U.K. group Chorion buys bulk of Christie

$16 mil changes hands in deal

LONDON — Super-sleuth author Agatha Christie, whose creations include the egg-headed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, will get a facelift from U.K. leisure and intellectual property group Chorion.

Chorion has paid trading company Booker $16 million for 64% of Agatha Christie Ltd., the company that owns the copyrights to virtually all of Christie’s 300 books. The remaining 36% remains with the Christie family.

Chorion is planning a worldwide revitalization of the Christie brand, encompassing renewed efforts in film, television and merchandising. But company execs declined to discuss details of any specific projects.

“We’re spending our time going over the property and the works with a fine toothcomb,” said Chorion’s David Lane. “That process takes a month or two.”

Lane, who is managing director of Chorion’s Enid Blyton Co. subsidiary, will assume day-to-day responsibility for Agatha Christie Ltd. on behalf of the parent company. Christie chairman Mathew Prichard, grandson of the writer, will remain in his post.

Chorion believes that an increasing proportion of its Christie and Blyton revenues should stem from the U.S. The company will open a New York office in October.

Hollywood’s last Hercule Poirot pic was the Peter Ustinov starrer “Death on the Nile,” released in 1978. In 1974, Sidney Lumet directed a version of “Murder on the Orient Express,” starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall and Sean Connery, among others.

Given the huge potential of the franchise, many observers were surprised at the relatively low price of $16 million. Lane would not comment.

As part of the deal, Chorion also has acquired Booker’s other entertainment assets, including a 51% stake in the works of playwright Robert Bolt (“A Man for all Seasons”).

For the year ending Dec. 27, 1997, Agatha Christie Ltd. made pre-tax profits of $2.4 million on revenues of $3.3 million.