Matthew Freud and Michael Foster take over Peters Fraser & Dunlop

Leading talent and literary agency that has struggled since takeover by Andrew Neil is to become The Rights House

The name of one of Britain's oldest talent and literary agencies, Peters Fraser & Dunlop, is to disappear following a takeover by Matthew Freud and agent Michael Foster.

Home to distinguished literary estates such as JB Priestley and historian Simon Schama, PFD will become The Rights House. It marks the end of an era for PFD, which was hit by a walkout two years ago by many of its leading stars and writers, including Ricky Gervais, Tom Stoppard and Kate Winslet.

Under the terms of the deal, Foster will merge his company MF Management with PFD and hold a controlling interest. Foster, who is agent to Chris Evans among others, will be the senior partner at the new company, along with the PFD chief executive, Caroline Michel.

Broadcaster and former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil, who headed the consortium that bought PFD for about £4m in 2008, will step down as chairman. Neil's consortium is expected to retain a stake in the company, and he may take a seat on the new holding company's board.

Freud, the founder investor in MF Management, will become the largest non-executive shareholder of The Rights House.

PFD has struggled to recover after key staff left in 2008 to form a rival, United Agents, after years of dispute with its former owners, US sports marketing giant CSS Stellar.

The arguments, partly over ownership, pre-dated Michel's arrival as chief executive in 2007, but the situation degenerated, with allegations of breach of contract, unfair dismissal and, most significantly, disputed ownership of back catalogues of books from some of literature's best- known names.

Since then PFD has tried to attract new star clients, particularly in television.

However, one industry insider said: "They've not been able to generate a lot of new big names."

Foster's client list includes some of television and film's biggest names, including Chris Evans, Billie Piper, Sam Neill, Julie Christie, Alan Davies, Laurence Fox and Bear Grylls.

Authors on PFD's books include new foreign secretary William Hague, Twiggy, historian Simon Schama, Independent editor Simon Kelner and Julie Burchill.

A chairman of The Rights House will be appointed in due course.

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Tara Conlan

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