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Interview: Lorraine Heggessey, Boom Pictures

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18 December 2013

Lorraine Heggessey broke new ground in TV when she became the first female controller of BBC1 in 2000, and later took on another high profile job running TalkbackThames. Since leaving The X Factor producer in 2010, she’s embarked a new stage in her career – as an entrepreneur, establishing Boom Pictures Group, which is now the UK’s biggest production group based outside London.

The creation of Boom springs from a meeting with Welsh indie boss Huw Eurig Davies. He had built up Cardiff-based Boomerang Plus as a diverse, Aim-listed Welsh indie group – one that had started to make inroads into network production with the acquisition of doc outfits Indus and Oxford Scientific Films. Even so, the company’s share price was languishing.

Heggessey saw in Boomerang an indie group which was largely off the radar of the London media scene that could form the basis of a new production entity. “The thing that impressed me about Boomerang Plus was that there was a fantastic spirit and lots of very talented people,” says Heggessey. “I could see there was so much potential there to turn into network ideas.”  Eurig Davies, meanwhile, realised that Heggessey could help achieve his ambition of growing Boomerang further still. Says Heggessey: “All they needed was someone to open a few doors for them.”

Heggessey then went in search of funds to take Boomerang private. With advice from Deloitte’s Stuart Sparkes, she pitched to three private equity houses – and won backing from Lloyds Development Capital (LDC). The £7.1m MBO took seven months to wrap as due diligence was completed.

Heggessey then brought Graham Linehan’s Delightful Industries and former ITV drama controllers Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes’ MainStreet Pictures into the fold, giving Boom a presence in drama and comedy.

The pitch to both was the same: Boom didn’t aim to become a corporate superindie. “We have not got someone else pulling our strings on another continent  – what you see is what you get,” says Heggessey. “We want to become an independent production company that is big enough to have a bit of scale and resource, to weather the ups and downs that you inevitably have, to invest in the development of great ideas and to have the time that it is going to take to get MainStreet’s first drama and Graham’s next comedy on the screen.”

But the biggest deal in Boom’s short history was finalised in October when it merged with Plymouth-based Twofour. She says Twofour ticked lots of boxes as a partner. Importantly, it was based outside London so fitted with the idea of trying to build a genuine nations and regions indie group. “We are not a brass plate out of London company, we are a genuine out of London company. It gives you a different perspective.”

As well as producing network brands like The Hotel Inspector and Educating Yorkshire, she says Twofour had also moved into entertainment with Splash!  – a genre Boom was keen to expand into. Twofour also comes with a distribution business, a base in the US, and a digital operation too.

Heggessey and Eurig Davies went to see Twofour founder Charles Wace last October to declare an interest. The deal-making started soon after – but took ten months to complete.

Perhaps it took so long because, while the logic of the deal is clear on many levels, it’s also unusual: Twofour is much bigger than Boom, yet the deal is pitched as a merger. Heggessey won’t discuss figures or go into the deal in detail (which was reported to be worth in the region of £30m), but says: “The whole of Twofour is within Boom Pictures, but it is very much a merger. It is a partnership. One of our guiding principles is that Huw and I are a partnership, and we wanted to do everything within a spirit of partnership rather than ownership.”

Each of the companies will retain their own branding and leadership, while Boom provides them with financial and legal support so “the labels can focus on creativity and ideas and delivering them.”

She says that Twofour is producing a C4 celebrity version of a mini-winter Olympics, The Jump. MainStreet has “lots of exciting ideas in development”, and Delightful is producing Irish comedy The Walshes for BBC4 and RTE. 
Entertainment, she says, is one of the big priorities for the company – and earmarked for investment. “If we could come up with the next Weakest Link or Deal or No Deal, I would be a very happy person.”

Reflecting on the past three years, Heggessey stresses how much she has learnt. “You have to be able to live with uncertainty. You really have to dig in and persist because every deal gets tough. But to me it is all about the people that I am working with. I didn’t set this up to work with people I don’t want to work with. I set it up to work with people that I want to work with.”

CV
2012-present  Co-founder and executive chair, Boom Pictures
 
2010–2012  Freelance media consultant and public speaker
 
2005–2010  CEO, TalkbackThames                        
 
2000–2005 Controller, BBC One
 
1994–2000  Various executive positions at the BBC, including director, BBC Factual and Learning, deputy CEO, BBC Production and head of BBC Children’s.
                                                      
1979–1994  Various production roles, BBC, Thames Television and freelance.


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