Mozart: the sex, the house party

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The Independent Online
"All that is needed to save the BBC is one good idea. It might be Around the World In Eighty Days. It might be Great Railway Journeys. It might be Pride and Prejudice. But that is all it takes. One great idea. At the moment we think that idea might be Mozart's Pupils."

The speaker is Eric Bosforth, Commissioner-General of the BBC. But what does a Commissioner-General do? And what is Mozart's Pupils all about?

"First things first," says Eric, with the smile of a man who has just seen a harmless long hop coming down the pitch towards him. "Yes, I am the Commissioner-General. But you're right, you can't tell from my title what exactly I do. You never can in the BBC. I have known people spend a lifetime in the BBC with their colleagues having no idea what their job was. Sometimes they had no idea themselves. Well, I am in charge of vetting all incoming proposals and suggestions from independents and outsiders, with a view to weeding out the good ones."

And commissioning them?

"Oh no," smiles Eric. "It would be terribly expensive to do that. When we find a good idea for a programme sent in from outside, we reject it. Then we make the programme."

I'm sorry, I don't quite understand.

"What happens is that if we get a cracking good idea, like, say, a series on Mozart's pupils, we write back to the person and say that we are terribly sorry but we are already working on a series along very similar lines."

And are you ?

"Oh, no. But we don't tell them that. It would be terribly expensive to tell them that. However, we do have a list of titles of almost every conceivable unmade programme in the world, so if pushed to it, we could probably point to an idea on the list not unlike the one proposed to us, the one which we reject and then use."

Hmm. Well, how did the idea for Mozart's Pupils arrive? What is the idea, come to that?

"Well, " smiles Eric Bosforth, "I got this idea myself, actually. In fact, I got it from a letter sent to us by an independent company somewhere down West."

Bath, Bristol, Exeter, somewhere like that?

"No, I think it was down Ealing way," says Eric, with the air of a man for whom London is the whole country. "The letter said that the last remaining undiscovered area in the field of the great composers was their pupils. Chopin was always falling in love with his. Mendelssohn had some tender friendships. Beethoven had some very serious young men. But Mozart was the one whose pupils were worth examining, if only because he was young and attractive and mischievous, and his pupils were female and pretty and..."

He trails off into silence, smiling to himself. Then he seems to come out of a dream.

"Anyway, I wrote back saying that sadly we were already working on the idea, and thought no more about it. Then one day I was playing through some Mozart piano sonatas, and noticed a dedication to a Fraulein Sophie somebody, and I thought: Who was this girl? Why do we know nothing about her?This was a girl whose fingers Mozart had touched, whose very body posture he had rearranged, yet we knew nothing about her!"

Hold on a moment. Wasn't this exactly the same idea as the one the man from Ealing had suggested?

"So gradually the idea of a great epic began to emerge," says Eric Bosforth, ignoring me. "Big country house in the landscape. Great reunion of Mozart's pupils for a weekend. Dedicated to the memory of the great man. Costume drama. BBC at its finest. Production values universally praised, even by Victor Lewis-Smith. But when you get a dozen or more beautiful young women for the weekend in a country house, with smouldering male Mozart pupils, there are bound to be fireworks. Passionate fireworks. There we have it. Wonderful music. Sex. Costumes. Intrigue."

Hold on a moment. Is this a drama or a documentary?

"There's humour, too, " goes on Eric, waving his hands expansively. "The pupils of Beethoven are holding a reunion nearby and they all get together to throw a party which gets a bit out of hand - great scene that!"

But surely Beethoven was too young to... ?

"It's incredibly topical!" cried Eric. "Mozart died in 1791, so his pupils would all have gone through the 1800 celebrations! We follow them all as the turn of the century gets nearer and nearer. In the film we see one of them win a fortune on the Viennese lottery, we see another bringing up Mozart's child which she has had by him, we cry and laugh..."

At this point two men in white coats burst in and take Eric away, then ask me to leave, as the interview is now over. But I think I have heard enough to make us all very thoughtful.