Hat Trick pair have £23m last laugh

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The Independent Online

The former married couple behind some of the biggest hits in British television, including Have I Got News for You and The Kumars at No 42 have sold almost half the production company they formed to a City investment firm for £23m.

Denise O'Donoghue and Jimmy Mulville created Hat Trick in a Soho backroom 17 years ago and went on to create classic comedies such as Father Ted and Drop the Dead Donkey. Yesterday they announced to the Stock Exchange that they were selling a 45 per cent stake to Kleinwort Capital in a unique deal that will see them remain as majority owners and firmly in control.

The sale marks a remarkable personal and professional journey for the joint managing directors, who are both aged 48.

Mr Mulville, a talented comedian who was president of Footlights at Cambridge, overcame alcoholism, after a long struggle from the age of 15, and later cocaine addiction. His ambitions in front of the camera were never fully realised despite appearing in a string of television comedies in the Eighties, including Who Dares Wins.

The couple met in 1981 when Ms O'Donoghue was a management consultant with an independent production house. They separated nine years ago and subsequently divorced. Ms O'Donoghue concedes that their relationship is unusual, but she said it is "brilliant".

"There was an adjustment that was necessary after we separated," she said. "It was very difficult to start with. But we were very disciplined about it."

Mr Mulville was over the alcoholism when they divorced, but he says the process of recovering from alcohol and cocaine addiction "changed" the relationship.

Both have made a lot of money from the success of Hat Trick - the yearly profits go to them - and neither could think of anything they will spend the cash on. "I'm not going to buy a yacht or anything," Mr Mulville said.

Hat Trick will now expand fast and it can take more risks with programming, they said. The plan is to sell the remainder of the business in five years' time, either through a stock market flotation or a sale to another television group.

They make no apology for their millions. "We've always been very commercial," Mr Mulville said. "We're in it for the programmes. If you make good programmes, the business will follow."