Billy Mitchell (EastEnders)

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Billy Mitchell
Billy Mitchell EE.jpg
EastEnders character
Portrayed by Perry Fenwick
Duration 1998–
First appearance 2 November 1998
Introduced by Matthew Robinson
Spin-off
appearances
EastEnders: E20 (2010)[1]
Billy's Olympic Nightmare (2012)
Classification Present; regular
Profile
Occupation Barman
Club owner
Video shop manager
Market trader
Personal assistant

William "Billy" Mitchell is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Perry Fenwick, who made his first appearance on 2 November 1998. Billy was introduced by producer Matthew Robinson as a guest character facilitating the introduction of Jamie Mitchell to the show. In the storyline, Billy is Jamie's abusive uncle and guardian, and Jamie is taken away from Billy by his relative Phil Mitchell. Billy was brought back to the serial on 2 August 1999 and Fenwick was offered a longer-term contract, Billy becoming a regular character. Billy has been described as a "runt of a man who's a catalyst for trouble".[3] Frequently portrayed as a small-time criminal, Billy is a luckless character who often struggles financially. His most prominent storylines include two failed marriages and having a daughter born with Down's syndrome. Fenwick filmed his 1000th episode on 6 August 2010.[4]

Storylines[edit]

Billy, the former guardian of his nephew Jamie Mitchell (Jack Ryder) moves to Walford after Jamie is taken in by Billy's distant cousin Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden) because Billy had been taking out his anger on Jamie, though learns from his mistakes. Billy initially becomes involved in criminal scams with his Phil and Grant Mitchell (Ross Kemp). Billy's relatives see him as little more than a lackey, and he is frequently told that he is an embarrassment to the Mitchell name. Billy finds an ally in Steve Owen (Martin Kemp), who uses Billy as an errand boy in numerous criminal activities including drug-dealing, to antagonise the Mitchell brothers. Billy works at Steve's club, E20, and is given a 1% share of the club for his services, but is often torn between his loyalties to Steve and his family.

Billy falls for Janine Butcher (Charlie Brooks), but she is only interested in his money, and when that runs out, she leaves him. Nevertheless, Billy helps her deal with some mental health issues, leading her to hope for a reconciliation but Billy turns her down as he is in love with Little Mo Morgan (Kacey Ainsworth), his business partner in a cleaning company. Mo is abused by her husband, Trevor (Alex Ferns), and after eventually leaving Trevor, she starts a relationship with Billy; they bond after Billy tells her about his time in a children's home, where he was physically abused by the staff. He proposes to Mo by spelling out 'MARRY ME' on her plate with alphabet spaghetti, and they get engaged. When Trevor hears this, he kidnaps Mo and his baby son, intending for all three of them to die in a fire but Mo and the baby are saved before Trevor is killed in a gas explosion. Billy and Mo marry on Christmas Day, the same day that Jamie dies of severe injuries after being knocked down by a car. Eleven months later, Little Mo is raped by a man she thought was a friend, Graham Foster (Alex McSweeney). Mo later discovers she is pregnant as a result of the assault. Billy presses her to have an abortion, but Mo refuses and leaves Walford to clear her head, returning with baby Freddie, to see Graham convicted of rape. Billy and Little Mo reunite, but Billy confesses that he cannot love Freddie and thinks of Graham whenever he sees him, so the marriage ends.

Billy confronts one of his abusers from the children's home he was placed in as a child, Ernie Johnson (John Junkin), now a pensioner and living in Walford. Billy breaks into Ernie's home to confront him over the abuse, shaming Ernie into moving away. Billy starts a relationship with newcomer Honey Edwards (Emma Barton), whom he manages during her spell as a model. The relationship prospers, despite initial disapproval from Honey's father Jack (Nicky Henson), who takes time to accept Billy. Honey falls pregnant and accepts Billy's marriage proposal. Their wedding is postponed when Honey is hospitalised; they re-schedule but the second ceremony goes awry due to a practical joke played on Billy during his stag night. Billy's aunt Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor) then arranges a surprise wedding. Billy and Honey just complete their vows when Honey goes into labour. She delivers a girl, Janet Mitchell, but the Mitchells are devastated to discover she has Down's syndrome. Honey rejects her baby; she goes into depression, contemplating infanticide and demands Janet be put up for adoption. Billy is opposed to this but eventually consents after agonising over the decision. After Janet is taken into foster care, she suffers a health scare and is hospitalised, forcing Honey to acknowledge she loves her baby and Janet is brought home.

Honey falls pregnant again and William is born. His birth is traumatic as Honey goes into labour after being caught in a violent siege; she is assaulted by a member of a football firm lead by Terry Bates (Nicholas Ball). William seems stillborn at first but is resuscitated by medics. Billy and Honey suffer financial problems and their landlady, Manju Patel (Leena Dhingra), decides to evict them. Billy steals charity money to pay the rent and barricades them into the flat but they are evicted at Christmas. They rely on kindness of friends and relatives until the council rehouses them. Desperate for money, Billy takes a job as a getaway driver for Jase Dyer (Stephen Lord), believing they are stealing money from Terry Bates, the leader of the firm responsible for hurting Honey. The job is a set-up, and Terry takes Jase's son Jay Brown (Jamie Borthwick) hostage in their absence. Assisted by Billy, Jay escapes but Jase is killed by Terry in the ensuing fight. Billy hides in the bathroom, too afraid to help Jase. Not realising this, Jay hails Billy a hero for trying to rescue his father. Billy breaks down and confesses his cowardice to Honey, revealing that he kept some of Jase's money, allegedly to give to now orphaned Jay. Honey is incensed; she threatens to leave Billy but reconsiders on condition he never lies to her again. Billy does lie and keeps some of Jase's money, telling Honey he has donated it to charity. Honey subsequently ends their marriage and takes her children to live with her father, leaving Billy alone and depressed.

Billy visits Jay at his foster home and agrees to foster him, but problems arise when Nick Cotton (John Altman) blackmails Billy, threatening to tell Jay the truth about his cowardice on the night of Jase's death. Unable to meet Nick's demands, Billy is forced to tell Jay the truth instead and Jay reacts in fury. Terry's gang try to stop Billy testifying at the upcoming trial, but despite threats, Billy testifies and Terry is sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering Jase. Billy is subsequently redeemed in the eyes of Jay; however, Jay later begins to idolise Phil, to the virtual exclusion of Billy.

When Billy stops a man from pestering Jean Slater (Gillian Wright) at a club, she brands him a hero and they sleep together. Embarrassed by the fling, Billy insults Jean the following day, ending her hopes for romance. Billy later begins a more serious relationship with Julie Perkins (Cathy Murphy), a fellow resident at the children's home he once lived in. Billy is shocked to discover Julie fell pregnant with his child in their teens; their son was adopted and is now a grown man. Billy attempts to find his son, Dan Pearce, but is devastated to discover he died of liver failure and that his granddaughter, Lola Pearce (Danielle Harold), is in care. Billy visits Lola and they bond. Lola moves in with her grandparents but proves troublesome, and when Billy continuously overrules Julie's attempts to discipline her, a rift forms and Julie leaves Walford. Lola's announcement that she is pregnant leads to Billy returning to his criminal ways to provide for his great grandchild—stealing from Janine and trading stolen goods and forgeries for Derek Branning (Jamie Foreman). Janine eventually discovers and sacks Billy after his deception, but after a change of heart, reinstates him and allows him to keep the items he ordered for Lola's baby. Billy grows tired of Lola's troublesome behaviour after she is given a curfew and electronic tag, and focuses on being an Olympic Torch bearer, which he learnt of several months earlier. Billy successfully carries the torch and witnesses the birth of his great granddaughter, Lexi Billie Pearce.

Billy and Lola are devastated when Lexi is taken into care as Lola's social worker Trish Barnes (Tessa Churchard) does not think they are coping. Phil becomes Lexi's kinship foster carer and becomes controlling of Lola. Phil sabotages a hearing for Lola to get increased contact and tells Billy that Lola will not get Lexi back. Lola then snatches her, which leads to Phil agreeing to allow Lola more contact with Lexi, and eventually Lola is re-awarded custody of Lexi.

Creation[edit]

The character Billy Mitchell was introduced by producer Matthew Robinson as a guest character in November 1998,[5] used as part of a storyline to introduce Billy's nephew, Jamie, (Jack Ryder) to the regular cast. In the storyline, Billy was caught being abusive to Jamie and he was subsequently taken in by Billy's cousin Phil Mitchell (Steve McFadden). The character was only intended to appear for four episodes; however, Perry Fenwick revealed in 2006 that the role was extended by "coincidence and chance": "I was offered four episodes and here I am, about 800 later. [...] Ross Kemp (Grant) said that he was leaving, and there was a gap in the Mitchell family, so they brought me back to do stuff towards his leaving. After that they offered me a year."[6] Billy was reintroduced in 1999, making recurring appearances. He was involved in the leaving storyline of Grant Mitchell in October 1999, before returning later in the year as a regular character.

Development[edit]

Perry Fenwick portrays Billy Mitchell.

Personality[edit]

When Billy was first introduced, he was depicted as a "runt of a man who's a catalyst for trouble."[7] Kate Lock, author of EastEnders Who's Who, has noted that the character was something of an outcast to the rest of the Mitchell clan, commenting, "none of the other Mitchells likes to think of him as 'family' [..] Billy is held in great contempt by the Mitchell [brothers], who regard him as a lower lifeform than a worm".[7]

It has been noted that when Billy was first introduced, he was a "nasty piece of work".[6] However, Billy underwent a personality change circa 2002 and "became good".[6] It was revealed that Bill's nasty streak was a result of him having been abused and bullied while growing up in a children's home.[6] From then on, Billy was depicted as "clownish and a bit of a loser [...] a born romantic with a kind nature and a big heart".[6] According to actor Perry Fenwick, it is doubtful that he would have continued with the role if Billy had not "mended his wicked ways". Billy was involved in an abuse storyline with his nephew Jamie (Jack Ryder), causing the actor to be "harangued" by strangers in public. In 2006, he commented, "I wouldn't have wanted to stay if Billy had been the way he was at the start. I didn't want to be another Nick Cotton, an out and out baddie, because it leaves you nowhere to go. You need to be a rounded character to fit in with the others. Then you can be a bit naughty, funny sometimes, in love sometimes — it all opens out. I'm proud of the way he's changed. I didn't like doing that nasty stuff. I needed and wanted the job, but I knew what would come with it — you can't go anywhere on this show without people telling you what they think."[6]

Fenwick particularly likes the comedic side to the character. He has said, "I just ask them to keep it light and shade. I LOVE the comedy side of Billy but there's a sad side to him, too. He's like a little lost soul who is always beaten up and knocked down but he never gives up. He reminds me of Norman Wisdom."[6]

Relationships[edit]

Honey Edwards and Down's syndrome[edit]

The character Honey Edwards (Emma Barton) was introduced in November 2005 by the executive producer Kate Harwood, as a love interest for Billy.[8] A relationship between Honey and Billy was quickly developed and, within two months, an upcoming baby had been written into the characters' narratives, with Honey announcing she was pregnant in January 2006. A BBC insider told The Sun, "Billy is absolutely chuffed to bits".[9]

The pregnancy was the start of an on-going storyline about Down's syndrome (DS) as, in September 2006, Honey and Billy's baby Janet was diagnosed with the disorder shortly after her birth. EastEnders' producers began to work on the DS plot in February 2006. Real parents with children who have Down's Syndrome were approached to act as consultants in the making of the storyline, meeting with writers and the actors who play Billy and Honey.[10] On-screen, Honey was shown to be devastated, rejecting her baby and wanting to have her adopted, while Billy wanted to keep his daughter, placing strain on the couple, who married in the serial the day of Janet's birth.[11]

The Down's Syndrome Association (DSA) worked with EastEnders on the storyline. Their medical advisers were consulted about possible health problems that Billy and Honey's baby might encounter. According to the DSA in 2006, people with DS are under-represented on mainstream television and EastEnders helped to redress that imbalance. The DSA used their influence to change certain elements of the scripts that they were unhappy with, such as persuading them to change the way Billy and Honey were told of their baby's diagnosis; however, they had no influence over the characters' reactions or the plot in general. For the first two weeks after Janet's diagnosis, the DSA provided a helpline for worried parents or anyone wanting advice about DS. EastEnders also provided a link to the DSA website from theirs, to ensure that people looking for information could find the association.[12]

The storyline was developed with characterisation in mind. Some characters, such as Peggy Mitchell, were shown to respond negatively towards the baby, views that were included so that the positive aspects could be voiced by the "more enlightened characters". The programme makers' main priority was to show the reality of having a child with the condition, "with all of its positives and negatives" and to "create awareness among thousands of people who know very little about Down's syndrome, who might have out-dated or prejudiced views." EastEnders took advice from DS organisations and DS families throughout. Care was taken to ensure that viewers empathised with Billy and Honey, to portray their journey in a "realistic way".[12]

The DSA have expressed their desire to see a character with Down's syndrome becoming a permanent member of the EastEnders cast, as in their opinion "it would be a fantastic opportunity to bring Down's syndrome into mainstream awareness, and to present a 21st century picture of family life for those who have children with the condition." In 2006, EastEnders pledged that they intended for Billy and Honey's baby to grow up as any other baby would in the soap; however, it has been noted that the plot is dependent on the actors involved, and other practical problems that could arise. EastEnders pledged to make every effort to portray "a positive image of a family who have a baby with the condition."[12]

The episodes received criticism for inaccuracy.[13] Sue Jacob, a teacher at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said EastEnders presented a "poor picture of midwifery practice". During Janet's birth, Honey was refused an epidural while in pain, and later she was told that her baby had Down's syndrome alone, without her partner or family there to support her.[13] Jacob commented, "Women are vulnerable after giving birth and they need support systems in place [...] The person caring for her is repeatedly referred to as a nurse in the episode but there is no way that a nurse would be in charge after birth. The midwife would also have been open and honest and said 'We need to get the baby checked out and we will get your partner' [...] What the soaps do is set scenes which prompt people to talk about things which are affecting their lives. We are concerned people will wrongly think this Down's syndrome story shows what really happens, and that if you have a problem there is no one there to support you. Showing something like this is not helpful."[13][14] Furthermore, Jacob noted that Honey was left alone for a long time to worry about the baby, which appeared rigid, and not floppy, as babies with DS do.[13] In Jacob's opinion, a midwife would have been repeatedly in and out of the room to check on the mother. Additionally, one episode showed a health visitor reprimanding Honey for refusing Down's syndrome screening and Karen Reay, director of the Community Practitioners' and Health Visitors' Association called the episode "insensitive and patronising". She added that the episode contained "glaring anomalies", giving new mothers a "fictitious and misleading" view of health visitors, which could "damage relationships with health professionals".[14]

The BBC responded by saying, "EastEnders has undertaken a great deal of research to script the storyline of Billy and Honey giving birth to their baby daughter. EastEnders takes enormous care with its research and takes advice from experts in the given field. In addition, for this particular storyline EastEnders talked to numerous families with children who have Down's Syndrome. Some of their experiences were depicted in these early episodes. Also closely involved was a senior midwife from a large UK general hospital who saw all scripts. In relation to some particular points raised, Honey was not denied an epidural — she made the choice to put herself out of reach of communicating effectively with the midwife by locking herself in the bathroom. When the news was broken to Honey and Billy that their baby had Down's Syndrome, EastEnders has in fact drawn directly from one particular true-life story — and while this may indeed not be best practice it is worth saying that good drama does not necessarily come from best practice."[13] Despite the BBC's "extensive search" to cast a real Down's baby for the birth episodes, they were unable to do so, resulting in the shots of the newborn baby being less authentic and limited.[13] The BBC added, "In the coming weeks Honey and Billy's child will be played by a baby with Down's Syndrome. It is worth noting that EastEnders has received incredibly positive feedback from the Down's Syndrome Association following the first few episodes, whom we are continuing to work with very closely." Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, has confirmed that 40% of parents whose babies were diagnosed after birth were given no written or practical information about the condition, and 11% were told, as Honey was, by a midwife rather than a paediatrician: "The way in which Billy and Honey have learnt of their baby's disability, and their subsequent support from their health professionals, is not a best-practice model. However, neither is it an unrealistic situation. BBC researchers and scriptwriters have based the scenes on conversations with families who have children with Down's Syndrome, and the scenes have struck a chord with thousands of our parent members across the country. Some health professionals hold outdated or prejudiced views about people with Down's Syndrome that prevent them from giving parents a balanced picture of what the future will hold for them."[13]

Julie Perkins[edit]

In 2010, storylines show Billy receiving a letter from the care home he stayed in as a child, and a character from his past, Julie Perkins (Cathy Murphy) arrives in the series. Julie turns Billy's life upside-down and forces him to face some shocking home truths. The storyline was introduced as executive producer Bryan Kirkwood, who took on the role earlier in 2010, wanted Billy to have a storyline that was not connected to existing characters. Fenwick said the storyline was an acting challenge with plenty of twists and turns, and said "it's given me the chance to let go and be a little bit nutty."[15]

In June 2011, it was announced that Danielle Harold had joined the cast, playing Julie and Billy's 15-year-old granddaughter Lola Pearce. It was reported that Billy and Julie would be shocked to learn of Lola's existence, not knowing the son they once gave up for adoption had a daughter, but would decide to track her down and find her living in a care home.[16][17]

Olympic torch bearing storyline[edit]

In November 2011, Billy is selected to be a torch bearer for the 2012 Summer Olympics. In reality, Fenwick carried the torch through the setting of Albert Square, with live footage shown in the second episode on 23 July 2012. London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe said: "The announcement is a great addition to the Olympic Torch Relay Route. I'm sure the people of Walford will now start planning their celebrations. Along with people right round the UK, the residents of Albert Square will be getting involved to make this their moment to shine." Fenwick said, "When we first discussed the storyline, my initial thought was that I'll now have to get fit. While this may be a fictional one-off for Billy, it's a real once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and I am thrilled that Walford and Albert Square will be part of this amazing event."[18]

Reception[edit]

Billy has been described by Nicola Methven, TV editor of The Mirror, as one of EastEnders' most popular characters.[6] According to actor Perry Fenwick, Billy was initially unpopular with a proportion of viewers for his abusive antics on-screen. In 2006, Fenwick commented, "In the beginning it was all old ladies having a go at me, and young girls who fancied Jack Ryder". However, when the character's personality altered, the reception to his character improved. Fenwick adds, " Now it's great — people really like Billy and shout out: "All right, Billy boy, how's it going?".[6] According to Methven, "The turning point for Billy's popularity came when viewers learned his nasty streak was a result of him having been abused and bullied while growing up in a children's home"[6]

In popular culture and other media[edit]

The character of Billy Mitchell has been spoofed in the cartoon sketch show 2DTV.[19] Billy appears in series 2 of the spin-off series EastEnders: E20.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Oi!". BBC Online. 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010. 
  2. ^ Kilkelly, Daniel (8 July 2011). "Janine enjoys a shock turnaround in fortunes". Digital Spy (Hachette Filipacchi UK). Retrieved 28 June 2010. 
  3. ^ "EastEnders star Perry Fenwick splits from actress wife Angela Lonsdale". Daily Mail. 11 February 2010. 
  4. ^ Love, Ryan (9 August 2010). "Fenwick celebrates 'EastEnders' milestone". London: Digital Spy. Retrieved 10 August 2010. 
  5. ^ Green, Kris (17 May 2009). "Soaps — News - 'Enders deny Billy Mitchell axe — Digital Spy". Digital Spy. Retrieved 20 May 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "21 YEARS OF EASTENDERS: I'D HAVE QUIT IF BILLY HAD STAYED NASTY". The Mirror. 14 February 2006. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  7. ^ a b Lock, Kate (2000). EastEnders Who's Who. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-55178-X. 
  8. ^ "BEST SOAP: EastEnders". The Sun. 22 November 2005. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  9. ^ Sra Nathan (21 September 2005). "It's Billy the kid at last". The Sun. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  10. ^ "It's a disability thing". BBC. Retrieved 2008-04-19. [dead link]
  11. ^ "Could you raise a Down's child?". The Sun. 14 November 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  12. ^ a b c "Eastenders — FAQs". DSA. Archived from the original on 2007-10-23. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g "BBC soap EastEnders slammed over Down's Syndrome baby birth". 24dash.com. 13 September 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  14. ^ a b "BBC Criticised Over Eastenders Down's Syndrome Storyline". staffnurse.com. 13 October 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-19. 
  15. ^ Kilkelly, Daniel (7 October 2010). "Fenwick: 'New Enders plot is a challenge'". Digital Spy (London: Hachette Filipacchi UK). Retrieved 8 October 2010. 
  16. ^ Menhinnitt, Dan (7 June 2011). "Grandad Billy is in for shock". The Sun (London: News Group Newspapers). Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  17. ^ Kilkelly, Daniel (7 June 2011). "'EastEnders' casts Billy Mitchell's granddaughter". Digital Spy (London: Hachette Filipacchi UK). Retrieved 7 June 2011. 
  18. ^ Sportsmail reporter (15 November 2011). "Billy's big day as EastEnders' favourite Mitchell is picked to carry Olympic torch through Albert Square". Daily Mail (Associated Newspapers). Retrieved 16 November 2011. 
  19. ^ "Who's shout is it??". 2DTV. 00:02 minutes in.

External links[edit]