Famed chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV production company sold after debt-laden collapse
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s TV production company has been sold after going bankrupt this summer with debts exceeding £5million.
Keo Films, which the celebrity chef co-founded in 1995, reached out to administrators in June, accusing the pandemic of going over the edge.
But documents show that in 2019 the company was described as being in a “weak financial position” long before the Covid-19 crisis.
In the soup: Keo Films, founded by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (pictured), reached out to administrators in June, accusing the pandemic of sending it over the edge
Oscar-winning production studio Passion Pictures bought Keo Films for £1.7 million in late July.
The directors of Keo Films, including River Cottage chief Fearnley-Whittingstall, who had a 24 percent stake, said they couldn’t raise enough money to keep it going.
Administrators’ documents show that the directors paid themselves £4million between 2014 and 2020, despite posting a loss every year during that time.
The company said its turnover had increased from £7 million to £10.6 million in the 2021 financial year and had made a profit of £249,000.
But this was mainly due to the company’s use of the leave scheme, which reduced staff costs by £186,000.
It is estimated that Keo Films’ creditors will remain around £2million out of pocket.
Fearnley-Whittingstall rose to fame in the 1990s when he launched the River Cottage series of TV shows, in which he moved to a rural cottage on the Dorset/Devon border to live the life of a subsistence smallholder.
The 65-year-old Oxford graduate had previously worked as a sous chef at London’s River Cafe, a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant on the Thames in Hammersmith.
The River Cottage programs ran through 2012, and restaurants and cookbooks 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 environmental 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 trying to repay as much as possible of the amount the company owed to freelance TV professionals and small businesses when it went bankrupt, The Guardian reported.
Keo Films’ creative director Will Anderson said, “We’re trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. We don’t want to get a bad reputation, we try to make agreements with people where possible.’