Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The New York Times

September 25, 2007

Agents' Revolt Shakes Talent Agency

Filed at 4:23 p.m. ET

LONDON (AP) -- Theatrical and literary agents are taking leading roles in a corporate drama in London, resigning one after another from a major agency and threatening to take their clients with them.

The exodus from PFD Group Ltd., a leading international literary and talent agency, could be a star-studded parade, potentially including actors Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley and Ewan McGregor, playwrights Tom Stoppard and Alan Bennett, novelist Julian Barnes, mystery writer Ruth Rendell and Poet Laureate Andrew Motion.

PFD, successor to the venerable Peters Fraser & Dunlop, is one of the biggest talent agencies in Britain with 500 writers and more than 450 actors on its books. Since 2001, it has been owned by CSS Stellar PLC, whose background is in sports.

At least half a dozen of the 40 agents at PFD reportedly have resigned after being repeatedly rebuffed in their bid for a management buyout. CSS Stellar's new executive team, installed in the past two months, hasn't budged in its opposition to a buyout.

The threat to CSS Stellar is that its clients will follow the agents out of the door. The company's CSS Stellar Management unit advises sports clients, including race driver Dario Franchitti, golfer Sandy Lyle and Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.

''It's never been a happy marriage. They (literary and theatrical agents) feel that a lot of money they made in recent years has leaked elsewhere in the company,'' said Joel Rickett, news editor of The Bookseller, a trade journal.

The first agent to resign was Pat Kavanagh, whose clients include her husband, highly regarded novelist Barnes. Her stable also includes Rendell, Motion, P.J. Kavanagh, Joanna Trollope and the estates of Dirk Bogarde and writer Michael Dibdin.

Others who reportedly have resigned include Lindy King, agent for Knightley, McGregor and Susannah York; Winslet's agent, Dallas Smith; and Anthony Jones, who represents playwrights Stoppard and Bennett, and screenwriters Richard Curtis, Mike Leigh and Sir John Mortimer.

CSS Stellar reported a net loss of $998,000 in 2006, after losing $35 million in 2005.

The boardroom has been in turmoil this year. In May, activist shareholder Duncan Soukup forced an extraordinary general meeting with the aim of firing chief executive Sean Kelly and most of the board. At that time, CSS' management said it was focused on developing its core business in sports and event management. It said nothing about PFD, but said it was committed to disposing of noncore assets.

Though Soukup's motion was defeated, and he then disposed of nearly all of his 10 percent stake in CSS, Kelly stepped down and was replaced by corporate restructuring specialist David Buchler.

On Sept. 12, Buchler lured Caroline Michel, a publishing heavyweight who jumped from the rival William Morris Agency, to come aboard as PFD's chief executive.

Michel, who has a reputation as a persuasive charmer, has said she hopes to keep the agents on board. The notice period for clients to leave the agency are subject to contract, and reportedly range from 28 days to a year.

PFD traces its history to a more genteel age. A.D. Peters founded the agency in 1924, representing such authors as Hilaire Belloc, C.S. Forester, Arthur Koestler, Nancy Mitford, J.B. Priestley, Evelyn Waugh and Rebecca West.


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