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Norman Lugard Beaton was born in Georgetown, Guyana. Beaton taught School and played with the calypso band The Four Bees before leaving Guyana for London in 1960. He then landed a job as a teacher in Liverpool, becoming the first black teacher to be employed by the Liverpool Education Authority.
Beaton would soon become frustrated with his job as a teacher and began writing plays, his first play the musical Jack of Spades centered on the doomed relationship between a black man and a white woman. The moderate success gave Beaton enough confidence to give up teaching to concentrate on the theater.
In the early seventies, Beaton began to perform in plays in London's West End, in 1970 he played the role of Ariel Shakespeare's The Tempest, which he described in his autobiography as "the most important role of my acting career."
In 1975, he helped to establish the Black Theatre of Brixton.
In 1976, Beaton broke into television in the series The Fosters, however it was his 6 year run (starting in 1988) on Desmonds as the title character that would become his most well known.
In 1991 he appeared as a guest on the Bill Cosby show, he also appeared in several movies including The Mighty Quinn (1989).