Ken Russell dead: film director dies aged 84
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British film director Ken Russell has died, it was announced today.

His son, Alex, said the 84-year-old passed away in hospital yesterday.

Russell directed the Oscar-winning Women In Love, The Devils and The Who’s rock opera Tommy, in 1975.

One of British cinema’s most flamboyant characters, his films often courted controversy.

Infamous 1971 religious drama The Devils, starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, caused widespread outrage for its violent and sexual content and was banned in several countries.

In 2007, he took part in Celebrity Big Brother but left after just four days following a string of rows with Jade Goody.

Russell was known as an enfant terrible of the British movie world, with his challenging subject matter, with uncomfortable stories about the church and sexually challenging material.

His Women In Love is known to a generation for its naked male wrestling scene, and his film The Devils – which initially featured a scene with naked nuns – was banned by some authorities in the UK and in many other countries.

Russell went on to make an unlikely appearance in Celebrity Big Brother in 2007, although he lasted only a matter of days, leaving after a disagreement with fellow contestant Jade Goody.

The film-maker first gained a reputation while directing for BBC arts programme Monitor. He is still revered for a programme about Edward Elgar which did much to revive the composer’s music.

He went on to establish a successful cinema career, following up the notoriety of 1969’s Women In Love with films such as The Music Lovers and Valentino.

In 1971 he won huge acclaim for his adaptation of the Broadway hit The Boy Friend – a 1920s musical pastiche – casting model Twiggy in the lead role.

Four years later he brought to life The Who’s rock opera Tommy with a star-studded cast including Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson, Tina Turner and Sir Elton John.

But as time went on his budgets became more modest although he continued to use familiar themes of sex and religion in movies such as The Lair Of The White Worm, which gave an early break to Hugh Grant.

In 2006, he and his fourth wife, Elise, lost almost everything when their home in the New Forest burnt down.

Russell was at a doctor’s appointment when the fire at the 16th century cottage began, while she was in the bath. As well as his home and belongings, he also lost work on a number of ongoing projects.

He became fascinated by film as a child in Southampton, but went on to study at nautical college, then entered the merchant navy.

However, after the Second World War he trained as a dancer and toured for many years until he decided his talents lay elsewhere and worked first as a photographer and then embraced film-making.

He landed best director Oscar nominations for his work on Women In Love, as well as being shortlisted for a Bafta and Golden Globe for the same film.

Russell filmed what is thought to be his final TV interview for Sky Arts earlier this year, part of a series called Living The Dream.

He and Sir Peter Blake looked back over their lives as they chatted about their careers for the programme, which is to be shown in the coming months.