Ken Russell (1927-2011)

British film director dies aged 84

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Ken RussellOscar-nominated director Ken Russell has died at the age of 84. Well known for controversial films like The Devils, and Tommy, Russell also specialised in making films about great composers, including Delius, Tchaikovsky and Liszt.

Born in Southampton in 1927, Russell served in the RAF and Merchant Navy before pursuing a career as a photographer and TV documentary-maker. He joined the BBC in 1959, where for the next 11 years he made pioneering art shows including The Debussy Film, a biopic about Delius called Song of Summer, and Dance of the Seven Veils about Richard Strauss.

After moving into feature films, he achieved major success with Women in Love – adapted from the DH Lawrence novel and starring Glenda Jackson in an Oscar-winning performance. Russell also earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

Russell and Jackson reunited for the Tchaikovsky bio-pic The Music Lovers in 1970, scored by André Previn. The graphic nude sequences shocked critics, but it was a success at the box office. Five years later, Russell set tongues wagging with Lisztomania – a flamboyant depiction of the composer Franz Liszt.

Russell spent the last 15 years teaching at film schools and struggling to find funding for a variety of projects. He returned to the public eye in 2007 with an appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, but lasted just four days on the show.

Russell was married four times and is survived by his wife, Elise Tribble, and his six children.

Rachel Tregenza

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