The National Theatre has announced that Tessa Ross, the controller of film and drama at Channel 4, will become its new chief executive in November.
Her appointment, which is regarded as a major coup for the public sector, solves a succession crisis at the London institution, whose long-term director Sir Nicholas Hytner is stepping down next year, soon after current executive director Nick Starr’s planned exit in August.
Ms Ross is a powerhouse of the British film industry, with producer credits on films including Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, Slumdog Millionaire and The Last King of Scotland. She will work alongside Sir Nicholas, sharing the leadership of the theatre with Rufus Norris when he becomes director in April of next year.
John Makinson, chairman of the National, said: “Tessa’s international experience and reputation as a producer and executive need no introduction, and her partnership with Rufus Norris will give us the strongest possible platform on which to extend the National Theatre’s creative and commercial leadership. We are both a national and an international organisation, with a global audience of four million.”
Ms Ross, who joined Channel 4 in 2000 and became head of Film4 in 2003, has built a reputation for developing and financing bold and distinctive films. Working with the biggest names in the British film industry, she is renowned as a developer of talent.
Her credits at Film4 include The Iron Lady, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and starring Meryl Streep, Mike Leigh’s Another Year, Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant, Steve McQueen’s Hunger and Shame, and Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights.
She came to Channel 4 from the BBC, where she commissioned Billy Elliot while head of drama, television and film.
She said she was “incredibly excited” to be transferring her talents from the silver screen to the National’s stage, “a place that I have loved since I was very young,” adding that she would build on her relationships in the film world in her new role.
“I am privileged that the public purpose that has been at the heart of our work – of discovering, nurturing and supporting great artists and great work – is something I shall be able to continue to champion and celebrate in this new role,” she said.
An external member of the National’s board since 2011, during her earlier stewardship of Channel 4 Drama, Ms Ross showed she was prepared to take commissioning risks with programmes including Shameless, Teachers, White Teeth, No Angels and Sex Traffic.
Lisa Burger, the National’s chief operating officer, will continue her role as the third member of the executive.