Earl Cameron, Trailblazing Actor of British Films, Dies at 102

Earl Cameron in 'Pool of London' - H Photofest 2020
Universal Pictures/Photofest

After starring in the 1951 thriller 'Pool of London,' he appeared in 'Sapphire,' 'Thunderball', 'A Warm December' and 'Inception.'

Earl Cameron, the pioneering Black actor from Bermuda who starred in the 1951 British film Pool of London and later appeared in movies from Thunderball to Inception, has died. He was 102.

Cameron died Friday at his home in Kenilworth, England, his agent told The Guardian.

Director Basil Dearden cast Cameron as a sailor who romances a white girl (Susan Shaw) against the backdrop of racism and crime in Pool of London. His was the first major role for a Black actor in a British mainstream film, and the interracial relationship depicted in the movie broke ground as well.

"Certainly, I was aware that films didn't at that time have any romantic scenes between blacks and whites," he said in a 2017 interview with The Telegraph.

Dearden revisited interracial relationships in Sapphire (1959), in which Cameron played the title character's brother, a doctor. And in Flame in the Streets (1961), directed by Roy Ward Baker, Cameron starred as a factory worker set to receive a promotion, much to the resentment of his white colleagues.

The courtly Cameron also played a sympathetic doctor during a Kenyan uprising in Simba (1955), a shipmate in Tarzan the Magnificent (1960), a captain in John Guillermin's Guns at Batasi (1964), a British Secret Service contact who runs a boating supply shop in the 007 film Thunderball (1965) and an ambassador opposite Sidney Poitier in A Warm December (1973).

In a statement, Cameron's children said: "Our family has been overwhelmed by the outpourings of love and respect we have received at the news of our father's passing. … As an artist and as an actor, he refused to take roles that demeaned or stereotyped the character of people of color. He was truly a man who stood by his moral principles and was inspirational."

The youngest of six children, Cameron was born in Bermuda on Aug. 8, 1917. He served in the British Merchant Navy and wound up living in London.

"When I first came to [the city], I would say clearly, I met with many slights and prejudices, but it doesn't bother me. But what did bother me was when I tried to get a job, that was an impossibility," he told the British Film Institute in 2016.

While working as a dishwasher, Cameron visited a friend who was in the cast of a musical on the West End and wound up getting a role in the chorus, replacing someone who was fired. Eventually, he appeared on stage in productions of Deep Are the Roots and The Petrified Forest before making his feature debut in Pool of London.

In the 1960s, he portrayed a taxi driver fighting prejudice in the telefilm The Dark Man and guest-starred on such popular British series as Doctor WhoDanger Man and The Prisoner.

More recently, Cameron played a dictator in Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter (2005) and the royal painter of Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) in The Queen (2006) before making his final film appearance in Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010).

In a statement, Bermuda Premier David Burt offered his condolences to Cameron's family and added, "At a time when the whole world is examining the history of people of color, Earl Cameron's life and legacy makes us pause and remember how he broke barriers and refused to be confined to what his humble beginnings may have dictated as his path."

"I never saw myself as a pioneer," Cameron said near the end of his life. "It was only later, looking back, that it occurred to me that I was."