Vue chief Richards gets nod as BFI chair after prolonged screening

·2-min read

The government is to name the head of one of Britain's biggest cinema chains as the next chair of the British Film Institute (BFI) despite concerns about his ability to serve a full term in the role.

Sky News has learnt that Downing Street and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has signed off the appointment of Tim Richards.

An announcement is expected this week.

It will come after a protracted process in which Mr Richards saw off competition from Lord Vaizey, the former culture minister, Nick Clarry, the head of sports, media and entertainment at buyout firm CVC Capital Partners, and Caroline Michel, who runs the literary agent Peters Fraser & Dunlop.

Mr Richards' appointment will not be without complications, however.

Some industry figures say his appointment to the helm of the BFI is riven with conflicts because he previously served on its board for seven years, and because his day job as the boss of Vue Entertainment risks distorting decision-making about the dynamics between theatrical and streaming releases.

One source said concerns had also been raised about the optics of anointing Mr Richards as the figurehead of British film-making if - as a result of the coronavirus pandemic - Vue was to be forced into a radical financial restructuring that could trigger substantial job losses or losses for creditors.

Under the BFI's Royal Charter, Mr Richards would be unable to serve more than three years of the chair's usual four-year term because there is a ten-year limit on the period that any individual can serve on its board.

Mr Richards stepped down from the BFI board last May, but emerged as a late entrant into the chairmanship race.

One source suggested that the government could be prepared to amend the BFI's Royal Charter once Mr Richards was installed as chair to allow him to serve until 2025, although this would require Privy Council approval.

The timing of the appointment is crucial, with the film industry - like many others - seeing its funding impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

As an arms-length body with charitable status and governed by Royal Charter, the BFI is one of the most important cultural institutions in Britain.

It is responsible for maintaining the world's most important film and television archive, distributing millions of pounds of National Lottery funding, and staging globally renowned festivals.

Chairing the BFI is regarded as one of the most prestigious roles in the British media industry, with the post most recently having been filled by Josh Berger, a former Warner Bros studio executive.

Mr Berger stepped down late last year after serving on the board for a total of ten years.

The DCMS and BFI declined to comment, while Mr Richards could not be reached for comment.