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Winner leads tributes to movie maverick Ken Russell


1967:  Director Ken Russell

1967: Director Ken Russell

Topical Press Agency

1969:  Director Ken Russell

1969: Director Ken Russell

Central Press

1975:  Director Ken Russell, 84

1975: Director Ken Russell, 84

Central Press

File photo dated 12/11/1992   Ken Russell who has died aged 84, his son said today.

File photo dated 12/11/1992 Ken Russell who has died aged 84, his son said today.

Fiona Hanson


1967: Director Ken Russell

Ken Russell, the British director whose daring and sometimes outrageous films often tested the patience of audiences and critics, has died at the age of 84.

Film director Michael Winner paid tribute to Russell, saying he made a "unique" contribution to British film-making.

He said: "He had been terribly, terribly ill for some time. I've known Ken since 1968. He was the most innovative director.

"I persuaded Oliver Reed to work with him even though Oliver said 'I'm not a TV star, I'm a movie star'.

"His television was in a field of its own, it was absolutely extraordinary. Then he graduated to movies."

Winner added: "He was also a very nice person. He was very cheerful and very well-meaning.

"He had a very good run even though his style of picture-making became obsolete, but that happened to everyone, Billy Wilder and Hitchcock.

"His contribution to TV and cinema in this country is absolutely unique. He took it into areas it hadn't been before.

"They were riveting movies and TV because this strange mind was at work."

Winner said Russell would be best remembered for The Devils.

"What the censor took out of The Devils was almost as long as the rest of the movie," he added.

Russell, who has been described as the enfant terrible of British cinema, was one of the most acclaimed and controversial film directors of his generation.

He made his name with his sexually-graphic 1969 adaptation of D H Lawrence's Women in Love, which earned him an Oscar nomination and international recognition.

The late actor Oliver Reed, who wrestled naked with Alan Bates in the film, said that when he worked with Russell on Women in Love, the director was "starting to go crazy".

Reed said: "Before that he was a sane, likeable TV director. Now he's an insane, likeable film director."

The success - and notoriety - of Women in Love enabled Russell to cast aside any inhibitions and to embark on outlandish pseudo-biographical films which helped to earn him the reputation which he craved: that of an unconventional eccentric on the wild side.

Russell was born on July 3, 1927 in Southampton. At the age of ten, he was given a film projector which sparked off his love of movies.

He was sent to Pangbourne Nautical College at the age of 15, but found the discipline irksome. Even so, he entered the Merchant Navy as sixth officer on a cargo ship bound for the Pacific.

After the Second World War, his fascination with the sea ended, and his family assumed he would enter the shoe business, a prospect which horrified him.

Russell tried without success to enter the film business, but in his early 20s he turned his attention to ballet and classical music.

For five years he attended dance school and toured with dance troupes, before finally accepting that he was not a good dancer.

Then he turned to fashion photography and started to make some black and white silent films. He took one of these films Amelia to the BBC and as a result he landed a job on the Monitor arts programme.

He continued to make films and his film on composer Edward Elgar became one of the most popular shows on TV and was largely responsible for the revival of Elgar's music.

Overall, Russell made some 32 films for the Monitor and Omnibus programmes and established himself as one of the finest directors in British TV.

He was then given the opportunity of directing outside TV and his film Women in Love was not only a landmark in British cinema but for Russell as well.

In the 1970s his talents blossomed and over the next two decades he was to direct a succession of remarkable films, most of them containing his trademark flamboyance.

These included The Music Lovers, Savage Messiah, Mahler, Lisztomania and Valentino. In 1971 he moved from the X-rated The Devils to The Boy Friend which he turned into a homage to 1930s movie musicals.

In 1975 he turned his attention to The Who's rock opera Tommy, but later returned to small budget, but no less flamboyant fare, including Crimes of Passion, Gothic, Salome's Last Dance and the cult horror-comedy The Lair of the White Worm.

Later, he was to revisit Lawrence for a straightforward adaptation of The Rainbow followed by the gritty, Whore.

And his performance as the tea-pouring secret agent in The Russia House (1990) was a welcome bit of comedy relief.

The following year he was to direct Richard Dreyfuss in the TV movie Prisoner of Honour. And he also tried a music video, making Nikita for Elton John.

Russell was always vulgar and outrageous but seen, too, as a master stylist. He published an autobiography Altered States in 1992 and a broad-ranging collection of film critiques, The Lion Roars two years later.

One of the most unlikely chapters of his career was a stint in the Celebrity Big Brother house in 2007.

He lasted just four days, driven out in the wake of a row about contestants having to wait on Jade Goody and her family.

Russell had earlier started in good spirits, performing Singin' In The Rain as he entered the house. But as he left he spoke about the divisiveness created by being in the house, saying: "I don't want to live in a society riddled with evil and hatred."

In later years his film-making efforts were rather low-budget affairs such as his The Fall Of The Louse Of Usher which was panned by the critics.

Four-times married Russell also took a number of cameo roles in the past decade, appearing in his own films as well as movies such as Brothers Of The Head and Colour Me Kubrick.

Belfast Telegraph