Lenny Henry has launched a scripted production outfit backed by the £50M ($61M) Banijay UK Growth Fund.
Henry is helming Esmerelda Productions with former EastEnders and Casualty exec Jon Sen. It will produce drama and comedy shows with an emphasis on working with under-represented writers, cast and crew.
More from Deadline
British comedy legend and diversity lobbyist Henry will step down as CEO of his current Banijay-backed production house Douglas Road, with MD Angela Ferreira taking the reins. That company just saw ITV launch Three Little Birds, Henry’s drama inspired by the experience of his family settling in the UK in the 1950s, which was exec produced by Russell T Davies.
Banijay’s investment will enable Esmerelda to build its team and slate, while the deal includes a first look with distributor Banijay Rights. Banijay’s Growth Fund has so far taken stakes in the likes of James Norton and Kitty Kaletsky’s Rabbit Track, and former UK TV commissioners Tommy Bulfin and Kim Varvell’s Conker Pictures, along with striking talent deals with big names including Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald.
“Building up to this announcement has been such a rollercoaster ride of keeping my nose to the grindstone and my mouth shut,” said Henry. “I am so proud that Banijay have seen fit to invest in us. I can’t wait to scheme and dream with my new, soon to be announced, team at Esmerelda led by the mighty Jon Sen.”
Banijay’s Patrick Holland, who oversees the Growth Fund, described Henry as a “national treasure and a creative legend in his own lifetime who, together with the brilliant Jon Sen, has plans for an ambitious scripted slate.”
Victoria Kimber of Danworth Associates assisted Esmerelda in arranging and negotiating the partnership, with Wiggin LLP providing legal advice to Henry on the transaction. Lee and Thompson LLP advised Sen and Simon Muirhead and Burton LLP acted for Banijay UK.
Best of Deadline