Just in: Fake pianist has her life story filmed for the BBC

Just in: Fake pianist has her life story filmed for the BBC


norman lebrecht

February 17, 2012

Ireland is abuzz with the latest BBC drama, filmed there on the cheap and with funding from the Irish Film Board (for anomalies, see below).

It’s the story of the pianist Joyce Hatto whose husband issued a slew of recordings in her name. Joyce, who enjoyed a  modest career, was suddenly extolled by critics as one of the greatest. These were remarkable performances – but they were not by her. They had been stolen by her husband from extant recordings by various fine pianists and passed off as hers. Wikipedia has a full list of the thefts.

The husband, William Barrington-Coupe, owned up to the thefts, but was never charged. Here’s a column I wrote at the time.

This, apparently, is the only authentic Hatto recording that he  ever released, a performance of the Arnold Bax Symphonic Variations. As you can hear, Joyce is a perfectly capable performer.

The couple will be played in the film by Francesca Annis and Alfred Molina. The script was written by comedienne Victoria Wood.

But here’s what worries me:

1 Is this going to be a whitewash of a really sordid piece of fraud?

2 Is it going to be a send-up of ‘experts’ inability to tell one artist from another (if so, bring it on…)?

3 Why is the BBC shooting in Ireland when there’s joblessness at home?

4 Why are the Irish funding a film for the British to watch?

5 Is any of this for real?


  • Tony says:

    6 Who cares?

    • Michael Hurshell says:

      Could be great, but let’s not hold our breath.

      • Jonathan Zoob says:


        I have heard many recordings of Joyce Hatto that I am 100% convinced are hers. There are several adequate LPs made in the 50s and 60s – Mozart, Rachmaninov, Gershwin etc. Then in the 80s (after her apparent breakdown) a series of cassettes were issued by Barrington-Coupe. They are very variable in quality and worst of them are extremely embarassing. My view is that she never recovered from whatever caused her to abandon performing in public in 1976. B-C out of (misplaced?) devotion was desperate to continue issuing recordings of her and began to use increasingly dishonest methods to render her takes usable.

  • I think the Hattogate story is both poignant (did ‘Barry’, JH’s hubby, do it out of love for her?) and also proof that truth is often stranger than fiction. You really couldn’t make it up, could you?

    When the story broke in 2007, the best part for me was all those pompous music buffs caught with egg on their collective faces, after praising her playing to the rafters. The other more positive outcome was that certain performers, whom Barry had ripped off and passed off as Joyce’s recordings, were given renewed recognition/acclaim.

    This BBC film could be very good, but my anxiety is that with Victoria Wood as writer, it could be the story of Joyce Hatto as told through the medium of Acorn Antiques…..

    Incidentally, it would be nice to think it might be filmed at Russborough, a beautiful Palladian house in Wicklow, former home of Lord & Lady Beit. I played the Bluthner there are few years ago, and the house also boasts a late 19th C Steinway, known as the Paderewski Steinway – because Paderewski played it on a visit to Russborough. Sir Alfred Beit was a fine amateur pianist himself, as well as a patron of Wexford Opera.

  • joe s says:

    The ironic thing about all this is that young Hatto auditioned for the BBC and was rejected. Or so I have read, somewhere on a list serve or some such. So she makes it posthumously, and BC is portrayed by the same man who portrayed Spiderman’s arch enemy. It must be fitting somehow .