'I can only apologise' - an open letter to Axminster residents

PUBLISHED: 14:08 30 January 2008 | UPDATED: 14:44 20 April 2010

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Axminster residents I'd like to start by thanking you for your overwhelming support for my series, Hugh's Chicken Run, both while we were making it in Axminster over the summer, and in the weeks since it was broadcast at the beginning of the year. I rea

Axminster residents - I'd like to start by thanking you for your overwhelming support for my series, Hugh's Chicken Run, both while we were making it in Axminster over the summer, and in the weeks since it was broadcast at the beginning of the year. I realise it must have been tiresome at times to have our camera crew pounding the streets around town, and even intruding into your shopping baskets. Yet everywhere we went me and the crew were treated with courtesy and kindness, even by those who were not entirely persuaded by our campaign! Nonetheless, it has become clear in the last couple of weeks that not everyone in the area was happy with the way that the town of Axminster came across in the series. In particular, it seems that some local people have been upset by some of the words and images that were used to portray the Millwey Estate and its residents. Obviously I regret that this has turned out to be the case. And if any individual has been personally offended, then I would like to offer them my sincere apologies. For the record I'd like to address the two particular points that have been cited as causing offence in some quarters. The first was a piece of voiceover which has unfortunately been misquoted both in the council meeting and in every single one of the town's newspapers. I did not, as widely reported, describe Millwey as "the wrong end of town", nor as the "rough end of town". I did, however, use the expression "the tough end of town". This was simply intended to convey the fact that the group with whom I chose to work in rearing chickens on the Millwey allotments were, like so many families up and down the country, feeding their families on a very tight budget. And so the choices I was asking them to make were not easy ones. I realise this may have come across as something of a sweeping generalisation - but it certainly wasn't intended to be in any way derogatory. The second issue is the image of a graffiti covered sign board on the Millwey Estate that was used on several occasions. To use this image more than once was a genuine error of judgement made in the editing of the programme. We didn't mean it to cause offence - but I accept that it did and for this I can only apologise. Nonetheless, I must say that I feel it is most unfair - and illogical - to infer from these elements of the production taken in isolation that I do not have any respect for the feelings of Millwey residents. After all, I spent many happy days of the summer working on the allotments with the Millwey Chicken Challengers - and I think I made it abundantly clear in the programme that, of all the aspects of my chicken project, this was one of the most rewarding, enjoyable, and satisfying. On several occasions I expressed how deeply proud I was of all those who had taken part. I hope that I don't need to add that I consider it a pleasure to be living near, and working in, such a vibrant and charming town as Axminster. I would never have chosen to open a business here unless I felt it had a huge amount going for it. Of course, its main strength is you, its inhabitants. And it is part of your charm that you are never short of an opinion, or the will to express it in a forthright manner. Long may that continue! With very best wishes. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall YOUR THOUGHTS It's not Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that has brought shame on Axminster. And neither is it 'The Millwey Gang' or their estate. No, that dubious honour belongs to our town council, bless 'em! Everyone I know, from outside the area, thought the programmes showed Axminster in an extremely positive light, but their disbelief was only matched by my embarrassment when they learned of the council asking for an apology. Then there was the pompous rant from former mayor Michael Steer. Obviously Mr Steer doesn't think it hypocritical to be rude and aggressive. As for the, somewhat sinister, hope that Hugh "will get his comeuppance" - would he rather River Cottage packed-up and went back to Bridport? Frighteningly, I think he would. Let's not forget that before Hugh arrived in town, the New Commercial Inn was a derelict eyesore that overlooked the town square and the town's greatest asset, the Minster. Mr Steer and his cronies spent years complaining about the state of the building and as soon as someone sorts it out for them, they can't wait to get rid of them. Unbelievable. For all the fuss that has been made, you would think that Hugh had murdered someone. There's a tiny part of me that hopes he tells the council to shove it and shuts the whole lot down - it would be no more than the council deserves. I'm sure there are numerous other places in the South West that would gladly welcome him with open arms. Gavin Troth Axminster I think what he (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall) did on the telly was interesting and quite right from an animal welfare point of view. But I'm disappointed to see that the council have not commented about the welfare aspect. The way the animals are treated is disgusting, we all know that. Martin Johnston Hawkchurch How dare those petty-minded councillors run Hugh, a hard-working gentleman, down! Would they like to live like a chicken? He should be knighted for exposing a chicken's short life, with no feathers. Cliff Seaton n It is a shame that the local councillors have made a song and dance about Mr Whittingstall's documentary, which was very informative and has put me off my favourite scotch eggs as I am now a convert to free-range as a result of the programme! I can see why some people may be a bit upset, but then one or two local individuals let themselves down and the sign was also vandalised by locals but was obviously used to put the point of people's budgets across (even those who smoke and claim they cannot afford free-range!). Don't get me wrong, I am not a fan of Mr Whittingstall and he lied about the overpriced bird in his shop to the dismay of many local people which was not a good start. However, Axminster is losing its job centre while these councillors pick petty arguments and waste valuable taxpayers' resources. It's funny how our government is 'saving money' on the one hand by killing local communities and then plans to spend nearly two billion, wasted on the ridiculous ID card scheme, in the face of their incompetence to hold personal data securely! So, come on councillors, do your jobs and fight for our town's livelihood instead of engaging in childish squabbles! D Simpson Axminster I think that Axminster Town Council are being extremely small minded and very petty - they obviously have nothing better to discuss at their council meetings. As an objective observer of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's programmes I saw nothing to be upset about. The 'Millwey Gang' were shown in very good light and to be very much admired for their spirit and being prepared to go along with the project. Good luck to them if they continue to keep chickens. The Wrong End of Town is merely an expression, possibly unwisely used in this context, but anyone unfamiliar with the area driving into Axminster and seeing the derelict industrial units as you approach Millwey Rise could well be excused for thinking it to be the wrong end of town. Why is Axminster so prejudiced against someone with a double barrel name and a bit of get up and go, prepared to tackle subjects that upset him and to have a bit of vision? Hilary Arnold By email

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