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Ken Russell video, radio

video, radio and advertisements


In the 1960s while working for the BBC, Ken Russell also made many advertisements for showing on British commercial television. These include baked beans (Horlicks not Heinz) and Galaxy Bar and Black Beauty chocolates. In one advert for washing powder he had to show how easily the soap suds flowed down the sink leaving no mess. He did this by pumping soap into an empty sink, then reversing the film.

A fuller list is given by Richard Farmer:

  • Cheese wedges, 1964
  • Bri-Nylon, 1965
  • Delsey toilet paper, 1965
  • Butter Council, 1965
  • Birds Eye Cod Portions, 1966
  • Rowntree’s Black Magic, 1966
  • TAB soft drink, 1966

Some others are possibilities:

  • Butter Council 1966
  • Soft drink (unnamed) 1967
  • Baked beans (unnamed)
  • Galaxy Chocolate
  • Washing powder (unnamed)

All from research by Richard Farmer, Ken Russell and Television Advertising, part of The Films of Ken Russell, editor Matthew Malia, 2023.

Ann Magret Baked Beans   Ken Russell Tommy

In Tommy Russell satirises his advertising days. Ann-Magret is covered by soap suds and baked beans. On the right Russell handles the special effects himself.


Richard Golub: Trial of the Century

A pop video Ken did for his lawyer Richard Golub as payment for winning the court case concerning the Moll Flanders film. The video is set in Sing Sing prison (!) with Golub as a preaching lawyer dancing and singing through the streets, every so often coming up against the harsh judge, played by Russell.

The image from the film comes from The New York Times 7 Aug 1989.

1988 Cliff Richard: She's so Beautiful

Cliff Richard in Shes so Beautiful  Shes so Beautiful

Hard to believe Ken Russell doing a video for Cliff Richard.  Hard to believe a Cliff Richard video banned by the BBC.  Put them together and it starts to make sense.  Cliff was backed by writer Stevie Wonder on this song from Dave Clark's musical Time. Girls play on a beach and the ball turns into a flaming ball, others play hockey and the ball becomes a globe of the world.  Some of Ken's favourite locations reappear, such as the waterfall from The Rainbow.


1988 Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley: The Phantom of the Opera

Sarah Brightman  Steve Harley

Four videos of songs from Phantom of the Opera.  Ken directs two.  Phantom of the Opera has Sarah Brightman and Steve Harley dueting. She senses the presence of the phantom, and walks through the mirror into a sub-world, going by boat across a River Styx shrouded in dry-ice fog. The gravestones have snakes curled round them.

Not bad as an advert for the opera, the right mixture of the music and suspense. Sarah Brightman at times reminds you of Twiggy in The Boyfriend.

Phantom of the Opera

1988 Sarah Brightman and Cliff Richard: All I Ask of You

All I Ask of You

The second Phantom of the Opera video, with Brightman and Cliff Richard singing All I Ask of You, is abysmal.  Both sing with backdrops of flowing rivers and clear skies. As they kiss the waves crash to the ground. It is that clichéd  The other two videos, both uninteresting, are directed by Tom Gutteridge and Stephen Frears.

1988 Sarah Brightman: Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again

Sarah Brightman Wishing you were somehow here again

At the same time as the Phantom videos Russell also directed Sarah Brightman in Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.  A bit bland, with Brightman walking through a graveyard and laying flowers.

1985 Elton John: Nikita

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

Following Tommy here have been many attempts by Ken to work with Elton on a full length film, so far none have materialised. Ken did however do Nikita, an example of perfect pop video making, matching the music to an image.

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

Nikita has Elton John regularly crossing the border post into Communist Europe. One of the guards is Nikita (a girl though Nikita is a boy's name) played by Anya Major. Gradually the two fall in love.

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

Elton draws a heart in the snow and sings to her as she watches through security cameras.

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

And in his dreams they go to a football match, with Elton in his high Tommy shoes.  But they can never get closer than handing over a passport, or dancing in their dreams.

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

Ken Russell Nikta Elton John

Anya then recorded a song and video Moscow Nights "Once I loved a Russian / Nikita was his name / He said I was his only love / But I could spot his game".

Sitting Duck was the name of a company Russell set up to make videos after the success of Nikita.

Anya Moscow Nights

1985 Elton John: Cry to Heaven

Elton John in Cry to Heaven  

On Cry to Heaven Ken says "I saw an allegory of the troubles in Northern Ireland and how the innocent are always the victims...when the record companies saw what was happening they dropped me like a hot condom".

The video is weak (though not as weak as the song) following the lyrics too literally.  Some of the imagery, Elton John in clown make-up, just doesn't work.  The toddler in the film is presumably Russell's child.  One good image is of a toy cat watching a toy mouse.

1993 Bryan Adams: Diana

Ken Russell Bryan Adams Diana  Ken Russell Bryan Adams Diana

Ken Russell Bryan Adams Diana  Ken Russell Bryan Adams Diana

Ken directed Adam's tribute to Diana. Victoria Russell, Ken's daughter, had met Adams when she was stylist on the Run to You video and they became close friends for a number of years.  Diana is a compilation of Diana and Charles newsreel, all too predictable.

Pandora's Box:
Prologue (A Teenager in Love)

Ken made two videos for Jim Steinman and his band Pandora's Box.  The first Prologue (A Teenager in Love) is a short introduction and consists of a montage of static images.  It lasts 58 seconds but seems much longer.

Ken Russell Jim Steinman Pandora's Box Prologue (A Tenager in Love)

Steinman shouts various one-liners, "I've been dreaming up a storm lately and the entire city is burning".

Ken Russell Jim Steinman Pandora's Box Prologue (A Tenager in Love)

"Angels storm the streets looking for a little damnation".

Ken Russell Jim Steinman Pandora's Box Prologue (A Tenager in Love)

Ken Russell Jim Steinman Pandora's Box Prologue (A Tenager in Love)

Pandora's Box: Its all coming back to me now

Ken Russell directed a music video for Jim Steinman's all-girl band, Pandora's Box.  Steinman is primarily a songwriter for example he wrote all the songs on Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell as well as Bonnie Tayler's Total Eclipse of the Heart.  Pandora's Box was a new project for him, though they only made one album and the song he wrote for them actually became a hit for Celine Dion.

A site visitor says "Unlike the Celine Dion version, the original song is very wild. The Russell video is shot all in black and white, and features a motorcycle crash, ritualistic orgies, ballet in bondage gear, and paramedics".

A poor copy of Ken's short film Aria, the video of Its all coming back to me now is disappointing and drags on without creating excitement.  Elaine Caswell stars in the video.  "On a large soundstage at Pinewood Studios, dancers from the London production of 'Cats' have been strapped into bondage gear at Russell's direction. Studded codpieces, tight leather jockstraps and dangerously spiked brassieres abound" (Jin Hotton, Kerang 1989 quoted on www.jimsteinman.com).

As in Aria a woman seems to be caught  up in a surreal world.

She has elaborate headdresses and ornamentation.

And a ritual seems to be taking place.

But as in Aria the woman has been in an accident, and what she has experienced is actually the medical team helping her.  But here it is clumsily done, such as a clunky cut as the ornate mask placed in her face is revealed to actually be an oxygen mask.  Aria is one of Russell's's best films, this is one of his worst.

All images from the DVD.


1995 The Death of Scriabin

Ken Russell The Death of Scriabin

A radio play for the BBC Radio 3 directed and written by Russsell. "...in 1914, Two men with more than a passing interest in the occult meet in St. Basil´s Cathedral, Moscow- the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin and the notorious English mystic Alesteir Crowley."  James Wilby plays Scriabin and Oliver Reed plays Crowley. Ken plays Professor R J Stone and other parts are Olga (Hetty Baynes), police sergeant (Brian Murphy), headman (Don Warrington), Tanya Schloezer (Kristin Milward), Ernie Gross (Joshua Towb), Arensky (Gavin Muir) and Rimsky-Korsakov (Don Maccorkindale) and announcer (Donald Macleod).  The producer was Adrian Bean.  It was originally a film script, but the film did not go ahead. The dyslexia of Reed gave him problems with the role.  Ken says of Oliver Reed "He came over specially from Ireland to do the recording.  It paid hardly enough to cover the gas bill, but I think the novelty of doing radio appealed to him.  At one point we were all in the studio doing background noise; I don't think anyone's asked Oliver to be an extra before".  It was broadcast on 18 June 1995.  Quotes from The Radio Times, 17/23 June 1995.

Russell says he originally wanted to do a television film on Scriabin but "the budget was so enormous I ended up doing it as a radio play" (from DVD commentary by Russell on Song of Summer).

"It's hard to pinpoint when it was that Ken Russell drifted over the line into self-parody. There's always been an air of parody about his films, which I put down to two reasons. First, he refuses, more or less on principle, to adopt a serious tone - the seriousness, he thinks, is so deep in the core of everything he does that he can afford to chuck in a bit of arsing about on top. Second, his favourite theme is the way in which the earthy, sexy side of human natures collides with the civilised, intellectual (and, naturally, artificial) bit ...If there was a fault with this play, considered as parody, it was that it was too mercilessly accurate. One by one, Russell's foibles were caught, gassed and pinned into place...  In the end, this felt rather less like a radio play and more like a 50- minute commentary on something Russell considers far more important, his own films: all in all, flatulent, self-indulgent and artistically redundant.  Did I say that I loved it?" (The Independent, 19 Jun 1995, click here).



A British Picture

Ken reading from his autobiography over a number of evenings as part of BBC radio's A Book at Bedtime series.

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