Blair adviser ankles to join Terra Firms

Former BBC topper John Birt has left Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office to join Terra Firma, owner of Europe’s largest cinema chains and the largest outside the U.S.

Birt spent six years as the “blue skies thinker” for Blair, advising on everything from the future of transport to the U.K.’s long-term energy supplies.

Terra Firma, owned by venture capitalist Guy Hands, bought U.K. chain Odeon and pan-Euro operator UCI for a reported $1 billion in 2004.

In May, Terra Firma purchased exhibitor Warner Lusomundo Sogecable Cines in Spain.

Odeon has 600 screens in the U.K., while UCI has 336 screens in the U.K., 324 in Spain, 167 in Germany, 83 in Italy, 38 in Austria and 31 in Ireland.

Birt joins another BBC alumnus, Rupert Gavin, who became CEO of Odeon Cinemas and UCI Cinemas in May. Gavin was formerly head of the pubcaster’s commercial arm BBC Worldwide.

“John brings a unique blend of commercial and policy experience,” Hands said.

Birt started his TV career at Granada in 1968 before joining London Weekend Television in 1971. He left LWT in 1987 to become deputy director-general of the BBC. He was BBC director-general from 1992 to 2000, when he was made a life peer.

Birt will be forbidden from lobbying U.K. ministers or officials for a year after leaving Downing Street.

Blair said in a statement, “John Birt’s hardheaded analysis and ability to get to the heart of the most complex of problems has proved invaluable over a whole range of issues. I am very grateful to him for all he has done during his time at Downing Street.”

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