< News: Britt Joins HiT

The Guardian
Copyright © The Guardian
Friday January 24, 2003

Thomas the Tank Engine owner welcomes Allcroft on board
Owen Gibson

The woman who transformed Thomas the Tank Engine from a revered series of children's books into a worldwide TV hit has joined the board of the company that bought the rights to the character last year.

Britt Allcroft, who originally acquired film rights to the characters in the early 1980s with her former husband Angus Wright and produced hundreds of TV shows narrated by former Beatle Ringo Starr, will join the board of new owner HIT Entertainment as a non-executive director.

HIT, which owns the rights to Bob the Builder, bought Gullane, Ms Allcroft's former company, last year after a protracted takeover struggle that began in 2000 when she was ousted from day to day running of the company.

She was forced out in May 2000 after a big budget film version, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, which she wrote, produced and directed, flopped.

The company was renamed Gullane Entertainment and, while Ms Allcroft remained a major shareholder, she de-camped to the west coast of America where she formed a new company, Britt Allcroft Productions, to work on a number of television, film and theatre projects.

Having originally rejected a takeover approach from HIT in early 2000, she re-entered negotiations with the company last year and the deal finally went through in July after the other shareholders reluctantly accepted the deal.

The chief executive of HIT, Rob Lawes, said he welcomed Ms Allcroft to the board of the company, which also owns the rights to Barney the Dinosaur, Sooty and Fireman Sam.

"As the key creative force behind Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, one of the most enduring of children's characters, her knowledge of the Thomas and children's markets will be a valuable addition to the board," he added.

At the same time, former chairman Bob Nellist, who stepped down to become non-executive deputy chairman in 2001, will retire from the board.

"Bob has played a key role in the success of HIT. As chairman he provided wise counsel and encouragement during a period of rapid growth. We all wish him well in his retirement," said the company's current chairman, Peter Orton


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