Esmerelda, the new production venture from actor, comedian and writer Sir Lenny Henry, has launched with Banijay UK announcing its investment in the start-up, and with former BBC Studios exec Jon Sen joining as Joint Managing Director.

Building on the highly anticipated launch of Three Little Birds for ITV written by Sir Lenny Henry – and executive produced by Russell T Davies and Tiger Aspect’s Lucy Bedford – the new scripted start-up will focus on broad appeal drama and comedy, with an emphasis on working with under-represented writers, cast and crew.

Jon Sen, the BAFTA-winning executive producer, writer and director, joins Sir Lenny as Joint Managing Director. Most recently, Sen was an executive producer and development executive at BBC Studios, where he also helmed Casualty and EastEnders.

The investment, via the Banijay UK Growth Fund, will enable Esmerelda to build both its team and slate. The deal includes a first look with distributor, Banijay Rights.

Sir Lenny Henry said: “Building up to this announcement has been such a roller coaster ride of keeping my nose to the grindstone and my mouth shut. 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, who is not only a talented producer but also an excellent writer and director.“

Patrick Holland, Executive Chairman, Banijay UK said: “We are so delighted to announce this investment in Esmerelda Productions. Sir Lenny Henry is both a national treasure and a creative legend in his own lifetime and, together with the brilliant Jon Sen, has plans for an ambitious scripted slate. Building on the excellence of Sir Lenny’s drama Three Little Birds (made in conjunction with Tiger Aspect for ITV) the label will bring story telling from a wide range of diverse authorship to broad audiences. Banijay UK is so proud to be chosen as their creative and business partner.”

Jon Sen added: “Lenny and I are united in our commitment to offer artists a nurturing environment in order for them to celebrate their unique voices. Our shared love of the magic of story makes this a wonderfully exciting opportunity to make some exceptional drama.”

Sir Lenny Henry founded the production company Douglas Road in 2014 which was backed by Endemol Shine (acquired by Banijay in 2020). Henry is standing down from his role of CEO of Douglas Road to focus on Esmerelda, with Managing Director Angela Ferreira continuing to run the business.

This deal is part of the Banijay UK £50m Banijay UK Growth Fund which allows the UK group to partner in high profile talent as well as investing in new businesses, to supercharge growth.

This is the eighth Growth Fund deal to be announced since it was launched in February 2023. Previous investments include Rabbit Track, the production company co-founded by film, TV and stage actor James Norton and scripted executive Kitty Kaletsky; new scripted company Conker Pictures from ex Apple+ and BBC Commissioners, Kim Varvell and Tommy Bulfin; and North Wales based start-up, Ty’r Ddraig. Talent deals include a first look with scripted producer, Chris Sussman, a multi project deal with Scottish documentary director and producer Kevin Macdonald, and a development deal with Big Zuu and his company Big Productions.

Michael Burns

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