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Chicken (ITV Drama, Ian Bannen, Helen Ryan)



In one off comedy drama Chicken, businessman Keith Morse (Ian Bannen) has earned himself the nickname of “The Butcher” after laying 5000 workers. In a bid to get away from it all he is taking the beautiful Monica Vyvyan away for a romantic weekend in the country, only things don’t turn out quite as he anticipated.

The Daily Mirror of Saturday 28 August 1976 had a small preview by Jack Bell: A BUSINESS executive axes 5,000 workers then goes off with a beautiful girl for a relaxing country weekend. That’s the theme of CHICKEN (ITV, 10.0). But the weekend turns out to be a contest between a chicken wanted for Sunday lunch and the tough egg, played by lan Bannen, who has dumped his workers. The chicken decides it is too young to die. The executive gets mad. In the following flurry he’s mocked by his friends and jeered at by his girl, played by Helen Ryan. Will the executive’s failure to butcher the bird affect his attitude to his workforce? In other words, it’s another variation on an old theme – which comes first, the chicken or the (tough) egg?

The Sunday People of Sun 29 Aug 1976 had a short interview with co-star Arthur English, it turns out this TV cockney wasn’t cockney at all: Arthur English – one of the country’s best known Cockney wide-boys – ain’t no Cockney after all. The truth came out when he was making Chicken (ITV 10.00), in which Arthur, 62, plays a country yokel hired by Helen Ryan to kill poultry for her. “I had to speak with a thick Hampshire accent,” said Arthur. But it wasn’t a problem for me. I’m not really a Londoner, although I made my living for 28 years as a comic Cockney spit. I’m Aldershot born and bred. When people hear me talking now they often accuse me of going all posh. But I had to learn all that gor-blimey stuff.”

The Sunday Mirror preview of Sunday 29 August 1976 would have potentially turned off viewers with a negative vibe: Curious and really rather silly play using the killing of a chicken for lunch as a device to explore the characters of a ruthless businessman and a pretty woman. Keith (lan Bannen) briskly arranges to lay off 5,000 of his workers to make way for automation, and then goes for a cosy weekend at the home of his new girl friend, Monica (Helen Ryan). Fierce points are made about meat-eating, hypocrisy, indifference to the suffering of others, but it all adds up to nothing very much.

There was also an expansive and not overly positive review by Patrick Campbell in The Stage of Thursday 2 September 1976: AT a time when the single play on ITV is a precious commodity in short supply, it is disappointing that ATV, which has a fairly honourable record in the field for quality if not for quantity, should have caught John Nelson Burton on such a disastrously off day. Chicken (ITV, Sunday August 29, 10.0 pm) was the epitome of all the shortcomings of television drama over the past year or two. One might justifiably go further back than that, for script and direction suggested that we don’t seem to have made very much progress in those 21 years that ITV celebrates this month. The author aimed at so many targets simultaneously and laid on his analogies with such a heavy trowel that at the end of it all one never knew for sure whether he wanted us to be interested in industrial relations, vegetarianism, the fallibility of tycoons, the inadequacy of the middle classes or whether all he was really saying was that those who live in country houses should learn to kill their own chickens… Paradoxically it was the stereotypes who came nearest to living persons a measure of the ineffectiveness of the writing. Arthur English’s philosophy was delivered as though from the heart (and as though it really meant something) while Lally Bowers, who could never pass unnoticed in a crowd, lifted herself above the lines and for a few moments, relieved the proceedings of their inexorable boredom.

Cast: Ian Bannen (Keith Morse), Helen Ryan (Monica Vyvyan), Lally Bowers (Bee Dunne), Arthur English (Edgar), Arnold Peters (Ron Hunter), Jill Shakespeare (Secretary)

Writer: John Nelson Burton / Production Design: Anthony Waller / Producer: Nicholas Palmer / Director: John Sichel

UK / ITV – ATV / 1×52 minute episode / Broadcast Sunday 29 August 1976 at 10.00pm