British actor, comedian and writer Sir Lenny Henry is launching Esmerelda Productions, a scripted production company with backing from European production group Banijay.
Building on the launch of its drama Three Little Birds for ITV, written by Henry and executive produced by Russell T Davies and Tiger Aspect’s Lucy Bedford, the scripted start-up will focus on drama and comedy, with an emphasis on working with underrepresented writers, cast and crew.
BAFTA-winning executive producer, writer and director Jon Sen is joining the company as joint MD alongside Henry. Most recently he was an executive producer and development executive at BBC Studios, where he also helmed long-running dramas 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 arrangement with distributor Banijay Rights.
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, Banijay’s UK executive director, said: “Building on the excellence of Sir Lenny’s drama Three Little Birds, the label will bring storytelling from a wide range of diverse authorship to broad audiences. Banijay UK is so proud to be chosen as their creative and business partner.”
In 2014, Henry founded production company Douglas Road, which was backed by Endemol Shine (acquired by Banijay in 2020). He is standing down from his role of CEO of Douglas Road to focus on Esmerelda, with MD Angela Ferreira continuing to run the business.
The new deal is part of the £50m (US$61m) Banijay UK Growth Fund and is the eighth 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; 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 pact 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.