Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s production firm sold off

Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV production firm sold off after debt-laden collapse

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV production company has been sold after going bust this summer with debts of more than £5million.

Keo Films, which the celebrity chef co-founded in 1995, contacted administrators in June, blaming the pandemic for sending it over the edge.

But documents reveal that the company was described as being in a ‘weak financial position’ in 2019 long before the Covid-19 crisis.

In the soup: Keo Films, founded by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (pictured), contacted administrators in June, blaming the pandemic for sending it over the edge

Oscar-winning production studio Passion Pictures bought Keo Films for £1.7million at the end of July.

Keo Films’ directors, who include River Cottage chef Fearnley-Whittingstall, who had a 24 per cent stake, said they were unable to stump up enough cash to keep it going.

Administrators’ documents show the directors paid themselves £4million between 2014 and 2020, despite posting a loss every single year in that time. 

The company said turnover had risen from £7million to £10.6million in the 2021 financial year and that it had made a profit of £249,000.

But this was mainly due to the company’s use of the furlough scheme, which cut employee costs by £186,000.

It is estimated that Keo Films’ creditors will be left around £2m out of pocket.

Fearnley-Whittingstall shot to fame in the 1990s when he launched the River Cottage series of TV shows, which saw him move to a rural cottage on the Dorset/Devon border to live the life of self-sufficient smallholder.

The Oxford graduate, 65, had previously worked as a sous chef at the River Cafe in London, a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant on the Thames in Hammersmith.

The River Cottage programmes ran until 2012 and restaurants and cookery books were also launched under the brand. 

Keo Films worked on a range of other programmes – including the Bafta-winning BBC Two documentary series Once Upon A Time In Iraq.

It often works on shows with an ethical and eco-focus, such as Hugh’s War On Waste. It has also produced work for Netflix, National Geographic, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.

Keo Films’ new owner is attempting to repay as much as possible of the amount the firm owed to freelance TV professionals and small businesses when it went bust, The Guardian reported.

Keo Films’ creative director Will Anderson said: ‘We are trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. We don’t want to get a bad reputation, we are trying to come to arrangements with people where we can.’

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