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By Jason Michael
BEING AN EXTRA IS SERIOUS business. An “extra,” for those not acquainted with the heady world of showbusiness, is a kind of living prop – someone employed by a television or film production team to add texture and life to the background of a scene. Living in Ireland, the home of Braveheart, Vikings, Game of Thrones and the original Fair City soap opera, of course I have friends in “the industry.” It is rather quite remarkable to discover what is involved in being an extra. It is surprisingly professional. Blaze and Laoch’s dad managed to bag himself a cameo – as an extra – on Netflix’s Outlaw King, but I have no idea how much of a career he thinks being an extra is for him, but here in Ireland there are a good few people – including aspiring stars and starlets – who take the whole thing very seriously.
One friend gave me the full run-down. She explained how extras were hired for everything from television commercials to blockbuster movies. Agencies recruit extras and keep them on their books, giving them roles in everything from bog roll ads to televised talk shows – as participants and as audience members. Basically, what she told me was that much of what we see on the box is hokum – just part and parcel of the “magic of television.” Sure, that one, seemingly unimportant, conversation brought me a long way from feeding the little people inside my telly with Digestive biscuits through the mouth on the VCR machine to the utterly disillusioned creature I am today.
The odds of getting to ask a question from the Question Time audience three times are around 125,000 to 1 against.—
Wings Over Scotland (@WingsScotland) February 07, 2019
So, when Scotland’s independence movement on social media got excited over the fourth appearance of an anti-SNP flute band drummer on BBC Question Time I was prepared. He was an extra – of sorts. Not only, as Wings Over Scotland pointed out, had he beat the mathematically impossible odds of being selected for this highly vetted show four times, he was allowed to ask a question on each occasion. It is obvious that this angry little tracksuited man is an extra, a fact confirmed by pictures taken inside the studio before filming started where he is seen actively consulting with the show’s producers and a certain Tory member of the panel. Ockham’s Razor pretty much dictates the rest; he was agreeing his lines with the producers, the politician, and the British state apparatchik in attendance.
This, and I am sorry to spoil the magic, is how television works. If this wasn’t how political television and the BBC in particular worked – that is the British state broadcaster – it wouldn’t be working right. The expressed purpose of the BBC, as defined in its own charter, is to preserve the cohesion of the United Kingdom, and in a political environment such as Scotland is – with its growing independence movement – the BBC will play every trick in the book to ensure the viewing public are manipulated in the right direction. In a word, if you were upset by this, it serves you right for watching the BBC in the first place. This is what the BBC does.
There isn’t really that much more to say about this, save for the interesting fact that the tracksuited repeat visitor to the show, Mr William “Billy” A. Mitchell, does not show up as an extra on the books of any UK agency I have been able to find. He is an extra, but he’s not your typical agency extra. He’s a freelancer – a private contractor who works exclusively, it would seem, for BBC Question Time. Naturally, this helps to explain the picture of Mitchell in an animated discussion with Brexiteer Lord, Michael Forsyth, Alison Fuller Pedley, the head of audience selection who was recently caught recruiting members of the English Defence League for the show, and an unnamed suited, and suspiciously government-type looking, man. Mitchell is a man with connections.
Turns out Bill A Mitchell is a frequent flyer to the former USSR. He even hints that he speaks some Russian. Intere… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 08, 2019
These Mitchell-UK government connections are what come to mind when we look over Mr Mitchell’s wide-open Facebook page. His dingy tracksuit has more airmiles than Father Christmas, with updates and check-ins from his multiple visits to the United States, multiple visits to Russia, and a few dotted over Europe since late-2017. He doesn’t shy away from his pro-Trump and pro-Israel politics on his travels either, with his poses with the Confederate battle flag and with his Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” banner in the snow at St. Basil’s cathedral in Moscow. This boy gets about, and as he does, we’re left with a whiff of another story about his Conservative friends; one which involves both Trump and Russia – dare we mention the dark money story?
Billy Mitchell is anything but your average member of the public. Certainly, from the look of things, he appears to be doing well from his shady links to the British government, and he always seems to turn up right at the wrong part of the world – that is: Wherever the UK government or elements of it are up to dodgy dealings. His four performances on Question Time tell us one thing for sure, that there are hidden forces at work using him as a tool to make the SNP and the Scottish government look bad. It doesn’t matter that his facts are all to pot. What matters is that he gets his line, that his target – Fiona Hyslop tonight – takes a rabbit-in-headlights hit, and the BBC clap machine is switched on in time. It is a set-piece stage show, and, so far, it has worked every time.
Springburn Reject (@therebel11) February 08, 2019
What this tells us is that the SNP is doing woefully bad at defending itself. It remains to be seen if the party has a media strategy or indeed a media strategy team, but, if these exist, they are playing an entirely different game. The SNP looks to be content to imagine its British counterparts are engaging in a fair process, which they most definitely are not. It looks to be labouring under the misguided assumption that the BBC is a neutral platform on which it can reach voters – presumably, to persuade soft Nos. But this is not how the BBC works. The BBC offers a platform, for sure. But it is more akin – especially for parties like the SNP – to the platform offered by the guillotine or the gallows; a place of spectacle where the enemies of the state are set up to be pilloried and executed.
It beggars belief that SNP strategists – assuming it actually has any – are still prepared to see their MSPs and MPs on the BBC’s gibbet. Excepting well-crafted and expertly delivered statements in the style presented by the likes of Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin, the best way to deal with the BBC is to give it as wide a berth as one would like to give a famished pack of tiger sharks. Billy Mitchell is not the scandal here. Had we our heads screwed on, we would have expected him and others like him all the while. Someone will always take the Queen’s shilling. The real scandal is that the SNP is as ill-prepared as it is to deal with the type of creature the BBC is. It is no secret the political leadership of the independence movement in Scotland is doing a horrendous job at protecting itself, and – if we are about to face another referendum on the constitutional question – it is high time the SNP learnt the lessons of the Billy Mitchells and other such ploys.
Billy Mitchell ambushing Fiona Hyslop on Question Time