Boyd Tonkin: Mixing stardust and printer's ink

The week in books

You may know the old joke about the guy who cleans up after the elephants in the circus. Armed with bucket and shovel, he patiently scoops up the copious outcome of their presence week after week, year after year, without a hint of a grumble. How come you never complain? asks the clown one day. There's a downside to every job, answers the grizzled sweeper. But hey, after all - I'm in show business!

And so, it seems, are Britain's long-suffering authors. Many of them follow their own personal elephant with career-long devotion, seeking and receiving very little apart from modest advances (and the odd vat of elephant ordure distributed by disgruntled critics). Now, however, they often find that the agents who represent them belong in the big tent of "talent management" groups. Under these multi-media showbiz marquees, winsome boy-bands, motor-mouthed DJs, sullen tennis aces and simpering starlets don't merely count for more cash and kudos than the mere writers. They will in due course become the writers, their ghosted tomes adding fresh outposts to the empire of celebrity.

This week, Michael Foster – the big-cheese agent who represents Chris Evans and a mini-galaxy of familiar screen names from Davina McCall to Bear Grylls – took control of Peters Fraser & Dunlop when he merged his MF Management company with the literary agency. PFD, a divided house during the years of ownership by US sports-management group CSS Stellar, lost its pride of lions when the late Pat Kavanagh left in 2007 to found the rival United Agents. She took the bulk of her clients (from Robert Harris to Ruth Rendell and William Trevor) along with her. Incoming PFD chief Caroline Michel, with Andrew Neil (who has now left) as her business partner, found the cupboard almost bare. She has struggled to attract high-profile novelists, although the eclectic PFD non-fiction list surreally spans the chasm between Paddy Ashdown and Julie Burchill. Michel will stay, with the PR entrepreneur Matthew Freud as main outside investor.

Foster will not much like becoming the story; agents (with a very few large-looming exceptions) seldom do. However, his best-known client has already sketched him in bold colours. Chris Evans's enjoyably frank memoir It's Not What You Think has a riveting pair of chapters on the deal that the DJ and his agent struck with Richard Branson after Evans's BBC career imploded in 1997. Foster appears as "a very small Jewish man, as equally proud of his heritage as he is unphased by his lack of height". ("As equally"? "Unphased"? Clearly, Evans didn't hire a ghost.) He plays a hands-on part in near-farcical negotiations that involve a Concorde flight, lashings of Krug and even a walk-on role for the coalition's new propaganda tsar, Andy Coulson. Over the Atlantic, Foster prevents his "bleary-eyed" charge from signing who knows what (his soul?) away to the bearded mogul on a menu card. Will the PFD signature mean Champagne or Coke for its authors? This plot can only thicken.

Any barbarians-at-the-gate doomsayers should remember that PFD itself pioneered the integration of authors' agencies with mass-media representation. It was born when the venerable firm of AD Peters joined showbiz managers Fraser & Dunlop in 1989. This big-top approach to "talent" has been developing for decades, with mixed results. The name of the firm that Foster – formerly with management giant ICM and his own AR Group – will head tells its own tale about the reign of this cross-media model: The Rights House.

Does this sort of convergence achieve that much-hyped "synergy" between platforms? Or do the greedy celebs hog the trough, leaving starveling literati with the scraps? A multi-media strategy pays richer dividends to busy, versatile authors for whom film adaptations, TV slots, press columns and the like come easily. For focused literary types who simply want the best deal for their words, other agents still keep faith with books alone. Besides, in a digital domain of self-managed online careers, growing numbers of writers could do without agents – and even publishers – at all. Save for superstars, e-books will mean that 10 (or 15) per cent of not very much – the usual agent's bargain – becomes a fraction of next-to-nothing. But don't blame glitzy talent-managers for our reluctance to pay properly for culture in the age of "free".

Money talks, but history decides

When the BBC2 top brass commissioned a two-part adaptation of Martin Amis's Money as part of an "Eighties season" this spring, what did they expect would be happening just now? It could be that they – with many others – strongly suspected that the drama (which airs on Sunday with Nick Frost, right) would coincide with the brash first days of a triumphalist Tory regime, avid to get a Thatcher revival show on the road. Instead, a coalition Chancellor has just meekly signed up to hedge-fund controls in Brussels, while that not-quite-reconstructed banker-basher Vince Cable presides over the business world. History always writes the smartest plots.

Hail the spring awakening

Any bookseller who might be considering whether to order more copies of Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel, which last week took the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, should look at this week's charts. Astonishingly, translations currently account for 40 per cent of Britain's top-ten bestsellers. OK: Stieg Larsson's 'Millennium' trilogy occupies three slots, with the fourth taken by Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Angel's Game. Mass-audience crowd-pleasers all - yet, not so long ago, conventional wisdom held that foreign authors stood an even slimmer chance of cracking the popular-fiction market here than they did with the literary niches. Whatever the books involved, this tally represents a singular event - and, who knows, even a precedent for a country with a half-Dutch, quarter-Russian, quarter-English Deputy PM? Against gloom-mongers at home and abroad who always cite the "3 per cent" figure for translations in the UK, we can now claim "40 per cent of the Top Ten" - even if it's only for one freak week in May.

b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain