British Actor

Norman Beaton 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.

Alongside Lenny 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.

-Stephen Bourne

NORMAN 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.

Norman Beaton
Photo Courtesy of the British Film Institute


1976-77 The Fosters
1978-79 Empire Road
1985 Dead Head
1989-94 Desmond's
1994 Little Napoleons


1977 Black Christmas
1980 Growing Pains
1986 Playing Away


Two for a Birdie; Pressure, 1975; Black Joy, 1977; Barbados, 1978 (narrator); Eureka, 1982; Real Life, 1983.


I 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.


Come Back Melvina, 1959.


Le 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, 1986.


Beaton But Unbowed (autobiography). London: Methuen, 1986.


Bourne, Stephen. Black in the British Frame--Black People in British Film and Television 1896-1996. London: Cassell, 1996.

Pines, Jim, editor. Black and White in Colour--Black People in British Television Since 1936. London: British Film Institute, 1992.

See also Desmond's