Whatever happened to Chicken & Lantern? After the animated time-travelling pair’s poorly-received 1985 series producers were keen for a new direction with more focus, and with the departure of Bruce Willis (who had become too expensive for a BBC children’s show budget) Lantern was recast; Burt Kwouk inevitably taking up the part. His warmer, more reassuring Lantern allowed Prunella Scales to make Chicken more of a flighty, unpredictable character again. But crucially, the third season became defined by two things: an ongoing story with cliffhangers rather than standalone episodes, and the idea that Chicken needed a nemesis…
(If you’ve never heard of Chicken & Lantern, here’s the introduction to the first series.)
SERIES 3 EPISODE GUIDE
6 x 10 minute episodes
Transmitted on BBC1, Wednesdays at 4.35pm, 3th September – 8th October 1986
Episode 1: Cock and Conservatory
Chicken and Lantern arrive back in 1986 Basingstoke – or so they think! Passing by the window of a Radio Rentals they glance at the television and are horrified to see the band ‘Four Star’ performing their hit ‘Can’t Wait Another Second’. Lantern quickly deduces they’ve passed into a parallel universe where the band they know as Five Star only has four members!
To find out what happened to the missing Pearson sibling, the duo make haste to Romford, where they find Stedman imprisoned in a sinister conservatory. In freeing the should-have-been pop star, they’re accosted by this universe’s version of Chicken: a male fowl known as Cock who’s deliberately perverted history to take a share of Five Star’s millions for himself. With Lantern trapped in the doors of his counterpart Conservatory, and Chicken pinned down by Cock, things look grim – until all five Pearsons arrive and distract the evil pair with a slick dance routine to their hit ‘Find The Time’. Chicken & Lantern channel the power of dance to return to their own universe but their warped alter-egos pursue them…
Episode 2: Running Like Cockwork
It’s a nerve-jangling chase through time, as Chicken and Lantern try to shake off the evil Cock and Conservatory. They travel to the Ice Age, to a distant future in which everyone in the world is asleep, and finally to 1945 for a tense showdown in the New Mexico desert, minutes before the world’s first nuclear explosion. In retrospect, these abandoned locations were clearly chosen to showcase the dynamics between the new line-up of characters. Cock, a self-loathing, misanthropomorphic character whose malevolence and goals were never satisfactorily defined, was voiced with Shakespearian bile by Daniel Day-Lewis. Burt Kwouk recalls that Day-Lewis’s insistence on method acting resulted in his turning up to recording sessions coated in discarded chicken skin, seething with rage and feathers, and refers to him mildly to this day as “an unpleasant man”. Conservatory meanwhile was a less talkative presence than Lantern, more of a means of getting from time to time than a character in his own right, and his dialogue consisted mostly of a series of frustrated grunts. He was portrayed by Matthew Waterhouse.
Episode 3: Big Bang Bang Chicken
The episode 2 cliffhanger saw all the characters caught in the blast of a nuclear detonation. But long-term fans didn’t worry for our heroes’ safety, when the title sequence itself shows that exposure to fire only hastens Lantern’s ability to escape from dangerous situations. And as Conservatory only needs the warming rays of the sun on its indoor tomatoes to power its timeflights, all our protagonists find that the atomic blast propels them further through the vortex than ever before, to the beginning of the universe itself.
The primordial forces force our heroes into yet another showdown with their baleful counterparts. In abstract scenes reminiscent of the wilder excesses of Series 2, everyone discovers their archetype. Conservatory and Lantern meet the Unifying Force Of Practical Design, an avuncular demigod clearly based on Terence Conran, while Chicken and Cock face their own natures at the court of the god Gallus Galactis (the self-styled ‘Star Chicken’). It’s here we discover that Cock’s loathing for Chicken is merely the twisted product of his intense desire for her, and as all the characters head off through time again, he vows to make her his own.
Episode 4: Acockalypse Now
From the beginning of time to the end of the world! There was a popular belief in the 80s that the world would end in 2012, and the year we live in now was the setting for Episode 4’s showdown. We might laugh at some of the predictions the writers of 26 years ago made, but for fans this is a poetic and well-regarded episode. Arriving in Skegness in 2012, Chicken and Lantern discover a grey world winding down towards death – the suggestion is very much that the end will come with a whimper. Holidaymakers shuffle slowly along rusting moving pavements and communicate with each other through a network of telephone-linked Olivetti electronic typewriters slung around their necks. As the colour begins to fade from Lantern as well as from Conservatory’s tomatoes, it seems our heroes are trapped. “What is… this… terrible place?” asks Burt Kwouk in a tearjerking speech as he flutters on a makeshift deathbed under the pier.
Ironically it’s Cock’s selfish desire to escape that reinvigorates society and saves the planet, as he’s been preserving a mystic Century Egg inside Conservatory. On breaking it open, colour is returned to the world and our leading characters are able to time travel again. But as Chicken and Lantern depart, Cock confides in Conservatory that he knows exactly where they’re headed…
Episode 5: Cock Party
“I hate the term Stag Party,” hisses Daniel Day-Lewis in this episode. “The opposite of HEN is COCK.” In an unusual move, this Cock-centric episode doesn’t feature the title characters at all. Set entirely inside Conservatory, while in pursuit of Chicken and Lantern through the time vortex, it features Cock reflecting on his recently realised love for Chicken and his plans to capture her heart. We also see flashbacks which explain his origin. A happy childhood as a family pet is marred forever when the eldest son of the family, drunk on his first taste of sherry, attempts to carry out a rough caponisation on Christmas Eve. Escaping from this terrifying ordeal, Cock swears vengeance on all humanity and stumbles into a garden centre where his partnership with Conservatory is forged.
It’s largely a monologue for Daniel Day-Lewis although Matthew Waterhouse grunts as he’s never grunted before.
Episode 6: We Are Feathered Here Today…
The final episode of the series saw Chicken and Lantern crashland in Russia, 1912 – the power of the Century Egg has allowed them to travel by exactly 100 years only. Anticipating this, Cock is already in league with Rasputin and soon brings the mystic’s hypnotic powers to bear on Chicken, resulting in Prunella Scales’s unforgettable speech. ‘I love Cock,’ she sighs. ‘No-one compares to him. So even should I never see another living soul, I’d gladly spend every waking hour of every last day of my life with my poor stunted wings wrapped around Cock.’ Delivered in a dreamy monotone, it gave a generation of impressionable children pause for thought.
The climactic wedding scene in the Tsar’s Winter Palace was no less memorable. Just as it seems the mesmerised Chicken is about to pledge herself to Cock forever, Lantern finally escapes from Conservatory by using all his strength to smash through a double glazed window-pane. In tatters, he shines a light of truth upon Chicken, causing her to declare ‘I cock-a-doodle don’t!’ and the two dematerialise as the crowd turn upon their tormentors. The closing moments, in which the Empress hurls a shivering, plucked Cock into a large pot of boiling water along with poor Conservatory’s prize tomatoes ended the series on a disturbing note. Daniel Day Lewis’s horrible screams would echo in children’s ears until the fourth – and final – series was finally broadcast.