Prince tries TV in his third career move

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PRINCE EDWARD is to join the Birtist world of modern British television, Buckingham Palace said yesterday.

The showbiz-loving Prince, out of work since losing his job with the Theatre Division finance company in 1991, will be joint managing director of a new freelance firm called Ardent Productions, which he hopes 'everyone will come to recognise as makers of serious arts, drama and documentary programmes'.

As with many other companies selling services to the BBC and commercial television, the finances of Ardent are secretive. Buckingham Palace would not say how much the Prince had invested and what his salary would be. But if the company, which is to begin work on 1 December, is a success, it will lessen the financial burden on the Queen.

She began paying income tax for the first time in April after a public outcry about the monarchy's tax-exempt status, and agreed to take the cost of paying for minor royals away from the taxpayer as part of the deal reached with the Treasury. In Prince Edward's case, she provided the pounds 96,000 a year he used to receive from the publicly funded Civil List. Young members of the family were then given the choice of meeting public engagements, working, or mixing the two.

The company will be a joint venture with Eben Foggitt, a former business manager with BBC Drama. It will be based near Channel 4 in Charlotte Street, central London.

The ruthlessly competitive freelance market is one of the fastest growing areas in television. Channel 4 buys most of its programmes from freelance production companies, and under John Birt the BBC is committed to taking 25 per cent of its programmes from independent producers.

Prince Edward will concentrate on the artistic side of the company.

After a brief career in the Royal Marines, he worked for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group between 1988 and 1990, where his duties included making tea. He was nicknamed Babs, after the Carry On star Barbara Windsor. He left with five colleagues to set up Theatre Division, but was out of a job when it crashed owing pounds 600,000.

The Prince said yesterday: 'I am delighted that we have managed to bring together such a talented team to make quality programmes for British broadcasters.' His new venture as a television producer suggests he has had a change of mind; in 1990 he said 'Good heavens no, I don't want to become a producer. That would be really boring.'

No other member of the Royal Family has invested in the project.

(Photograph omitted)