Oscar James

Oscar James (born 25 July 1942) is a Trinidadian actor, who is based in the United Kingdom. He has had a long and varied career, but is best known for appearing on British television, in particular the BBC soap opera EastEnders, where he played original character Tony Carpenter for over two years. James resides in north London.[1]

Oscar James
Born (1942-07-25) 25 July 1942
ResidenceNorth London, England, U.K.
Notable work
Tony Carpenter in EastEnders (1985–1987)

Early life

James was born in Trinidad, and had a poor upbringing. He came to the United Kingdom in the 1950s.[2] He initially worked as a taxi driver, a dish-washer and also a gymnast, but he always had aspirations to be an entertainer and followed his dream by becoming an actor.


Roles for black actors were sparse during James' early career, but he persevered to become the fourth black actor to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and the first black actor to play Macbeth.[2]

In 1972 he co-founded with fellow actor Alton Kumalo the first black British theatre company, Temba (the name derived from the Zulu word for "hope"), initially to produce new black writing from Britain and South Africa.[3] Temba staged the first British production of Athol Fugard's Sizwe Bansi is Dead.[4][5]

James had early roles in television programmes such as Softly, Softly (1966); Love Thy Neighbour (1975); Quiller (1975); Till Death Us Do Part (1975); Gangsters (1976); Angels (1976); The Professionals; Out (1978); Minder (1979); Shoestring (1980) and The Gentle Touch (1984).

He was the first black actor to appear in the ITV soap opera Emmerdale Farm in 1978 as Antony Moeketsi, an African teacher who taught Seth Armstrong to read.[2] However, he is best known for his role as Tony Carpenter in the BBC television soap opera EastEnders. James was one of the original cast members, appearing in the series from its debut in 1985 until 1987.

Other TV credits include: Minder in the Series 1 episode "Come in T-64, Your Time Is Ticking Away" (1979), Casualty (1996), Lovejoy (1994), London's Burning (2002), Doctors (2002; 2005), The Bill (2006), Crocodile Shoes II (2006), The Line of Beauty (2006), Holby City (2006), Dream Team (2002), Afterlife (2005) and the television drama Angel Cake (2006). He has also appeared in several films, including the 1977 film Black Joy, where he played loan shark Jomo, and the 2005 Tim Burton adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where he played the shopkeeper in whose shop Charlie Bucket finds the final Golden Ticket.

In 2004, James played Herbert in Oxford Road: the Story, a radio play in which he worked alongside Doña Croll, an actress with whom he had previously worked in Kwame Kwei-Armah's play Elmina's Kitchen at the National Theatre.[2] Elmina's Kitchen was adapted into a BBC Four televised film in 2005, in which James also starred.

Partial filmography


  1. Tony Bonnici (12 February 2005). "Square Are They Now?". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 22 April 2007.
  2. "Oscar James interview", BBC. Retrieved 22 April 2007.
  3. "Temba Theatre Company", Royal National Theatre, Black Plays Archive.
  4. "Black & Asian Performance in Britain 1970 onwards – Temba Theatre Company", Victoria and Albert Museum.
  5. Richard Anthony Baker, "Alton Kumalo" (obituary), The Stage, 26 November 2013.
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