Encore for Earl Cameron, Britain's first black film actor
In 1952-53, the emboldened Earl chanced his luck in Rome, knocking on the office door of legendary director Federico Fellini who told him: ‘I’m sorry I can’t find you a part.”
But after persuading director Duilio Coletti to take a second look at his British movie stills, Earl landed a two-month stay in Italy for a small part in a film called Torpedo Zone, starring future Miss Moneypenny actress Lois Maxwell.
While Earl’s more recent TV credits include Kavanagh QC, Casualty, Dalziel & Pascoe, Babyfather and Waking The Dead, his significant 1960s television work included Doctor Who (with William Hartnell), Prisoner and Danger Man.
He also starred with Sean Connery in Thunderball (1965) playing James Bond’s assistant, Pinder.
“Nobody wants to make a bad movie,” says Earl. “But I’ve been on films where producers just want to finish it.
“Cubby Broccoli had made lots of flops before Dr No launched James Bond, and since Connery was unknown they were expecting another flop with Dr No.”
Earl has worked with screen legends like Dirk Bogarde (Simba, 1955), John Mills (Flame in the Street, 1961) and Richard Attenborough and Jack Hawkins (Guns at Batasi, 1964).
But Sidney Poitier – the first black actor to win a best actor Oscar (for Lilies of the Field in 1964) and last year’s recipient of the United States’ highest civilian honour, The Presidential Medal of Freedom – remains a special friend.
“Sidney directed me in London in One Warm December (1973) and we still speak,” says Earl.
“He used to tell me that most big stars were either drug addicts or alcoholics so he was very sensible and stopped drinking altogether.
“Even Sidney said I should go to Hollywood but I had a family and didn’t want to.
“Hollywood didn’t like mixed marriages and my wife, Audrey, was white and Jewish.
“America didn’t appeal to me because of racism and also its materialism. Bermudans were like poor Americans, trying to copy everything.
“At the same time they were proud of their British background.”
In 1979, Earl retired from acting to run a ‘little business’ in Guadalcanal in the south Pacific’s Solomon Islands, where he lived until 1994.
Simon, his son by Audrey still lives there, while Quinton, his eldest son from an earlier relationship, has remained in Bermuda.
Audrey’s four daughters are also spread around. The eldest, Jayne, lives in Northampton, with Serena in London and Helen in Beijing. Philippa, the youngest, is in Brisbane, Australia.
Today, Earl has seven grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren, but no surviving siblings.
While he preferred dedicating himself to his family rather than seeking fame and fortune in Tinseltown, the 21st century call to star in films like The Interpreter has been too difficult to turn down.
Had he gone to Hollywood and not “retired” to the Solomon Islands, Earl agrees he could have been challenging the great Morgan Freeman for roles in movies like Shawshank Redemption (1994).
“Yes, but at that time faith was more important to me than any film,” says Earl. “I could have played Mandela, there’s no doubt about that,” adds the once shy boy, now full of confidence about his craft.