It could be James Bond’s toughest mission yet: convince a buyer to pay the asking price for his spiritual home, Pinewood Studios.
The Buckinghamshire film studio has been touting itself to potential bidders in recent weeks, but it is understood that its bullish price expectations have prompted some private equity firms to rule themselves out.
It makes it more likely that Pinewood will court foreign buyers willing to pay the premium required by its current largest shareholder, the property investor Peel Group, according to sources familiar with the sale process.
That could mean seeking investment from China, where Pinewood is already involved in a studio joint venture with Wanda, the world’s largest cinema owner.
Wanda also recently entered the realm of Hollywood film-making with the $3.5bn takeover of Legendary Entertainment, the producer of last year’s summer blockbuster Jurassic World.
The relationship has triggered speculation that Wanda could buy Pinewood, which has a stock market valuation of £318m. However, sources close to the situation said the Chinese giant was unlikely to bid.
Private equity firms based closer to home have balked at the premium being sought for Pinewood. According to industry sources, Peel Group wants more than some potential bidders would pay in order to match the value of the 39pc stake on its books, which is used as collateral for loans elsewhere in its empire.
Peel, founded by the billionaire John Whittaker, is a major developer of projects such as Media City, the BBC’s base in Salford, which went through a £277m refinancing last year. Pinewood shares are tightly held, with four-fifths of the equity controlled by only three investors and a small free float on the London Stock Exchange’s Aim market.
The company has been seeking a buyer as part of a strategic review begun in February, in the hope of increasing its access to capital for expansion.
The Aim-listed company is also exploring whether it could cash in on its brand by going into business with a high-end cinema chain. Pinewood’s studios are in high demand from international producers seeking technical expertise and tax breaks in the UK, such as Disney, which is making the new Star Wars films there.
Such major productions, when attracted to the UK, often rely on the scale of Pinewood and standard of its facilities. Pinewood has a colourful history as a listed company, with activist Crystal Amber building up to close to a 29pc stake in the company in an attempt to remove chairman Lord Grade in 2010.
However when it failed to do so, the activist sold its shares to Peel. Crystal Amber has since bought a fresh 5.65pc holding, and has said it wants to encourage the studio to focus on profit.
Pinewood began life as a country club, but in 1935 was turned into a film studio by flour millionaire J. Arthur Rank and the site’s owner, tycoon Charles Boot. Famous series filmed at the studios include the Carry On… films and a number of James Bond pictures.
Rank owned the site until 2001, when it was sold to a consortium led by Lord Grade. It floated on the LSE in May 2004, and moved down to Aim in July 2012.