Banijay UK has invested in Esmerelda, the new production venture from actor, comedian and writer Sir Lenny Henry.

BAFTA-winning executive producer, writer and director Jon Sen has joined Henry as Joint Managing Director of Esmerelda.

3. Banijay

Jon Sen and Sir Lenny Henry

Sen was recently an Executive Producer and Development Executive at BBC Studios, where he also helmed Casualty and EastEnders.

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.

Banijay said 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.

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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.

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…“

Banijay UK’s Executive Chairman Patrick Holland 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.”

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