Mohammed Fayed, the controversial ex-owner of Harrods department store in London, has emerged as a surprise contender to buy Britain’s premier movie studio Pinewood Shepperton, best known as the production base for the James Bond franchise. Fayed says that he is considering making an all-cash offer for the studio group. He sold Harrods last year for £1.5 billion ($2.5 billion). “It’s very early stages,” Fayed’s spokesman tells me. According to reports, Fayed thinks the James Bond studio needs investment to return it to its glory days. Ridley Scott is currently shooting Prometheus there until mid-July, and sets are being built for Dark Shadows starting May. Fayed’s bid would throw a spanner in the works for lead Pinewood shareholder Peel Holdings, which has just made a bid worth £88 million for the studio. Peel would have to increase its offer if it is to prevail over Fayed, say analysts. The market certainly likes what it’s hearing: Pinewood Shepperton’s shares were up 11% this morning to 224p per share. This is not the first time Fayed has gotten involved in the movie business. Back in the early 80s, he was an early investor in Chariots of Fire. His son, Dodi, also spent time in Los Angeles as a producer.
Peel Holdings is a property investor, and it wants to get Pinewood Shepperton’s sprawling 150-acre grounds and backlot working harder. Around 300 indie film companies are currently based at the 3 sites of Pinewood, Shepperton and Teddington. Peel also owns the BBC’s new flagship studio in Salford, Manchester. Peel stands behind current Pinewood management, led by ex-ITV chairman Michael Grade. Fayed’s rep wouldn’t say whether the ex-Harrods boss would also want to keep Grade and his team. Pinewood increased revenue 8% to £42.4 million in its year-end profits for 2010, while pre-tax profit jumped by 31% to £5.8 million. Operating profit increased by 20% to £9.1 million – but that’s still one-quarter below the level in 2004, when Pinewood floated on the London Stock Exchange. Dissident shareholder Crystal Amber, which last year called for Grade’s resignation, believes that Pinewood is under-performing and that its property portfolio is not being exploited properly. Local officials recently turned down Pinewood’s application to build up to 1,400 new homes beside the studio. The idea was to build new homes on movie back-lots mimicking the streets of Paris or Venetian canals. Pinewood is fighting the decision.