at the Caesar’s Club in the West End. Asks for a part but not possible with no Equity card; someone needs replacing and he gets asked to turn up to be in the chorus, which he does, goes on tour for 6 months. Works in The Petrified Forest (Robert Beattie/Constance Cummings) gets first speaking part. Joins variety act Two Dukes and a Duchess, tours India entertaining troops for 3 months.

25mins Opens in Amsterdam, but money issues come up so he quits. Returns to Bermuda, then back as understudy in Deep Are the Roots. Stage manager queries his diction, and he is introduced to Amanda Ira Aldrich (daughter of Ira Aldridge, US black actor) who gives him elocution lessons. Earl has never performed Shakespeare, but performs a soliloquy from Othello.

30mins Appearing in 13 Death Street Harlem. He phoned Ealing looking for a chance in films. Casting director Margaret Harper-Nelson told him to contact Basil Deardon as they’d seen his Spotlight Entry. Went to Denham, lied about his age; received script for Pool of London whilst working at Walthamstow Empire and determined to get part of Johnny. Three screen tests with different girls, learned to speak more quietly, rather than projecting voice. Still worked in plays (Jenny Jackson; In White America) but films wer e better paid and hours fitted better with family. Talks about Simba, shot mainly in Pinewood, but 2nd unit in Kenya, Met Cubby Broccoli, Irving Allen; Odongo; Safari (Victor Mature) Killers of Kilimanjaro. Sympathised with Mau Mau.

45mins Terence Young pick up shots in Kenya. Tells story of being alone in tent in jungle and bottle of scotch that got him though. The Heart Within, David Hemmings as a 12 year old. Sapphire; Flame in The Streets. Films that reflected social problems but showed races working together. Guns at Batasi

BREAK c 15mins

60mins. 1960s comparing film and television work. Thunderball, shooting in Nassau. Working with Connery, Diane Cilento. Was up for part [of Quarrel] in Dr No, but John Kitzmilla got part – with wrong accent!

Cult status shows eg The Prisoner. Has been to Portmeirion a couple of times for fan conventions.

A Fear of Strangers recorded live with Stanley Baker. Ray Rigby’s The End Begins (TV play). Actor friends, Errol John, Thomas Baptiste, Harry Baird. Gordon Heath. Few parts for black actors..

75mins Early 1970s A Warm December. Sydney Poitier Cry the beloved Country when they met. No Way Out. Talks about testing for  Zoltan Korda. Gambling.

80mins Retires to Soloman Islands where he ran an ice cream business, whilst practising his Bahai faith (adopted the faith in 1963). Talks about his faith. 2 children at university. Daughter Philippa became actress. Wife Audrey became ill and they left for UK, where she died.

85mins Resumed showbusiness in his 70s, in the 1990s: TV and Film: The Queen; Inception; The Interpreter. Revelation. Great Kandinsky (Richard Harris) Some TV stuff. Filming at UN thanks to lunching with Kofi Annan. Did radio too. Would do it all over again – unless he could be a tennis star.

DS.

Biographical

A former merchant sailor, born in Bermuda in 1917, who arrived in the UK just before World War Two. Earl became one of the earliest British actors of colour, whose career started with stage work, including Deep Are The Roots, Anna Lucasta, gradually moved on into radio, film and television. His film career started in the early 1950s with Pool of London and Earl was still working in the early 21st century. He often played sensitive characters caught up in situations (Flame in the Streets; Sapphire) where race is an issue, which to some extent was reflected by the difficulty Earl found in getting regular major roles.