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Representing authors and writers in print, film and broadcast media
After reading English at Sussex University, one of the very few secondary modern schoolboys to earn a place on a university course at that time, John French’s first job was as the house manager at the Royal Court Theatre in London. He worked with Lindsay Anderson, Anthony Page and Bill Gaskill and actors like Paul Scofield, Rachel Roberts, Alan Bates, Diana Dors and Paul Eddington. Part of his job was to entertain visiting celebrities in a tiny office in the dress circle and as a result of this he met Laurence Olivier (who had just finished playing Sir John French in Oh What A Lovely War), John Gielgud, Kirk Douglas, Richard Crossman, Nureyev, John Osborne, Rex Harrison, Roger Moore and many others. Princess Margaret also visited the theatre at this time and gave him the idea for his first thriller, A Kings’s Ransom.
His next job was at a theatrical agency that looked after, among others, Sean Connery, Alan Bates, Sheila Hancock, John Hurt, Len Rossiter, Malcolm McDowell, Robert Shaw and Michael Crawford as well as screenwriters and directors. During this time he was involved in the deal which took Sean back to the Bond franchise in Diamonds Are Forever – after the disastrous casting of George Lazenby – in what was then the biggest financial pay-out to an actor in the history of the industry. Other projects he was involved in included Carl Foreman’s production of Young Winston, George Roy Hill’s The Sting and, perhaps most notably, Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The star of the film, Malcolm McDowell, was nearly blinded by Kubrick’s insistence on using real clamps to hold his eyes open during one of the indoctrination scenes.
After three years John French founded his own agency and went on to represent Robert Shaw, Julie Walters and Pete Postlewaite (at that time an ‘item’), Zena Walker, Stephanie Beacham, Academy Award nominated Mary Ure, television and film directors Bill Hays, Mike Newell and David Leland and the Palm D’Or winning film producer Ben Arbeid. He negotiated the contract for Robert Shaw to appear in Jaws which became the first film to out-gross Gone With The Wind at the box office.
John French co-produced The Eagle’s Wing with Ben Arbeid in Mexico with a cast that included Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson. He also co-produced Liza of Lambeth at the Shaftesbury Theatre, an adaptation of the Somerset Maugham book which was probably one of the worst musicals ever to grace the West End stage.
He started writing when he was still working as an agent. His first play Rape was performed at the Soho Theatre and at the King’s Head and subsequently at many ‘fringe’ venues. His second BREASTS won the London Literary Award for the best short play and his third Men, has also been seen in many small venues. His first full-length play, Midnight in Moscow, was put on at the Battersea Arts Theatre.
He was offered a commission for his biography of Robert Shaw (Robert Shaw – The Price of Success published by Nick Hern Books) and his first novel (A King’s Ransom published by Robert Hale) in virtually the same week at which point he gave up the day job. Robert Hale also published his second thriller The Killer Within which was optioned by Warner Brothers. He has subsequently written over thirty novels (for Little Brown, Headline and Virgin) under various pseudonyms and have sold well over a million copies. He also wrote How to be a Working Actor (published by Virgin Books) which was a good way to document his experience as an actor’s agent. His first screenplay was bought by producer Carol Robertson for the BBC and his second Venice by Bernard Krichefski for Silvio Narizzano to direct (neither in the end were made) which later went on to get a nomination at the London Independent Film Awards.
Though he had formally given up his agency he was asked to continue to work with the British Film Designers Guild, the Guild of British Film Editors and the British Society of Cinematographers on the issue of author’s rights, attending many conferences all over Europe on the subject. This work culminated, in 1999, in British film technicians receiving royalties from all non-American productions they had worked on. Nearly three million euros have been paid out since then.
Most recently he has been involved in developing screenplays. The award-winning Italian cinematographer Luciano Tovoli has been working on an Anglo-Italian production of the Venice script, and he has also written two other screenplay projects, both comedy-thrillers.