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by John Helmer, Moscow 

By prime time television standards, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s  (BBC) three-part invention of a Russian-made Novichok attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and the death of Dawn Sturgess  two years ago, has been a brilliant success. Twelve million people watched part or all of the series, which ran from Sunday through Tuesday, June 14 to 16. That was roughly one in every three souls watching television in the United Kingdom — 7,204,950 on Sunday evening; 6,242,220 on Monday, 6,165,250 on Tuesday.

Very few of them, it is certain, know the name of Sir Mark Sedwill, who has run the Skripal operation from the beginning until now. Sedwill is Cabinet Secretary, the most senior civil servant in the British Government, and National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister – the first man to hold both posts at the same time. Sedwill’s name doesn’t appear in the film. Instead, he appears in the guise of an official from Whitehall who doesn’t exist.

Between the truth and the fiction, Sedwill’s deception operation has proved to be an even bigger success than Operation Mincemeat. That was the one in 1943 when the British military and intelligence services dressed up a London corpse — dead of organophosphate poisoning (rat-killer) by his own hand — to fool Adolph Hitler and the German High Command into thinking the allies would launch their invasion of Europe in the wrong place.  Sedwill’s success is much greater. Operation Novichok hasn’t fooled the Russian High Command but it has deceived Sedwill’s own people, the British.

The television audience measurement report on “The Salisbury Poisonings” has been prepared by Overnights.tv in London; for more from the source, read this.  For analysis of the fabrications in Episode One, click here.   For frame by frame detection in Episodes Two and Three of who composed the deceptions, how, and why, read this.  

Left: Sir Mark Sedwill in his office in January 2018; the antique map on the wall behind him is either of 16th century Muscovy or America. Right: Sir Alex Younger, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) since 2014.  Sedwill is the younger of the two by a year; they were students at St. Andrews University together. Sedwill is now Younger’s boss.  The role played by MI6 and the signals intelligence organisation GCHQ is carefully secreted by the BBC behind trick characters and fake dialogue, but not so carefully it has escaped discovery here.   The MI6 spokesman at the BBC, Mark Urban, has tweeted how pleased Younger is with the results of the operation: “they succeeded & thumping 6-7m audiences show how deeply this story touches the population [sic] imagination.”  

For Episode One, when CCTV footage was rearranged by the Wiltshire police and Skripal blood samples invented at the Porton Down laboratory on orders from London, the television measurement report reveals the audience share was 38.8%; that’s the percentage of the total TV audience watching at that time on Sunday.   Benchmark share – the average audience proportion watching that BBC channel at the comparable timeslot and day – is 21.1%. So Episode One almost doubled the average. It stayed that way for the rest of the series – audience share for Episode Two was 32.4%, compared to the benchmark of 16.8%. For Episode Three the audience share was 31.4%; benchmark, 17.1%. By a long way,  this is top of the pops in merrie England.

A lot of children thought so. More than 14% of the over-4 year olds were watching, compared to the benchmark of 11%. They appear to have been in front of the tube because their grandparents thought it was good for them. Viewers over the age of 65 were the biggest number in the audience – just over three million; their proportion of the audience was almost double the benchmark.  But according to the report from Overnights.tv, it was grandma’s idea. The gender spread for “The Salisbury Poisonings” was 56% grandmothers; 44% grandfathers.

Left: the Porton Down compound where Nick Gent (right) of Public Health England (PHE) coordinated the Novichok operation between Sedwill’s and Younger’s staffs in London, Porton Down laboratory technicians,  and the local police and medical personnel in Salisbury. Gent’s role and identity are concealed in the television film. In his place the BBC portrayed a subordinate at Porton Down named Timothy Atkins. The BBC also depicted a doctor treating Dawn Sturgess called Rebecca Jenner. Salisbury Hospital says it has no trace of a doctor by that name. Shaun Whelan, a spokesman for Gent at PHE, responded to questions about the veracity of the blood sampling, laboratory testing, and hospital drug treatment depicted by the BBC: “The events in Salisbury in 2018 are a matter of public record. We have had no involvement with the BBC drama and cannot comment on the veracity of events as portrayed. During this time our attention is very much focussed on the pandemic and we will not be answering any questions on past events in Salisbury.”

The working-class wasn’t interested, try as the BBC did to portray its leading characters – council officials, policemen, neighbours of the Skripal house, Dawn Sturgess’s family — as some of their own. One-third of the audience for “The Salisbury Poisonings” was what British sociologists call AB; this is the group of the biggest money earners or power wielders; they make  their livings as state employees or corporate executives – people just like Sedwill, grammar school head-boy; and Younger, Army brat. Not Eton, Oxford or Cambridge elitists — more ambitious as a result.

The audience measurement of reach is the biggest number on the scoreboard, the one Sedwill and Younger have taken to Downing Street to celebrate with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This is the number or percentage of viewers who have seen a particular programme for three consecutive minutes. If someone watches the first episode of a series they are added to the series reach, but they aren’t counted again if they watch the next or final episodes.  

For “The Salisbury Poisonings” cumulative reach was 12,073,790; this is 20%, or one in five of the people targeted, not counting Sergei and Yulia Skripal. They were targeted, but recovered quickly from their episode, although they aren’t permitted to speak about it. The British dowager class, by contrast, isn’t recovering.

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