Biographical entry: Cameron, Earl (1917 - 2020)

England, UK


Earl Cameron was one of Britain's first significant black actors in the 1950s and 1960s, and achieved fame in Honiara when he ran the ice cream shop at Central Market between 1978 and 1993. Born in Bermuda in 1917, in his youth he worked on a ships plying between Bermuda and New York and South America. He arrived in England in 1939 just after the beginning of the Second World War. Work was hard to find for a black man and he began washing dishes in a restaurant. After becoming ill with pneumonia and pleurisy, he recovered, joined a ship travelling to India and returned to London five months later. Almost accidentally in 1941 he ended up in a stage production which began his new career, in the chorus of Chu Chin Chow, and next in The Petrified Forest . Then he performed in several repertory productions, gradually getting bigger and better parts. In 1949 he gained a part in an Ealing Studios movie Where No Vultures Fly, filmed in Kenya. He appeared in several more movies--Pool of London (1951), Emergency Call (1952), Simba (1955), Sapphire (1959), and Adongo. He went to Rome looking for movie work, which he found in La Grande Speranza (Torpedo Zone) (1954). In 1963 he went to Thailand to play the role of a Buddhist monk in Tarzan. The next year he was given a small role in the James Bond blockbuster Thunderball (1965) as Bond's local contact in the Bahamas. Also that year he played the part of a wounded commander of a post-colonial thriller Guns of Batasi.

Back in England he married Audrey. All along he had been interested is spiritual life and had explored various religions, including the Rosicrucian Order. In England he met up with an old friend from Bermuda who was visiting London for the centenary of the Bahá''i Faith. Initially cynical, he began to attend the Faith's meetings regularly. He left Ealing and his wife and their five children moved to Welwyn Hatfield for three years to pioneer the Faith there.

He was contacted to see if he was interested in spreading the Bahá''i Faith in Samoa, then received a letter from Bruce Saunders in Honiara to say that 'The Dairy', an ice cream business--the only one in Honiara--was for sale, and that the Bahá''i Faith would welcome him. Cameron made a trip to Honiara in 1978, finding that the equipment was out-dated, and that the price of the business was too high. Negotiating half the asking price, he was lent money for a deposit by Gertrude Blum, a leading Bahá''i. The family sold up in England and moved to Honiara and remained there for the next 15 years. After 11 years, Audrey returned to England , so that Phillipa, their youngest daughter, could attend drama school. In 1993, when Audrey discovered that she had breast cancer, Cameron returned to England to be with her, leaving another daughter, Jane, in charge of the business. He returned to Honiara but Audrey's condition worsened and she died not long after he returned again to England. This time he stayed there. Their son Simon continued to run the business in Honiara, until it was sold to a Japanese company.

Always a strong member of the Bahá''i Faith, he visited Bermuda, where he met Barbara who became his second wife. His movie career revived late in life, with small parts in The Queen (2006), The Thriller (2010) and Inception (2010). He died on 3 July 2020 aged 102. Older residents well remember the 'The Dairy' man from Bermuda at the market. Next time you buy an ice cream in Honiara, look carefully at the seller. 'Earl Cameron (1917-2020)', UK Baha'i Histories: Individual Stories of UK Baha'is, 23 March 2015; The Guardian, 4 July 2020.