Tributes have been paid to the "unique" talent of Oscar-nominated British film director Ken Russell following his sudden death at the age of 84.

The director of Women In Love and The Devils "passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday afternoon", his "devastated" wife Elize said.

The film-maker, who began his career in television, was a visiting professor of film at University of Wales, Newport.

In March 2008, he marked the start of the construction of the new Newport City University Campus.

He had a reputation as an enfant terrible of the British movie world, with his 1969 movie Women In Love known to a generation for its nude male wrestling scene, with Oliver Reed and Alan Bates.

Glenda Jackson, who won a best actress Oscar for her role in the film, said it was a "privilege" to know Russell as both a film director and a friend. She said: "His contribution to cinema, not only in this country, but also internationally, will last," she said.

But the MP, who also starred in Russell's The Rainbow (1989), said he had not been given the recognition he deserved in later years. "It's an absolute shame that the British film industry has ignored him. It's an absolute disgrace... he broke down barriers for so many people," she said.

The maverick film-maker was known for his uncomfortable stories about the church and for using sexually-challenging material. The Devils, initially featuring a scene with naked nuns, was banned by some authorities in the UK and in many other countries.

Film director Michael Winner said Russell would be best remembered for the 1971 movie, starring Vanessa Redgrave. He said: " What the censor took out of The Devils was almost as long as the rest of the movie. His contribution to TV and cinema in this country is absolutely unique. He took it into areas it hadn't been before.

Russell's widow Elize said she was "devastated" by her husband's death, which happened at their home in Lymington, Hampshire.

She said: "It is with great sadness that I can confirm that Ken Russell passed away peacefully in his sleep on Sunday afternoon. It was completely unexpected, as he was doing what he loved."

Russell had been working on the script and casting for the movie Alice In Wonderland The Musical, which he was directing, she added.