Russell became a keen naturalist while still at school. Born in Forfar on 27 March, 1914, he moved with his family to Darlington in 1919 when his father became Schools’ Medical Officer for Durham County. He was educated at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School there, but in 1931 he was awarded a Carnegie Scholarship to read Zoology at Glasgow University under Sir John Graham Kerr. Russell took part in successive student expeditions to Canna in the Inner Hebrides and wrote detailed reports on the entomology of these and on various projects in marine biology. His dedication to natural history is splendidly illustrated by a paper in The Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, recounting how, while sunning himself on a jetty at Lake Windermere after swimming, he found an old nail and kept a tally of the different prey of pond skaters by making scratches on the woodwork.