Rank continues withdrawal from movie business

LONDON — Pinewood Studios has been sold for £62 million ($99 million) to a consortium headed by former Channel 4 chief exec Michael Grade.

Grade will become chairman of the legendary studio, while Ivan Dunleavy, previously CEO of the video company VCI, will be chief executive.

Pinewood’s managing director Steve Jaggs will remain in place under Dunleavy.

Purchase of Pinewood from Rank, which founded the studio back in 1936, is being bankrolled by equity from 3i Group. The venture capital firm is investing $33 million for a majority stake, with the rest of the coin coming from Royal Bank of Scotland and Intermediate Capital Group. Grade, Dunleavy and Jaggs own the remaining equity.

Deal marks another step in Rank’s withdrawal from the movie business, following the sale Feb. 21 of its Odeon cinema chain to Cinven (Daily Variety, Feb. 22).

Pinewood, which lies in the Berkshire countryside on the western fringe of London, lays claim to the largest backlot in Europe and the biggest single soundstage — stage 007, home of the James Bond movies. The 96-acre complex has a total of 20 stages, including two new ones opened at the end of last year.

In recent years Pinewood has been regularly colonized by Hollywood blockbusters, such as “Entrapment,” “Eyes Wide Shut” and, of course, “The World Is Not Enough.” Pics currently in pre-production at Pinewood include Paramount’s “Tomb Raider” and Fox’s “Black Knight.”

Describing Pinewood as “a unique asset,” Dunleavy said he plans to build on the studio’s existing strengths in film production, as well as developing new ties with the TV and commercials business. “It will be very much business as usual,” he commented.

Grade added: “Pinewood offers the international production community unrivaled facilities and filmmaking skills. Our ambition is to build on that success and turn Pinewood into a multimedia production center, offering excellence both to film and television and new-media producers.” He denied reports that Pinewood will seek to produce its own films.

Grade is one of the best known figures in the U.K. entertainment business, starting out as a talent agent before becoming a high-profile TV exec, first with London Weekend Television, then with the BBC and finally as chief exec of Channel 4. He left C4 in 1997 to head his family company First Leisure, but controversially engineered the breakup of the group, which was completed last November.

Dunleavy worked at VCI for 12 years before spearheading the sale of the video company a year ago to retailer Kingfisher.

According to Rank, Pinewood recorded sales of $21.1 million in 1998 and made a profit of $7 million. Figures for 1999 will be published Thursday in Rank’s annual results.

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