HE was born in Southampton before building a pioneering career in film – but there is no blue plaque on Ken Russell’s first house in Derby Road or in Belmont Road,


Later in life Russell (1927-2011) revisited Belmont Road and in his autobiography he wrote:”I looked at number 31 through my car window. Semi-detached, fading yellow brick, small front garden connected by a narrow driveway to a larger back garden. And right at the back against the wall, still threatening to push it over and even more magnificent than ever, was my castle, my galleon, my magic beanstalk.

To everyone else it was a horse chestnut tree, but to me as a child it was a place to continue yesterday’s adventure in the


His family owned a footwear business, with shops in St Mary Street, Shirley Road and Eastleigh, but he chose not to follow into the business. His father ran a credit type shopping system, Russell Cheques, a similar scheme to the Provident Cheques. However, people didn’t like other people to know they used them. You could only use them in certain shops such as Sidney Man’s shop in St. Mary’s.

When Ken lived in Portswood he escaped his strict father by spending as much of his time as he could at the nearby Broadway and Palladium cinemas. The Broadway later became a bingo hall (once frequented by Saints legend Matt Le Tissier) and is now the Victory Gospel Church. The Palladium has been various supermarkets.

Ken Russell was educated at Taunton’s School. He tried several professions before choosing to become a film director; he was a photographer, a dancer and served in both the merchant navy and the RAF, but the film industry was his destiny.

His short films such as Peepshow (1956) won him a reputation and led to working for the BBC. His programme on the composer Elgar brought him national attention and gave him the chance to direct his first feature film, French Dressing (1963). As a film director his trademarks were controversial sex scenes, deliberately theatrical acting, religious, fire and snake imagery and flights of imagination.

He found success with Women in Love (1969), for which he received his Oscar nomination and Glenda Jackson won Best Actress. It features the infamous naked wrestling scene with Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. The Boyfriend (1972) for which Twiggy won two Golden Globe awards was also very well received.

A biopic film of the painter and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s life, Savage Messiah (1972) was directed and largely financed by Russell. The Southampton City Art Gallery has a bust of Henri’s work. Henri died fighting for France at age 23 in the First World War.

However, some of his subsequent films, including The Devils (1971) starring Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave and Lisztomania (1975), were considered by some to be vulgar and


There was a return to form with Tommy (1975), a rock opera based on The Who. It was well suited to Russell’s extravagant style and was a box office hit. Much of the filming took place in and around Portsmouth, with the film including a real life fire on South Parade Pier. He directed the music video “Nikkita” for Sir Elton John in 1988 and Lair of the White Worm (1988), a cult horror/comedy with a young Hugh Grant. Russell took part in Celebrity Big Brother in 2007 but walked out after 4 days following an argument with Jade Goody.

When visiting Southampton he liked to lunch at Piccolo Mondo restaurant close to the Civic Centre. From 2007-2008 he was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Southampton advising students on film making. After his thatched cottage in the New Forest burnt down in 2006 he lost many possessions. Married four times, Ken Russell will be remembered as an ‘enfant terrible’ of film.

By Martin Brisland, tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .