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Earl Cameron (Photo courtesy of the John Springer Collection/CORBIS via Getty Images)

Earl Cameron, pioneering British actor with Doctor Who and 007 roles, dies at 102

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Jul 4, 2020

Earl Cameron, who played James Bond's assistant Pinder in Thunderball and appeared in a notable episode of Doctor Who, has died at the age of 102, Variety reports. He was one of the first Black actors to break the color barrier in British films with his appearance in 1951's Pool of London.

Born in 1917 in Pembroke, Bermuda, he served in the British Merchant Navy and wound up in London in 1939, where his Bermudan accent sounded American enough to British audiences to get him some early breaks in theater. He toured with the Entertainments National Service Association -- aka ENSA, the British version of the USO -- in 1945-6, then toured with the Wyndham Theater production of Deep Are the Roots with Patrick McGoohan, which led to more appearances with him on Danger Man (known in America as Secret Agent) and the legendary sci-fi spy series The Prisoner.

His acclaimed appearance in Pool of London as Johnny, a merchant sailor who falls in love with a white woman while his friend gets involved in a diamond heist, has been called "the first major role for a Black actor in a British mainstream film," not to mention the first interracial relationship. He would later explore prejudice further in the 1960 TV drama The Dark Man, playing a West Indian cab driver.

Shortly before his 100th birthday, Cameron told the Telegraph that "I didn’t feel like I was breaking barriers at the time, it never occurred to me. It felt natural." 

He was also the first Black actor ever to play an astronaut on screen with his appearance as Glyn Williams in 1966's Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet, which is notable for being the first appearance of the Cybermen as well the first time The Doctor was shown to "regenerate" after death. William Hartnell, the First Doctor, ended his run on the show and was replaced by the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. Unfortunately, that story is also notable as being one of the "lost" episodes, due to the BBC's short-sighted policy of wiping archival tapes. The conclusion of that four-part story remains incomplete, although it was revisited in 2017 during the Peter Capaldi era.

Cameron was also considered for the role of Quarrel in the first James Bond film, Dr. No, which eventually went to John Kitzmiller, but would later appear alongside Sean Connery's 007 in 1965's Thunderball as Pinder, Bond's Caribbean assistant. He'd work again with Connery in the 1979 noir thriller Cuba. He also appeared in a pair of 1960s Tarzan films, alongside Sidney Poitier in 1973's A Warm December, and in the 1996 BBC adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.

More recently, he'd appeared as nefarious African dictator Edmond Zuwanie the 2005 Sean Penn/Nicole Kidman thriller The Interpreter, as well as in cameo roles in The Queen and Inception.

When asked about the current landscape for Black actors in comparison, he told the Telegraph that things are "a little better, not much. It could be a hell of a lot more [diverse]. Life is like that. It’s a wonderful thing, humanity is growing up and realising we’re all here together on this planet. Why do we need these divisions?"

 

 

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