The TV production company, part-owned by celebrity chef and food activist, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has collapsed.

Keo Films has now been sold to a rival following a pre-pack administration arrangement earlier in the summer, after declaring itself insolvent. The new owner, Passion Pictures, paid £1.7 million to take over Keo Films – it was said this was the most favorable outcome and would save around 20 jobs.

Keo Films – Award-Winning But Unprofitable

Keo Films was launched in 1996 and was co-founded by Fearnley-Whittingstall, with chief creative officer Andrew Palmer and creative director Will Anderson. It won a number of awards and made programs including Hugh’s War on Waste, Easy Ways to Live Well, and the BBC documentary, Once Upon a Time in Iraq. The company described itself as having a “strong ethical brand reputation” and Fearnley-Whittingstall had a 24% stake in the business.

The company had run up debts of £5 million, but the directors said they were unable to pay in enough from their own funds to keep it going. Despite this, it was shown that directors paid themselves some £4 million between 2014 and 2020, even though it failed to make a profit in any of these years.

However, the business reported that turnover had risen from £7 million to £10.6 million in the 2021 financial year and there was a profit of £249,000. This was, in part, because of the furlough scheme, as this reduced employee costs by £186,000.

The new owner says it is now trying to repay as much as possible of the amount Keo Films owed to freelance television workers and small businesses, even though not all of the debts will be covered.

Fearnley-Whittingstall has stepped down as a director but said he will still make programs with the new owner.