MUNROE, CARMEN

British Actor

Carmen Munroe is one of Britain's leading black actresses. Born in Guyana (then British Guiana), she came to Britain in 1951, and gained early acting experience with the West Indian Students' Drama Group. Munroe made her professional stage debut in 1962, and later played major roles in London's West End theater including Jean Genet's The Blacks (1970). When she played Orinthia, the King's mistress, in George Bernard Shaw's The Apple Cart (1970), she said it was the first time she had been cast in a leading role not written for a black actress. Since the 1970s Munroe has played an important part in the development of black theater in Britain, scoring a personal triumph in 1987 as the over zealous pastor of a Harlem "store-front" church, in James Baldwin's The Amen Corner. In 1993 she won a Best Actress award from Time Out magazine for Alice Childress's Trouble in Mind.

In 1965 Munroe made an early television appearance in Fable. In this controversial BBC drama writer John Hopkins reversed apartheid and located it in Britain so that black people ran the country and whites were subjected to enforced population movement and pass laws. However, this innovative and highly charged play did not have the reception anticipated from audiences. Generally viewers were put-off, while critics thought that the play was heavy-handed and moralistic.

In 1967 Munroe was featured in an episode of Rainbow City, one of the first British television series to include a black actor in a leading role. Since that time she has demonstrated her acting range in numerous other appearances. These have included roles in a mixture of populist dramas and situation comedies, as well as impressive single dramas. They include Doctor Who (1967), In the Beautiful Caribbean (1972), Ted (1972), Shakespeare Country (1973), General Hospital (1974), The Fosters (1976 77), Black Christmas (1977) with Norman Beaton, Mixed Blessings (1978), A Hole in Babylon (1979), Rumpole of the Bailey (1983) and The Hope and the Glory (1984).

In 1989 Munroe was first seen in Desmond's, one of Channel 4's most successful situation comedy programmes. Co-starring Norman Beaton as the proprietor of a barber's shop in South London, Desmond's has been one of the few British television series to feature an almost entirely black cast. For five years this appealing series won critical acclaim and awards for its humorous exploration of the conflict between young British-born blacks, and the values of the older generation who grew up in the Caribbean.

In between her appearances in Desmond's, Munroe has taken part in Ebony People (1989), sharing her experiences of the acting world with a studio audience, and Black and White in Colour (1992), a documentary tracing the history of black people in British television. In 1992 Munroe gave an outstanding performance as Essie Robeson in a BBC play called A Song at Twilight. This emotional drama, shown in the anthology series Encounters, explored an imaginary meeting in 1958 between British Socialist radical Aneurin Bevan, and the black American singer and militant activist Paul Robeson.

-Stephen Bourne

 


Carmen Munroe with dancers
Photo courtesy of Channel 4

CARMEN MUNROE . Born in British Guiana; immigrated to Britain, 1951. Trained with West Indian Student's Dram Group. Worked in television since 1959; stage debut, Period of Adjustment, 1962; appeared or starred in numerous tgelevision series. Recipient: Time Out award, 1993.

TELEVISION (selection)

1959 Dr. Kabil
1965 Fable
1966 Emergency Ward
1967 Rainbow City
1967 Doctor Who
1967 Troubleshooters
1967 Love Story
1968 City '68
1968 Mogul
1968 Have Bird, Will Travel
1972 In the Beautiful Caribbean
1972 Ted
1973 Shakespeare's Country
1974 General Hospital
1974 Play School
1976 The Fosters
1977 A Black Christmas
1978 Mixed Blessings
1979 A Hole in Babylon
1983 Rumpole of the Bailey
1984 The Hope and the Glory
1984 The Record
1989- Desmond's
1992 A Song At Twilight

STAGE (selection)

Period of Adjustment, There'll Be Some Changes Made, The Blacks, The Apple Cart, Trouble in Mind, El Dorado, A Raisin in the Sun, The Amen Corner, Alas, Poor Fred (director), Remembrance (director)

FURTHER READING

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 Beaton, Norman; Black and White in Colour; Desmond's