Fred Atkins, co-founder of Feref Associates, which produces key art for major film campaigns in the U.K., died Oct. 28 in East Sussex, U.K., of kidney failure caused by cancer. He was 82.
Born Michael James Atkins, he acquired the nickname Fred from colleagues at his first job at FHK Henrion agency. Apparently, some of the older workers worried so much about the teen they called him “Fret,” which soon became Fred. By age 18 Atkins had joined General Film Distributors, Rank’s distrib arm, in a move that would effectively define the rest of his career.
In 1951, Atkins followed other promising film artists to Pulford Publicity, run by Eric Pulford, who was the go-to guy in British film publicity. Rank’s Downton Advertising was Pulford’s parent, and the agency handled all of the organization’s publicity, including for its huge Gaumont and Odeon chains.
“Downtons was a bit of a sausage factory really. You were just turning stuff out constantly,” Atkins once said. “I can’t remember half the posters I worked on — it was never ending.”
As a poster designer for films in Blighty, including at the Rank Organization, Atkins created art for 1954’s “Magnificent Obsession,” 1956’s “Away All Boats” and several Doris Day musicals.
But after 17 years and several management changes, Atkins and five Downton creatives quit to form their own shingle in 1968 called Feref Associates, culled from their first names. Thanks to John Harvey of U.K. Advertising, Feref initially worked on U.K.’s traditional film accounts as well as some other commercials. Feref later acquired virtually every significant film distributor account in the country and produced a string of classic posters, many as well remembered today as the films themselves, including the art for “The Railway Children” and “Get Carter.”
Atkins also worked on posters for Cinecenta (now Odeon) on Panton Street, off Leicester Square, which opened in January 1969 with a blaze of Feref-produced publicity as Britain’s first four-screen complex.
The arrival of computer-based graphic-design packages in the 1980s hastened the end of hand-painted film posters and by the time Atkins retired in 1993, the era of the artist-led approach was done.
Survivors include his wife, Merle, one of the original secretaries of Feref.