Channel 4 drama head Tessa Ross to take the reins at the National Theatre


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The Independent Culture

Tessa Ross, described as having made “as big a contribution to Channel 4 as anyone in its history,” is to leave the broadcaster and take over running the National Theatre alongside incoming director Rufus Norris.

The National announced today that Ross, controller of film and drama at Channel 4, would join as chief executive of the National, sharing the duties of leading the organisation with Norris.

Ross is one of the UK’s most high profile film executives, with Film4 backing works including Slumdog Millionaire and 12 Years a Slave during her leadership. While she will join in November, her role becomes formal with the appointment of Norris as director in April 2015.

She said the National was “one of our most iconic and significant cultural institutions and a place that I’ve loved since I was very young,” adding: “I’m privileged to be working with Rufus to build its next chapter.”

Ross knows the institution well, serving on its board between 2011 and 2014. Although her new title will be chief executive, she will effectively take over from the National’s executive director Nick Starr who departs in August.

Starr has worked alongside National director Sir Nicholas Hytner for what has been a hugely successful decade-long partnership at the organisation. He oversaw the subsidised Travelex ticket seasons, as well as the National’s move to broadcast plays into cinemas and taking productions into the West End and on tour. He also planned the current £80 million redevelopment project.

Norris said he was “thrilled and honoured” that Ross was to join the National “to be my partner at the helm of this unique organisation”.

He continued: “She is an extraordinary woman: a world-class producer, a tireless supporter and promoter of both emerging and established artists, a great manager and businesswoman.”

Lisa Burger will remain as the National’s chief operating officer, the third member of the executive team.

Ross is controller of film and drama at Channel 4 and has been at the organisation for 13 years. She will join the National in November as chief executive designate, working alongside Sir Nicholas, and will take on the role fully when Norris starts in April 2015.

She was named head of Film4 in 2003 and took on her current role five years later. Other films developed and financed during her time as head of film at the organisation included The Last King of Scotland and This is England.

During her time as head of drama, she commissioned shows including Shameless, Teachers and White Teeth.

National chairman John Makinson said: “Tessa's international experience and reputation as a producer and executive need no introduction, and her partnership with Rufus Norris will give us the strongest possible platform on which to extend the National Theatre's creative and commercial leadership.”

David Abraham, chief executive of Channel 4, said Ross had “made as big a contribution to Channel 4 as anyone in its history”.

He added that Ross’s job was “one of the most coveted in film, both in the UK and internationally,” adding: “We have every intention of building on the extraordinary reputation Tessa has created.”

Ben Roberts, the director of the BFI Film Fund, called Ross “very impressive” adding: “She has transformed the landscape of independent film making in this country.”

He said: “She has been fantastic for bringing up and looking after a lot of our film talent. I have my fingers crossed that Channel 4 will continue to recognise the value of talent alongside the commercial decisions.”