Cy Grant, the Guyanese actor, singer, writer and political activist who provided the voice for Lieutenant Green in the 1967 Century 21 television series Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons died on 14th February 2010 at the age of 90. Although he is best remembered by retro-TV fans for his work with Gerry Anderson, he was already familiar to television audiences in the 1960s for his nightly topical calypso songs on BBC TV’s Tonight show, which he performed for two and a half years from 1957. This made him the first black performer to be featured regularly on British television.
A remarkable, pioneering figure who led enough lives for three people, Cy was born in Demerara in British Guiana on 8th November 1919, and took an interest in the law after leaving school but was unable to afford to study overseas. His chance to travel came with World War Two, when he joined the RAF as one of some 500 recruits from the Carribbean, and was commissioned as an officer, becoming Flight Lieutenant Grant. Cy was assigned to be a navigator with a crew flying Lancaster bombers, and they were shot down over Holland in 1943. Although he parachuted to safety, Cy spent the rest of the war as a prisoner, held in Stalag Luft III.
After the way he was finally able to study war, qualifying as a barrister in 1950. Unable to find work in the legal profession in the still-racially divided Britain of the fifties, Cy turned to acting, appearing on stage in a tour of 13 Death St., Harlem and appearing with Laurence Olivier’s prestigious Festival of Britain company in London and New York. There were also TV appearances as early as 1953 in the BBC Sunday Night Theatre production Trouble In The Sun. This also utilised his skills as a Calypso and folk musician, an old ability Cy took up again to supplement his acting income and at which he proved very successful in review and cabaret, and despite the fact that he never really regarded himself as a musician toured the world performing Caribbean music.
Cy’s TV career began taking off in earnest, first with a series for ATV, For Members Only, before achieving national success with Tonight on BBC TV. Keen not to be typecast and to translate his TV fame into a wider range of acting opportunities, he left the show after two and a half years. Screen opportunities proved limited, even for the most famous black actors in Britain, such as himself and Earl Cameron.
In 1958 he had played the romantic lead in the Jamaican-shot film Calypso and in 1961 Cy had the lead role in the BBC Production The Encyclopaedist, part of the a series of plays with the umbrella title They Met in a City. In 1964 he appeared in the ITV Play of the Week production of Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real, as part of a notable cast including Vladek Sheybal, Peter Wyngarde, Philip Madoc and Mike Pratt. The following year Cy was one of the first black actors to play the lead in a stage production of Shakespeare’s Othello.
Although he had struggled to find suitable roles on a regular basis, Cy Grant was still regarded as a big name, and he was cast as the voice of Trinidadian Spectrum officer Lieutenant Green in Gerry Anderson’s 1967 series Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons. This was a pioneering step for British television, with a black actor being cast in a role with no reference to his race, a trend which would be continued in UFO and Space:1999. Cy’s next screen role was also for Century 21, a small, uncredited part as Dr. Gordon (who we see examining the readings of the stricken Ian Hendry on the mirror-Earth) in Doppelgänger.
He landed roles in The Persuaders! episode Greensleeves in 1971 and Shaft In Africa though by the time this was released, in 1973, Cy was looking beyond acting for ways to express his political and anti-racist leanings (which had caused tension with South African-born Donald Grey during the making of Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons). He returned to the legal profession as a barrister for a period in 1972 before deciding that he could achieve his aims through work in the arts.
Cy Grant helped set up the Drum Arts Centre in London in 1974 in order to foster black artistic talent, staying with the company until 1978, at which point he toured for two years with his one man show. He still performed on film and TV on occasion, appearing in a 1974 episode of the BBC detective drama Softly, Softly, plus the 1976 movie At The Earth’s Coreand as Hal Mellanby in the 1980 Blake’s 7 episode Aftermath. Of all things, he was also a semi regular in London
Weekend’s sitcom Metal Mickey, playing Mr Young in 1981 and 82. His main energies, though, went into other work, including directing cultural festivals, writing and broadcasting for BBC radio on subjects as diverse as Chinese philosophy and Calypso music.
Cy was also a published poet and wrote about his life and philosophy. His best-known book, A Member of the Royal Air Force of Indeterminate Race, published in 2006, detailed his wartime experiences. His final book, Our Time is Now: Six Essays on the Need for Reawakening, was published on 11th February 2010, just three days before his death. For further details about the life and career of this truly remarkable man, try his website, www.cygrant.com
Originally published in FAB 65.