Channel 4’s Comedy Showcase is for new British comedy – a kind of piloting in which one presumes a good mixture of audience numbers and critical reception results in a whole series being commissioned. This was the successful fate for Free Agents, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Phone Shop and Campus. Others such as The Eejits and Guantanamo Phil did not make it beyond their pilot.
Chickens is written by its three main stars – two The Inbetweeners Simon Bird (a younger David Mitchell) and Joe Thomas along with Jonny Sweet – he himself was in an episode of The Inbetweeners but you may know him better as a young David Cameron in When Boris Met Dave – the three chickens of the piece.
The music used for the intro and outro and punctuating the episode is Dinokza by the Elite Swingsters from the album Cafe Afrika.
Chickens is set in a sleepy English village in 1914, the outset of World War I. It is populated almost entirely by its woman-folk for the remaining men are those unable or unwilling to fight for their country. In the case of Mr Armstrong the school headmaster played by Rupert Vansittart this is accepted due to his near-retirement age whereas for these younger three it is not. Cecil, played by Simon Bird, is not fighting due to a medical condition – he has flat feet! George, played by Joe Thomas, is not fighting due to conscientious objection. And Bert, played by Jonny Sweet, is not fighting well because he does not want to get killed! In his words the time to join the army is in peacetime! Adding ‘there’s never been a better time to be a single man in England’! Which later involves him flirting with a grieving widow Gwyneth (played by Olivia Halinan) at her husband’s funeral – in his words ‘two single people’!
The three of them live together and are outcast from the village – their home is daubed with graffiti such as ‘Chickens’ and ‘Cowards Cottage’! and they receive daily hate-mail and verbal abuse – the post-woman passes one of them their mail ‘Shame on you’ she says!
Later, on entering the village pub to find its management, staff and customers almost solely women, Cecil explains that the usual owner is away in France, ‘On holiday’ asks Bert before again being reminded ‘Fighting in the war’!
Chickens reminds us that the past really is a foreign country – views now out on our fringes being quite mainstream then. A more Old Testament view towards sexuality and punishment was in play.
Cecil is told they are no longer serving beer so accepts a white wine – his sister Agnes, played by Emerald Fennell, enters and full of disgust for her brother calls him a ‘Fruit’ which he denies just as the barmaid serves him his white-wine – not sophisticated humour perhaps but good comedy timing.
In a later scene to show that he is not wishy-washy George agrees to cane a ten-year old pupil. The pupil had forgotten his maths text book and the head sitting in on the class wishes him to corporal punish the pupil. It turns out he does not have a cane and has never used one on any of his pupils much to the disapproval of the headmaster. The headmaster lets the other parents know of this and they along with the other teachers share their disgust at this liberal approach to punishment! Likewise to prove his affection for his fiancee – or in their words ‘You’re not saying you will break off our engagement unless I beat a 10 year old boy’ – ‘That’s exactly what I’m saying’! And once he embarks on this punishment he gets carried away with it caning the pupil ever-harder – I felt uncomfortable watching this scene – not sparing the rod to spoil the child was made even less palatable by being made a joke of.
The hatred the village feels for these three ‘chickens’ is not abated when in the final scene the bar-woman announces that a new born baby girl will be brought in to the pub for them all to see, to the universal delight of the pub, all that is except Cecil, George and Bert, and they leave. Cecil who had been drinking pints of water in the pub due to their own home water being polluted needs to relieve himself and does so on the common only to discover along with much of the rest of the village that he is urinating on the memorial tree of the recently deceased soldier and hero husband of Gwyneth!
The comic timing and general acting of the three chickens is very good, as is the supporting villager cast.
These Chickens have legs. And wings. Sorry! I hope a series is made.
Next in the Comedy Showcase is Coma Girl.
- Chat with Simon Bird, Joe Thomas and Jonny Sweet TODAY at 4pm (heatworld.com)
- Comedy Showcase: Chickens – C4, 10.30pm (mirror.co.uk)