Covent Garden sunlit and busy. A street performer declaiming just in front of the church.

A bed of nails, ladies and gentlemen, a genuine bed of nails. Genuine six-inch nails. They're not bendy, they're not made of rubber, they're the genuine article. See them for yourself, you can feel them if you like. Would you like to feel them, sir? Just put your finger on one of them. Be careful. Quite sharp, isn't it? What about you, madam? That's it, mind out for the point. Genuine steel. Not ideally suited for lying down on, you might think. Would you like to have a go, sir? Anyone over here? People always think this is a trick, but it isn't a trick. It's just me, lying down on a bed of six-inch nails. The other thing people think is, he puts himself into a trance. He can't feel a thing. He's invulnerable to pain. Well, let me tell you, as a matter of fact it hurts like hell.

This church is by Inigo Jones. In fact he designed the whole of this square, which is meant to be modelled on an Italian piazza.

So does that mean it was before the Great Fire of London?

Yes. This was built in about 1630. The Great Fire was 1666.

So it survived the fire, did it?

Actually, I don't think the fire made it this far west.

I like those great big sticking-out eaves. And I like the red brick, too. Much less ostentatious than stonework. Less sort of imperial.

Well, the lack of ostentation may be deliberate. The Covent Garden square was commissioned by the Earl of Bedford, but although it was a very ambitious scheme he didn't want to spend too much money on it, so when it came to the church he told Inigo Jones to make it a very simple building, like a barn. Jones said "Sir, I shall make it the finest barn in Europe".

I think I've heard that quote.

It's quite a famous remark. So as you can see, the exterior of the building is really quite simple. It's mainly intended to be seen from the square, of course, and this end, the end we're looking at now, is comparatively imposing - stonework, columns, triangular pediment. But still quite plain in terms of decoration, and I suppose you could say that the use of wood in those overhanging eaves is quite barn-like. Another interesting point is the columns, which are Tuscan. Tuscan columns are supposed to be the lowest and plainest of the classical orders, with Corinthian being the highest. The Tuscan style is supposedly derived from a rustic tradition of wooden buildings. So by using Tuscan columns on the front of his building, Jones is making a sort of architectural comment about the fact that his patron told him to build a barn.

Architectural sarcasm, in fact.

You could call it that, yes.

It's a bit shabby in places, isn't it? Some of that paintwork's peeling.

Another interesting point is that this end, which fronts onto the square, is the East end, which is where the altar normally goes in a church, as you know. But it had to be the grand end of the building, because it's the end which you see from the square. So Jones put the portico on this end, but it's a false entrance. You can't actually get in from here. It looks as if you can, but you can't. The doors are down at the other end.

Oh, how ingenious.

As well as being an architect, Jones was very involved in theatrical design...

Yes, he did the stage-sets for some of Ben Jonson's masques, didn't he?

Did he? I didn't know that.

I'm pretty sure it was him.

Well, what I was going to say was that there's something rather theatrical about this false entrance. It looks like one thing, but it's really another.

Shall we go in?

I don't know if we need bother. It isn't all that interesting inside.

Oh, I think we should at least have a look.

Ladies and gentlemen, what I'm going to do now is see how long I can go on this bed of extremely sharp nails with this rather large gentleman here standing on top of me. In other words I'm going to see how long I can endure a condition of extreme agony. I tried it the other day, ladies and gentlemen, and I managed fifteen seconds. That may not sound like very long, but if you think you can go longer than fifteen seconds, on a bed of nails, with somebody weighing fourteen stone standing your chest, then you're welcome to come up here and have a try. In any case, with your help, I'm going to try to break that record today. But the next thing I'm going to do right now, ladies and gentlemen, to demonstrate that I'm not wearing any protective clothing, is to take all of my clothes off, all the way down to my pants...

A garden in spring sunshine: young leaves and cherry-blossom. Benches crowded with people taking lunch. Chips, sandwiches, salad from a tupperware box, couscous, banana, ham and cheese baguette.

...in a motorway service station in Belgium, completely off her face, and she was desperate to go to the toilet, but there was a huge queue for the ladies', and the gents' was empty; so she went in there. But then these two blokes came in. She thought that's all right, I'll just wait till they've had a wee; but they seemed to be taking an incredibly long time; and then she heard all these funny noises; and then she realised they were actually, you know, getting it on, and she was stuck inside this cubicle, completely out of her head...

A broad, uncluttered, cream-and-pink interior.

Well, I wouldn't say this was all that uninteresting, Owen. Definitely worth a look.

It's got quite an odd feel for a church, hasn't it? It's more like a very posh banqueting-hall or something.

No galleries, no pillars, no transepts.

It's very rectangular, isn't it?

It's basically just a great big empty oblong.

Very barnlike.

Those three pillars on either side of the altar are really odd, don't you think? What are they in aid of?

They probably stand out more than they would in another church, because they're virtually the only form of internal structure.

Actually, it looks more like a proper church if you stand at this end and look back, because you've got the organ at that end. I still think the ceiling looks like a banqueting-hall, though.

Look at all these plaques on the wall. Noel Coward, Gracie Fields, Ivor Novello...

They can't all be buried here, surely.

No, I think they're just memorials.

There are lots more of over here, look. They're all actors, or connected with the stage, anyway.

What's that in aid of?

This is the Actors' Church.

Is it?

That's what it's known as.

Why's that, then?

Well, there are a lot of theatres in this area. It's been a theatrical area for several hundred years, I think. And the ballet, of course.

Into the spring sunshine again. The people taking lunch on the benches - are they office-workers, or are they theatricals?

They've just brought out a CD of cover versions, right, and one of the songs they do is "No Particular Place to Go", the old Chuck Berry number. So for the sake of publicity, they thought why not stick a video on You Tube; so they uploaded their version of "No Particular Place to Go", with some footage of cars driving along, chevvies and that, right? Next thing they knew, wallop, they got an e-mail from Chuck Berry's solicitors, threatening them with legal action. I mean, where's the harm in a cover version? As long as they give him a credit, you'd think he'd be pleased...

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