Ken Russell

Dead, Henry Kenneth Alfred “Ken” Russell on the 27th of November 2011 at the age of 84, he was an English film director, known for his pioneering work in television and film and for his flamboyant and controversial style.

Born in Southampton, England, on the 3rd of July 1927, the elder of two sons of Ethel (née Smith) and Henry Russell, a shoe shop owner.

He was educated at private schools in Walthamstow and at Pangbourne College, and studied photography at Walthamstow Technical College (now part of the University of East London).

He harboured a childhood ambition to be a ballet dancer but instead joined the Royal Air Force and the Merchant Navy as a teenager.

On one occasion he was made to stand watch in the blazing sun for hours on end while crossing the Pacific.

His lunatic captain feared an attack by Japanese midget submarines despite the war having ended.

Russell’s first feature film was French dressing (1964), a comedy loosely based on Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman; its critical and commercial failure sent Russell back to the BBC.

One of his films there, in 1965, was Always On Sunday, a bio-pic of Le (Henri) Douanier Rousseau, the late 19th century French naive painter.

This was followed by Dante’s Inferno about the painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the tortuous relationship with his wife Elizabeth.

His second major commercial film was Billion Dollar Brain (1967), starring Michael Caine, based on author Len Deighton’s Harry Palmer spy cycle.

He was married four times. His first marriage, to Shirley Kingdon from 1958 to 1978, produced four sons and a daughter.

He was married to Vivian Jolly from 1984 to 1991 (the wedding celebrant being Anthony Perkins, who had been ordained in the Universal Life Church); the couple had a son and daughter.

He was married to Hetty Baynes from 1992 to 1997; the couple had a son.

His first three marriages ended in divorce.

He married Elize Tribble in 2001, and the marriage lasted until his death.

After the 1991 film Whore, Russell directed often for television, including another Lawrence adaptation, Lady Chatterley (1993), starring Joely Richardson and Sean Bean.

There is hardly a film Russell made that has not caused critics to fulminate against him, sometimes with justice, and hardly one that doesn’t have its supporters.

One of his staunchest allies, perhaps surprisingly, was Stan Brakhage, the experimental American filmmaker whose work was in a different world from Russell’s, but who frequently showed his films to students as object lessons in effective audacity.

Russell’s autobiography, A British Picture, was published in 1989.

A new edition came out in 2008, shortly after he had lost his cottage in the New Forest to a fire and had appeared on Celebrity Big Brother.

He had lost most of his money over the years but never his sense of humour.

When he wanted an email address and was told that it couldn’t be plain “Kenrussell”, he asked for and got “Thekenrussell”.