I may have mentioned that I am a non-executive director of a film company. I go into the office once a week or so. They like me to consider the pitches that they receive from prospective film-makers. It was through this company that I met The Jibjab Woman, who is now both a dear friend and a valuable franchise.

The other day I was at my desk there. Nothing was happening so I was sitting grading my collection of Mont Blanc pens in order of second-hand value. They (my people, not my pens) put their head round the door. Could I see someone who had come in? He had an appointment with the CEO, who had an unexpected lunch.

Twenty-five words or less, I told the young man, who was sweating in terror. Maybe I was his last hope.

I try to encourage them, or at least to be kind. The allusion to Robert Altman and The Player, which I always make, is intended to put them at their ease. Would they imagine to look at me that I would willingly use ‘less’ rather than ‘fewer’ in that sentence? But I am afraid that old Bob Altman, like so many of us, has slipped over into the category of heritage.

Anyway, he pitched.

Beethoven, said the sweating young man. Genius. His voice fell a major third to indicate reverence. Impossible man, passionate, a maverick.

Deaf, I interpolated helpfully. He ignored me.

Made enemies among The Establishment. They were jealous. Had him killed. Triumph of mediocrity over, um…


Yes, genius.


Who who?

Who was jealous and killed him?

Ah, said the sweating young man, gratefully back on track and consulting his notes. Joseph Haydn.

He sat back looking insufferably pleased with himself. For a moment the single word ‘Amadeus’ hung in the air between us. But never mind that, I thought to myself; we don’t even get to the point that plagiarism becomes an issue.

Do you have a title, I asked kindly.

Van, said the young man. With an exclamation mark. Van!

Good title, I said.

Thank you, he replied.

You could reuse it.

He jumped.

I sat there kindly for a moment. I put the tips of my fingers together, as thoughtful and avuncular men do in Hollywood films of the Golden Age.

I have two tiny problems, I said finally.

The first is that Haydn died in 1809 whereas Beethoven lingered on, an increasing embarrassment to his students and friends, more last quartets that Sinatra had farewell tours but nonetheless clinically alive, until 1827. How did you plan to deal with that? Time travel? Slow-acting drugs?

The sweating young man would not meet my eye but pretended to consult his notes.

The second is that Haydn was a musician of lucidity, humour and humanity – yes, genius. Beethoven by contrast was a bombastic self-satisfied old fraud whose idea of a tune was dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dee-dum. The idea that Haydn might have been jealous of him is laughable.

Your story is entirely misconceived, young man. I wish you luck with your approaches elsewhere.

You have to be cruel to be kind, I thought to myself as he left the room. Thank God.

Of course then the itch of speculation started in my mind. Any musician of any discernment would have wanted to put the old fool out of his misery. Not Haydn, of course. Far too decent a man. But Mozart? Died even earlier, 1791. Not a decent man – certainly if Amadeus is anything to go by. More importantly, a Mason. See Magic Flute. Could have hopped forward in time to do it. Must check on his level of adepthood to see if feasible. Ask Uncle Edgerton next time I see him: he’d know. Maybe helped.

I had covered my pad with scribbles before I knew where I was. I am creative, first and last.

There was a proposition here. I could see a movie. Not the ludicrous treatment I had just disposed of, with Beethoven murdered by Haydn. It was Mozart did it!

I wrote at the top of the pad: ‘An À la Blague Production’.

Van! Good title. I’d keep that.

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2 thoughts on “van!

  1. […] it all pays the rent and it’s wrong to be ungrateful. Nonetheless it is for The Jibjab Woman, and Van!, for which I have high hopes, rather than for A Couple in a Thousand that I hope to be […]

  2. […] made a mental note to discuss this with the producer of my film company’s masterwork Van!, which is now in preproduction. Should we include this touching story in our movie? Could we get […]

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