Tales of a porn star

Put off studying law in his youth, Andrew Wren got into porn by accident. He has a starring role too – as company secretary. Emma Vere-Jones reports

“I’m a frustrated lawyer,” says Andrew Wren. Given that he’s the company secretary and finance director at Playboy TV UK, it would be too easy to snigger at Wren’s turn of phrase. But it’s true. Wren always wanted to be a lawyer. Maybe that sounds odd. Most lawyers I know are secretly frustrated rock stars or thespians.

But this Playboy TV employee – who was in fact once a drummer in a rock band – is adamant that law would have been his first choice to study at university.

Despite Wren’s music history and the image of the company for which he works, there’s nothing particularly glamorous about his small office in Hayes. Somehow I’d expected a swanky office in Soho; not something tucked away in a small Middlesex town on the outskirts of London.

And rather than a swathe of women in full glamour model mode, the staff look pretty normal. Wren himself is a blue-shirted, bespectacled chap seated behind a rather tidy desk. The Stringfellow-style mullet, though, harks back to his days as a wannabe rock god.

The office, too, is like that of many other lawyers with whom I have visited: files all over the room, a copy of the latest Chambers directory and some photos of his kids.

Obviously I, like many others, have wrongly assumed what his job entails. The only giveaway is what looks like a stack of Playboy magazines sitting on top of a cupboard.

“A lot of people feign envy [when they hear what I do],” Wren says. “What they don’t realise is that very little of it involves getting close to the action. I don’t spend much time on a boat with girls in bikinis. People do think that you must have gone to the Playboy Mansion – but I haven’t.” Sadly, no tales of Hugh Hefner today then, though that “much” is a hint that Wren’s life isn’t all desk-bound.

So how did this ‘frustrated’ lawyer end up as company secretary for a porn channel? For the answer you have to go back to his original schooling.

Wren grew up in the East End of London, and attended Stratford Grammar school. But he admits that he was a less-than-dedicated student – probably a result of too many nights spent playing the drums in his band, which was rather aptly named Distraction.

“BT came to the rescue,” Wren says. “I got my tertiary education courtesy of them.” The company sponsored him to go to university but vetoed his first and second choices, law and business studies (the latter because it was then still only offered at polytechnics). Third choice was economics, which he took and later qualified as an accountant.

While at BT, Wren took on the role of finance director for Premiere – a cable TV channel that BT funded and which was part-owned by Robert Maxwell. Premiere, at the time, also owned HVC (the Home Video Channel), which showed action-adventure and horror movies.

At that time – the mid-1980s – there was very little competition in the world of cable and satellite television. Technology and several major players, however, were about to change all that.

“Murdoch and BSkyB came marching over the horizon like John Wayne and the cavalry,” Wren says. “The cost of competing against the likes of them was much more than BT thought.” As a result the telecoms company decided it wasn’t going to stay in TV content. Wren, however, had other ideas.

“I and two other partners decided we would buy the HVC part of the business.” This done, Wren and co continued to show the action and adventure movies on the channel. However, much to the outrage of some members of the British public, they also took the critical decision to show some adult entertainment at the end of the evening. Ultimately, the only slots on the satellite channel the new team could get were between 12pm and 4am in the morning – and so the partners determined to ditch action and adventure and instead just focus on porn.

A few years later, in 1992, HVC was bought out by Playboy TV – but the UK arm remains considerably smaller than its American counterpart, with just 41 employees and a turnover of about £12m.

Despite its small size, however, there has still been sufficient legal challenges to keep Wren busy. He reckons 75 per cent of his time is now dedicated to legal matters, with the other 25 per cent spent on finance. And while he continues to do more of the licensing and contract work himself in-house, he still recognises the importance of when to turn to external counsel.

The two firms he currently uses are Watford-based Mathew Arnold & Baldwin (MAB) and niche television and entertainment practice Wiggin & Co.

Wren says he had originally used the now-defunct Frere Cholmeley Bischoff for most of the necessary work, but after the disintegration of the firm, new advisers were sought.

He was introduced to Wiggin by competitors. “We were invited to consult them by a group of broadcasters who all suffered misfortune at the hands of Nethold [a European satellite platform operator],” he says. After being impressed by the work of partner Sean James, he now instructs the niche firm on specialist broadcasting matters.

More general instructions go to MAB, which he originally selected more than 10 years ago in relation to some upcoming litigation. “In 14 years we’ve only had three or four pieces of litigation that have gone the whole way,” he says. “But when the first one looked like it was going to go somewhere, I held a beauty parade for a number of others, and I included MAB just for fun.”

But, he says, in its pitch, MAB raised a couple of points in relation to the litigation that had been missed by the bigger firms – and Wren had his answer. A provincial firm, on a more acceptable rate, that was picking up points that bigger firms had missed.

Certainly, over the years, Wren has had some interesting cases to deal with. One was an action-related movie Playboy TV was promoting called Babewatch. David Hasselhoff and his team from hit show Baywatch took offence to Playboy’s spoof and started legal proceedings.

“They took action against us saying we were demeaning their reputation,” Wren says with a laugh – noting the irony of the situation considering the nature of Baywatch. And ultimately it was Wren who had the last laugh, as he won the case.

That said, Wren is well aware that not everyone thinks his industry is a laughing matter. “We’re aware of other people’s sensitivities. We’re aware when we’re handling litigation of the possibility of judicial prejudice,” he says. There isn’t much that can be done about it though, he admits. He’s used to people’s prejudices and the problems associated with his industry. “I’ve still never met anyone who says they’ve seen our shows,” he laughs.

Andrew Wren
Playboy TV UK