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BBC to Auction Famed Picture Library

February 02, 1988|TYLER MARSHALL | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — One of the world's premier photo libraries is for sale.

The financially pressed British Broadcasting Corp. has put its Hulton Picture Library, with more than 10 million photos, engravings and other images, on the auction block.

"It doesn't fit into the trading structure of BBC Enterprises," said BBC spokesman Brian Clifford. "We don't have the resources to put into its future development."

BBC Enterprises Ltd. is the corporation's subsidiary that sells the rights to BBC productions and other material.

The core of the library was bought by the BBC in 1958 from the Hulton Press, publishers of Picture Post, one of Europe's leading illustrated weeklies in the golden era of photojournalism between the mid-1930s and late '50s. The library was named for the magazine's founder and publisher, Edward Hulton.

Among the magazine's staff photographers were Bert Hardy, Thurston Hopkins and Kurt Hutton.

In the 30 years since the purchase, the library has been enlarged to include more than 40 other collections, including those of the photographer Serge Lemoine, who took many pictures of Britain's royalty; 19th-Century photographer William England, who concentrated on North American and Irish subjects, and the London Evening Standard's 2 million news photographs.

The Hulton collection is considered especially strong on material about the Industrial Revolution, 19th- and 20th-Century social history and both world wars, plus the wars in Korea and Vietnam. In addition, the work of portrait photographers Baron, Sasha and Gordon Anthony give it strength in the field of theater and other performing arts. It also contains engravings, lithographs and maps dating back to the 16th Century.

In recent years the library has drawn on its collection to produce very popular calendars, post cards and Christmas cards.

"It is one of the great historic picture libraries in Europe," said Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Horst Faas, who administers the international news agency's photo library in London. "It's an important part of the history of photojournalism."

Added Michael Kremner, photo editor of London's Sunday Times: "It is in the same league as Time-Life and the Bettmann (Archive)."

In recent years, Hulton has served as sole British agent for the Bettmann Archive in New York.

Because of the library's size and richness of material, BBC Director-General Michael Checkland has placed strict conditions on the Hulton sale, stipulating that it must go to a reputable buyer, remain intact and be kept open for public use. He has also specified that the library must not leave Britain and must retain Hulton in its name.

"We believe the collection to be a national asset and we hope the new owner will cherish it," he said.

BBC spokesman Clifford said, "We're looking for bids in excess of 2 million pounds ($3.6 million), but this isn't totally about money. It's about seeking a home for something very valuable. We must be convinced that it's going to the right place."

The Hulton is housed in central London and has an annual turnover "in excess of half a million pounds ($900,000)," according to Clifford. While the library's accounting system is computerized, the search system is manual, relying on a specially designed classification system and a staff of about 20 trained research specialists.

Clifford said that since the decision to sell the library first became public knowledge last month, the corporation has received several inquiries. A prospectus will be mailed to potential bidders next week and BBC officials hope to have a buyer by the end of February.

Among those known to be in the bidding is a group of the library's five senior staff members who are putting together a proposed management buyout.

"We've been told our offer will be placed on the table and judged on its merits along with all the others," said the library's deputy manager, Roger Wemyss-Brooks.

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