'The House', by the House

If Keith Cooper, director of corporate affairs at the Royal Opera, had had his way, the hit BBC2 series would have looked very different
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The Independent Online
Last night 3 million people settled down to their last tantalising TV glimpse of life in front of and behind the red velvet curtains of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The House on BBC2 was a revealing series, but it did not necessarily reveal the whole truth.

If I, the House's director of corporate affairs, were able to do some judicious editing, pick over the cutting-room floor and invite the series director Michael Waldman back to do a little more filming, it would be easy to construct a rather different series.

Episode one

Retain the agony as Carmen loses her voice, and - I suppose - my own role as Jeremy Isaacs's hatchet man. Add a schools' matinee: just one of hundreds of projects run by the Royal Opera House's 20-year-old education department, which brings thousands of young people in to see opera and ballet every season at pounds 5 a head.

Highlight the especially moving experiences of a group of visually impaired children who have never been to an opera before; they find their front row experience at Le Nozze di Figaro overwhelming. Having cheered the Countess to the rafters and with all the right instincts booed the Count, they are taken on a special visit to the wardrobe department.

Aurora's spangled tutu leaves them speechless. Hands reach out, fabrics are gently stroked, sequinned butterflies minutely inspected. Such is the magic of Maria Bjornson's dazzling costumes for The Sleeping Beauty, they are nearly in tears. So are we.

Episode two

Retain the healthy boardroom infighting over production budgets. Contrast with a meeting in the same boardroom between the Opera House and the local community, featuring our dedicated new community relations manager, Hywel David, who is slowly turning round decades of wrangling.

New faces from both sides, keen to get involved and find solutions to the problems, join with local councillors to deal with the impact of our development, a huge community project scheduled for 1997 and local use of our second auditorium in the redeveloped House. Heated, but positive debate.

Episode three

Juxtapose the glamorous Washington premiere of The Sleeping Beauty in front of Princess Margaret and President Clinton with Royal Ballet dancer Matthew Hart, 23, choreographing a new ballet to Britten's Violin Concerto. His theme is Aids: a tragic subject seen through a young person's eyes. His cast are in their twenties, as are the designers, and our orchestra leader, playing the violin solo, is just 25.

Nail-biting wait for critical comment, which is mostly favourable, but highlight the indelible impression made on the first-night audience by the company's commitment and the challenge of tackling such an issue at this stage in Hart's career.

Point up sponsorship by Friends of Covent Garden, 20,000-strong supporters' club with wide range of age and background, and stress their great commitment to financing unfamiliar and new work. Can we show Raymond Gubbay, promoting his La Boheme at the Royal Albert Hall, suggesting he can do anything we can, better and more cheaply? Would he have staged the world premiere of a new ballet about Aids, given the British stage premiere of Hindemith's Mathis der Maler conducted by Esa Pekka Salonen or a new production of Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage conducted by Bernard Haitink? I think not.

Episode four

Cut tedious union negotiations. Instead, feature one of our regular "extra access" nights. Show seats being removed to accommodate up to 20 disabled patrons and their companions - stress the efforts we make to provide wheelchair access in a listed Victorian building.

Use quote from one of the group, after watching dazzling Sylvie Guillem in Swan Lake:"For those few hours I forgot about being disabled." The efforts of ushers and volunteers are truly rewarded.

Episode five

Opera performances. Retain the rubber-gloved and somewhat cynical chorus from Cherubini, but set against their stupendous singing in Samson et Dalila. Show packed, enthusiastic audiences, rave reviews and emphasise no last-minute cast changes. Show flowers raining down on the sensational two young leads, the audience stamping their feet in ecstasy.

End with two students on way home to Acton. They've been to their first opera, talk of nothing else. Show their concessionary tickets - pounds 7.50 each.

Episode six

Retain Jeremy Isaacs forcibly telling the Arts Council that the lowest- cost option is no art. Add the principal dancer Deborah Bull debating at Oxford Union onwhether the lottery gives too much to the elitist arts. Jeremy and Lord Gowrie merely the supporting act: Deborah stirs undergraduates to a rousing standing ovation. She asks: "Where does this perceived elitism come from, this idea that art is not for everyone? We are demeaning people by telling them that they cannot be touched by great art and the tabloids which do so insult their readers."

She argues that art can touch people on different levels, as entertainment, escapism or something on which we can reflect and find solace during times of trouble. Her conclusion wins the day: "Human beings have spiritual as well as physical needs and while medication can attend to the latter, it falls to art to uplift the former. We need leaders in society with the vision to see and portray art as spiritual food - a national figure who can speak with the passion that we feel, and carry the day."

She sums up what the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera strive to provide, against the odds, in spite of our critics.

This is the series we would like to have seen. I suspect as many people would have found it compulsive viewing as watched The House. Regrets? Emphatically not. But there is another story there, begging to be told. So where am I in this, the Royal Opera House's own cut? Briefly seen in episode one in lively conversation with the box office manager, I can be glimpsed behind the closing titles helping an old lady across the road and kissing a baby's head.