Wife escapes as blaze destroys Ken Russell's home

An inferno has ravaged the New Forest home of the film director Ken Russell, destroying valuable film memorabilia and almost killing his wife.

Firefighters said the blaze, which began at 9.30am yesterday, had also consumed Mr Russell's current work. The director saud he was thankful that neither he nor his fourth wife, Elize, 53, died in the flames. "We have lost lots of personal things, but what are personal things when we both survived?" he said. "You thank God it didn't happen when we were fast asleep."

The 78-year-old director was at a doctor's appointment when the fire started in the 16th-century cottage in the picturesque village of East Boldre, Hampshire. Mrs Russell was lucky to escape unhurt - if naked - after being alerted by a fire alarm while she lay in the bath.

Mr Russell returned from his appointment to find flames leaping through the thatched roof, and, in the confusion, feared she had been caught inside. "I was shouting 'Elize, Elize, where are you?' Then I looked up the stairs and there were no stairs, it was like an inferno of flames, because I was going to run up the stairs and rescue her. Then I happened to glance downwards and there she was, she had gone into the building to look for me." He added: "My wife is the most wonderful person I have met. If she was going to die, I would die trying to save her."

The damage done to the property and its contents was "pretty much 100 per cent", according to a spokeswoman for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service. "Talking about salvage, it was pretty much the worst-case scenario," she said. "He had a lot of work in progress on the premises; we understand Mr Russell had been working on a number of projects at home. But they seemed very philosophical about it and put it in perspective." She added that the fire appeared to have begun accidentally.

About 80 firefighters were present. They destroyed two chimney stacks in danger of collapse so they could safely enter the gutted cottage and extinguish the flames. "Without the smoke alarm system this could have been a fatal fire because it developed so quickly," said Carlton Kerr, incident commander on the scene for Hampshire Fire and Rescue. He said Mr Russell had been concerned about his car keys and the couple's passports, but had soon realised the futility of trying to save their possessions.

It is not the director's first close encounter with a serious fire. South Parade Pier in Southsea burnt down while he was filming The Who's rock opera Tommy in 1974. The director asked his props man to "go easy on the smoke" - only to be told it was genuine and that the cast and crew should run for their lives. He filmed the flames and added them to the finished movie.

He met Elize in New York 25 years ago and they married in 2001. He has fathered "eight or nine" children and directed films including The Devils, Women in Love, Lisztomania and Altered States. Forthcoming work was scheduled to include two new films, Brave Tart versus the Loch Ness Monster and Pearl of the Orient, and a series of books on the sex lives of the composers Elgar, Delius, Beethoven and Brahms.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral