In the Critics this week

Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, Marilyn Monroe and Condoleezza Rice.

This week's Critic At Large is the author and critic Sarah Churchwell, who explores how we refuse to acknowledge Marilyn Monroe's artistic achievments: "The great battle of Marilyn's life wasn't her struggle against drugs, alcohol, depression or loneliness ... It was her quest for respect, which we still refuse to grant her."

Tony Blair's chief of staff between 1995 and 2007 Jonathan Powell reviews No Higher Honour: a Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleezza Rice. Powell describes the memoir as a "diplomatic tour d'horizon, a canter round the world as Rice rushes from one event to another."

The Books interview is with English historian David Kynaston, who talks to Jonathan Derbyshire about the new abridged edition of hsi book City of London: the History. Asked if the way the City used to work could have prevented the crash of 2008, Kynaston said that "face-to-face dealing is better in terms of trust than screen-based dealing. Now, the whole thing has become so much more remote."

Elsewhere in Books: Amanda Craig reviews P D James's Death Comes to Pemberley, Chris Mullin reviews Ken Livingstone's memoirs and Leo Robson dissects Richard Bradford's biography of Martin Amis.

Also in the Critics: Ryan Gilbey reviews Andrea Arnold's adaptation of Wuthering Heights, Rachel Cooke on Ricky Gervais's new show and Maya Jaggi reports from the Athens biennale. Plus: Thomas Calvocoressi on the National Gallery's Leonardo da Vinci exhibition, Will Self's Madness of Crowds and a poem, "Diver", by David Harsent.

Show Hide image

The radio station where the loyal listeners are chickens

Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, knows what gets them clucking.

“The music is for the chickens, because of course on the night the music is very loud, and so it needs to be a part of their environment from the very start.” Emma Hills, the head chicken trainer at Giffords Circus, is standing in the sawdusty ring under a big top in a field outside Stroud as several rare-breed chickens wander freely around boxes and down ramps. They are the comic stars of the summer 2017 show, and Emma is coaxing them to walk insouciantly around the ring while she plays the early-morning show on Radio 1.

It’s the chickens’ favourite station. There seems to be something about its longueurs, combined with the playlist, that gets them going – if that’s the word. They really do respond to the voices and songs. “It’s a bit painful, training,” Emma observes, as she moves a little tray of worms into position as a lure. “It’s a bit like watching paint dry sometimes. It’s all about repetition.”

Beyond the big top, a valley folds into limestone hills covered in wild parsley and the beginnings of elderblossom. Over the radio, Adele Roberts (weekdays, from 4am) hails her listeners countrywide. “Hello to Denzel, the happy trucker going north on the M6. And van driver Niki on the way from Norwich to Coventry, delivering all the things.” Pecking and quivering, the chickens are rather elegant, each with its fluffy, caramel-coloured legs and explosive feather bouffant, like a hat Elizabeth Taylor might have worn on her way to Gstaad in the 1970s.

Despite a spell of ennui during the new Harry Styles single, enthusiasm resumes as Adele bids “hello to Simon from Bournemouth on the M3 – he’s on his way to Stevenage delivering meat”. I don’t imagine Radio 1 could hope for a better review: to these pretty creatures, its spiel is as thrilling as opening night at the circus. Greasepaint, swags of velvet, acrobats limbering up with their proud, ironic grace. Gasps from beholders rippling wonder across the stalls.

Emma muses that her pupils learn fast. Like camels, a chicken never forgets.

“I’ve actually given up eating them,” she admits. “Last year I had only two weeks to train and it was like, ‘If they pull this off I won’t eat chicken ever again.’ And they did. So I didn’t.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

0800 7318496