Mercury Media founder Tim Sparke passes away

The founder of the international doc distributor had been battling brain cancer for several years.
August 26, 2016

Tim Sparke, founder of UK-based documentary distributor Mercury Media International, passed away earlier this week, after a long battle with cancer.

In late 2011, Sparke was told that he had thyroid cancer that had metastasized to his brain. Over the span of several years, Sparke underwent various surgeries and treatments to combat the disease.

In early 2013, Sparke put Mercury Media – which, besides its catalog of documentaries, also owned the doc VOD service Joining the Dots – up for sale. By the fall of that year, he had moved away from day-to-day management of the company due to the illness.

In mid-2014, Sparke closed Mercury Media, in order to spend more time with his family. The distributor had a slate of close to 125 titles, and had sold docs to various broadcasters as SVOD services such as Netflix.

Peter Hamilton, a close friend of Sparke’s, and consultant and founder of doc news site, told realscreen, “Tim has always been a fighter for the documentary genre: his Mercury Media distribution company worked tirelessly for individual docs and series, despite vanishing slots and rolling budget cutbacks.

“He had been a wonderful companion on my journeys in the field: fiercely analytical of trends in the market, encouraging, generous with his contacts, and always up for finding the humor in any situation.”

“Tim was an original,” said friend and former Mercury Media chairman Simon Shaps. “He created a small, independent distribution company which punched above its weight and delivered memorable factual series to broadcasters around the world.

“He had friends and admirers at most major broadcasters and will be much missed by colleagues and partners,” Shaps added.

Mark Kozaki of U.S.-based Arabic language channel Alhurra TV told realscreen: “Tim was a true gentleman: erudite, personable, witty, caring. Tim influenced so many of us in this industry who had the pleasure of conducting business with him. His genuine dedication and passion for upholding the quality standards of the documentary form inspired us to do the same.”

In a 2013 interview with the BBC World Service’s Business Daily, Sparke detailed how the illness had at that point impacted his life, his wife and two children, and his business.

“You don’t go into the documentary distribution business without some kind of passion for life,” he said, about running Mercury Media. “You have to be motivated to have some kind of higher purpose other than just paying the taxman.”

In a follow-up interview in 2014 for BBC Radio 4′s Today program, he told the network that while he knew what the eventual outcome of his illness would be, he had “every intention of being around for the World Cup in 2014.

“I’m in pain a lot of the time,” he added. “Probably the most pleasure I get on a daily basis is listening to the trains at the end of my street. Every 10 minutes I hear a train and that tells me, every 10 minutes, that I’m still alive.”

Funeral proceedings will take place on September 9 at the Holy Trinity Church in Dorchester, Dorset. Donations in his memory can be made to the Weldmar Hospicecare Trust.

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.