Harry Baird, Pioneer black British film actor
by David McGillivray, Thursday March 17 2005, The Guardian
In 1954, when Carol Reed directed A Kid For Two Farthings, focusing on theethnic mix of London's East End, it was still acceptable for an Indian fortune teller to be played by a made-up white actor. But even then attitudes demanded that the film's young, black boxer, Jamaica, could not be played by someone in blackface.
The part went to Harry Baird, who has died of cancer aged 73. Handsome and athletic, Baird went on to play many noble warriors and pettycriminals, finally becoming a star in Italy. He was also prominent in two films reflecting racial prejudice in Britain, Sapphire (1959) and Flame InThe Streets (1961).
He had more demanding roles in TV adaptations of Green Pastures (1958) andThe Big Knife (1959). In most of his other British films he was cast in minor roles. Exceptions included a gay wrestler, Lillywhite, in a camp romp,The Touchables (1968), and one of the gang in The Italian Job (1969) -Michael Caine was one of Baird's old friends.
Born in Georgetown in what is now Guyana, Baird was obsessed with the cinema from childhood. Aged 17, he joined his brother in London and began training at the YMCA. There he met several young actors, including Joe Robinson. When Robinson was given a starring role in A Kid For Two Farthings, he recommended Baird to Reed.
Harry Baird, actor, born May 12 1931; died February 13 2005Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited