So near and so far for Hugh
PUBLISHED: 13:49 16 January 2008 | UPDATED: 21:27 15 June 2010
THERE were tears, tantrums and, in the end, a rally of support for celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's bid to make Axminster the first free-range town in the country. After a mammoth effort, however, it wasn't to be. The moment of truth, screened
THERE were tears, tantrums and, in the end, a rally of support for celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's bid to make Axminster the first free-range town in the country.After a mammoth effort, however, it wasn't to be.The moment of truth, screened on Channel 4 last Wednesday night, revealed what Hugh must have suspected all along - his Chicken Out Week didn't quite hit its target.In a candid, yet rousing, way he announced the result during an event in Axminster Square.Filmed as part of his short, but thoroughly gripping, mini series, Chicken Run, the announcement was the culmination of months of hard work.Residents of Millwey Rise, staff at Axminster Power Tools and many other townsfolk were thrust into the spotlight as Hugh and his River Cottage team left no stone unturned in a bid to educate the public - and, importantly, supermarket chains.Unanswered phone calls and, at times, a frosty reception at Tesco in Axminster were par for the course.The welfare of chickens, the quality of our food and, yes, even taste were all major factors of the campaign.Local people got a chance to air their views on national television and, characteristically, they didn't let us down in terms of entertainment.They spoke their minds - some in the pub, others in the street."If it's got anything to do with that Hugh what's-his-name, I'm not interested!" one pensioner snapped at a camera crew in the Co-op car park.In the pub, the locals didn't mince their words. There were hoots of laughter in my house, as my children and I quickly identified the culprits. It was compulsive view-ing.Frozen omelettes at Axminster Power Tools and the tireless efforts of The Millwey Gang had us all gripped from beginning to end.The sad fate of 'damaged' chicks in Hugh's intensive rearing experiment reduced him to tears. We were almost reduced to tears when we saw Hugh uncerem-oniously ordered to leave Tesco - after a manager misheard one of his comments.Hats off to Axminster Power Tools for allowing its staff canteen to be transformed for filming. We, at the Herald, would love to know if frozen omelettes, a revelation to millions, are back on the menu now that filming has ceased? Perhaps, the biggest stars (other than the chickens and Hugh) were the thoughtful, hardworking and thoroughly decent folk at Millwey. Their dedication to rearing free-range chickens was an inspiration.It wasn't a breeze, they admitted. They became accustomed to early morning starts, administering medicines and (horror or horrors) the dreaded truth: they were raising chicks that they would one day kill and eat. When it came to the crunch, it was hard going.Chuffy the chicken, in particular, had his supporters. The Millwey Gang had broken the smallholders' golden rule - they had become emotionally attached to the bird.When the moment came for Chuffy to be electrocuted and 'bled', tears flowed.However, in the spirit of Chicken Run, it was heartening to later discover that Chuffy was "nestling in the freezer" as a special treat for Christmas.What did he taste like?Single mum Haley, such a strong and decent supporter of the free-range experiment, represented the national picture when she was caught buying two-for-one intensively reared chickens for £5 at Tesco.Hugh was distraught, but knew in his heart that Haley was just like most of us - she bought what she could afford.Take heart Haley, so many of us are the same.It's another catch 22. When there's more demand for free-range chickens the price of chicken meat will come down. Then, and only then, will supermarkets fully co-operate with the campaign.The key to it all is education.Chicken Out Week didn't see Axminster heralded as the first free-range town in the country.Chicken Run, the series, however, did prove its point.Importantly, for East Devon, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall chose Axminster for his experiment - and, from every angle of his film cameras, he managed to show the town in a most positive light.Contact your Herald to comment.