Top BBC man has shares in comedy shows

No conflict of interest, he says
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The Independent Online
A senior BBC executive is a major shareholder in a leading independent production company, which makes several of the corporation's most popular programmes.

Geoffrey Perkins, head of comedy for BBC TV, holds a 25 per cent stake in Hat Trick Productions, a company which is currently at the centre of an internal inquiry by the corporation for alleged financial irregularities in the making of its hit show, Have I Got News For You.

When Mr Perkins, a successful producer, left Hat Trick last year he gave up his directorship of the company, but he did not relinquish his quarter shareholding. Documents at Companies House disclose that he still owns 300 of the 1,200 shares issued by the company, which last year made profits of pounds 403,700.

Hat Trick is now the subject of a BBC audit following the leaking of confidential papers which suggest that the company has been over-charging for producing the satirical quiz show Have I Got News For You.

BBC accountants are examining whether expenses claimed by the company for the show were justified. Hat Trick is understood to be co-operating fully with the BBC accountants. Denise O'Donoghue, a director of the company, said there was no truth in the allegations. "We are clean, we run a very clean company," she said, adding that she was confident the accusations would be fully dealt with.

According to Ms O'Don-oghue, Hat Trick is the target of a smear campaign by an ex- employee. Today, the company will attempt to secure an injunction in the courts preventing the former member of staff from attacking them further.

While Mr Perkins is not linked to the Have I Got News For You inquiry - the show falls within the features department, not comedy - his shareholding in Hat Trick has left him open to accusations of a potential conflict of interest.

Ms O'Donoghue said, "Of course, it is a potential conflict of interest", but, she claimed, "our success has not depended on knowing the right people."

John Woodward of Pact, the independent producers' association, said that his members had been worried about Mr Perkins' role in judging their output and his ability to influence commissioning decisions.

Mr Woodward said, however, that he understood the BBC had gone out of its way to ensure that Mr Perkins was not involved in commissioning Hat Trick programmes. Mr Woodward described the shareholding as "very unusual" - the BBC had been desperate to attract him, and Mr Perkins would not give up his shares.

Mr Perkins said that he could not sell the shares, because none of his fellow shareholders had wanted to buy them.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Geoffrey is a huge talent in the comedy field, and a huge asset to the BBC." The corporation, she said, had taken steps to ensure that he was not involved in commissioning Hat Trick programmes. She was unable to say when the inquiry into Hat Trick and Have I Got News For You would be completed.