Odeons not for sale, says Rank

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RANK Organisation will today fend off attempts by a consortium, including the Channel 4 chief executive Michael Grade, to force it to sell its film division, including Odeon cinemas, for pounds 400m.

The group is expected to make an announcement about the film side, saying that it is not considering selling the business founded by J Arthur Rank and setting out its plans for a shake-up of the business, which many in the industry feel has lost its way.

The business includes some famous names, notably Odeon, which is the UK's second largest cinema chain, Pinewood studios and Rank Film Distributors, with its famous gong symbol.

Rank has been forced to put out the announcement by persistent rumours about a possible offer for the films side, first highlighted last autumn in the Independent on Sunday. It had hoped to make a statement about its plans with its results on Thursday.

Robert Kretowicz, head of European corporate finance at Chemical Bank, said yesterday that he had put together a team, including Mr Grade, Ilean Maisel - who until recently headed Paramount Pictures in Europe - and John Whitney, chairman of Transworld Communications.

Michael Gifford, the plain- speaking chief executive of Rank, said yesterday he had been aware of Mr Kretowicz's interest for around four months, but at no time had Rank been approached.

'We will not have conversations even if we are approached,' said Mr Gifford. 'The division is not for sale and they would not be a credible buyer even if it were.'

However, Mr Kretowicz was adamant that the consortium would be in a position to make a serious offer to Rank within a couple of weeks. He said the group, which is backed by the venture capital side of Arthur Andersen and the stockbroker Hoare Govett, had put together a team that would revitalise Rank's film business.

'We want to put new software through the system,' said Mr Kretowicz. 'We have new films and TV production to add to Rank's library. Rank has not make a film for 15 years.'

Mr Kretowicz also said he would close many of the city centre Odeons and build multiplex cinemas on the outskirts of towns. But the bid was not an attempt to strip the assets of the business.

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