was one of those unique actors who managed to scale classical roles,
yet excel in light comedies. From 1989-94 he enjoyed nationwide
popularity on British television with Channel 4's highly successful
situation comedy series Desmond's. This show was once described
as an African-Caribbean equivalent of America's The Cosby Show.
With sharp scripts by young black writer Trix Worrell, Beaton gave
a brilliant performance as the manic owner of a South London barbershop.
Born in Guyana
(then British Guiana), Beaton came to Britain in 1960. His reputation
as an actor grew steadily. He progressed from regional theater to
leading roles at the Old Vic, The National Theatre (where he played
Angelo in a black- cast version of Shakespeare's Measure for
Measure in 1981) and The Royal Court Theatre. Apart from Shakespeare,
his theater roles also encompassed Pinter, Beckett, Gilbert and
Sullivan, Brecht, Moliere, and pantomime. In 1974 he established
the Black Theatre of Brixton, which was instrumental in developing
black theater in Britain. During this period he also became one
of Britain's leading television actors, and among his biggest successes
were dramatic roles in Afternoon Dancing (1974); Black
Christmas (1977); Empire Road (1978-79), Britain's first
all-black soap opera; Play for Today's "Easy Money" (1981);
Nice (1984); Dead Head ( 1986); Playing Away
(1986); Big George is Dead (1987); When Love Dies
(1990); and Little Napoleons (1993). He was also interviewed
in the documentary Black and White in Colour (1992), a history
of black people in British television.
Henry, Norman Beaton was the star of British television's first
black situation comedy series, The Fosters, which ran for two series
in 1976-77. But the actor will be best remembered for Desmond's.
As a result of its popularity, African-American television star
Bill Cosby invited him in 1991 to make a couple of guest appearances
in The Cosby Show. Beaton readily accepted a role as a cricket-loving
doctor, and Cosby was so taken by the actor that he wore Beaton's
gift of a Desmond's baseball cap in the show. Shortly after he died
in 1994 at the age of 60, Channel 4 aired Shooting Stars
with a memorable appearance by Beaton reading a sonnet by Shakespeare.
BEATON. Born Norman Lugard Beaton in Georgetown, British Guiana
(now Guyana), 31 October 1934. Attended local schools in Georgetown.
Married and divorced three times; children: Jeremy, Norman, Jayme
and Kim. Made debut as actor while at teacher training college,
1956; enjoyed success as singer and recording artist, becoming Guyana
Calypso Champion, 1956; settled in the U.K., 1960, and worked as
teacher in Liverpool; appeared in repertory theatre in Liverpool,
Bristol and Worthing in the late 1960s, made television debut, 1966;
subsequently established reputation as stage, television and radio
performer. Chairman: Black Theatre of Brixton, 1975; events subcommittee
(U.K.), World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, 1976;
Minorities Arts Advisory Service, 1979. Artistic director, Ira Aldridge
Memorial Theatre Company, 1983. Member: Consultative Committee for
the Arts Britain Ignores, 1975; Afro-Asian subcommittee, British
Actors Equity, 1979; West Midlands Arts and Drama Advisory Panel,
1979. Recipient: Variety Club of Great Britain Film Actor of the
Year Award, 1978; Caribbean Post Golden Sunshine Award, 1978.
Died 13 December 1994.
Photo Courtesy of the British Film Institute
1978-79 Empire Road
1985 Dead Head
1994 Little Napoleons
1980 Growing Pains
1986 Playing Away
for a Birdie; Pressure, 1975; Black Joy, 1977;
Barbados, 1978 (narrator); Eureka, 1982; Real Life,
Come from the Sun, 1966; Blues for Mister Charlie, 1974;
Finding Manbee, 1974; Home Again, 1975; Carnival
in Trinidad, 1975; Margie, 1975; Pantomime, 1978;
Play Mas, 1979; Alterations, 1980; The Fast Lane,
1980; Remembrance, 1981; The British Empire Part 2,
1982; The Comedians, 1984; No Get Out Clause, 1985;
Ascension Ritual, 1985; Still Life, 1985; Cricket's
a Mug's Game, 1985.
Back Melvina, 1959.
Bourgeois Gentilhomme, 1956; Jack of Spades, 1965 (composer);
Cleo, 1965 (composer and narrator); Bristol Fashion,
1966 (composer and narrator); A Tale of Two Cities, 1966
(composer and narrator); The Ticket-of-Leave Man, 1968; Richard
Three, 1968 (composer and narrator); The Merchant of Venice,
1968; Shylock X, 1968; Sit Down Banna (writer); The
Country Wife, 1968 (also composer and narrator); Bakerloo
to Paradise, 1968; So You Think You're One of Us, 1968;
The Tempest, 1970; Prometheus Bound, 1971; Arrest,
1971; Murderous Angels, 1971; Pirates, 1971; Tyger,
1971; The National Health, 1971; Cato Street, 1971;
Two for a Birdie, 1971; The Threepenny Opera, 1972;
Up the Chastity Belt, 1972; Signs of the Times, 1973;
Talk Shop, 1973; Mind Your Head, 1973; Larry and
Marian, 1973; Play Mas, 1974; Anansi and the Strawberry
Queen, 1974 (director); Jumbee Street March, 1974 (director);
The Black Mikado, 1975; Rum and Coca-Cola, 1976; Seduced,
1978 (director); Sergeant Ola and His Followers, 1979; Nice,
1980; Samba, 1980; Measure for Measure, 1981; The
Caretaker, 1981; The Night of the Day of the Imprisoned Writer,
1981; In the Mood, 1981; The Miser, 1982; The Sol
Raye Variety Gala, 1982 (also director); You Can't Take It
With You, 1983; Cargo Kings, 1983; Jackanory,
1983; Blues for Railton, 1985; The Black Jacobins,
But Unbowed (autobiography). London: Methuen, 1986.
Stephen. Black in the British Frame--Black People in British
Film and Television 1896-1996. London: Cassell, 1996.
Jim, editor. Black and White in Colour--Black People in British
Television Since 1936. London: British Film Institute, 1992.