A conversation about the good old days of British theatre when stars were capable of eight performances a week and the stages weren’t full of people off the telly led the Whingers to pay a visit to St Paul’s Covent Garden (the “actors’ church) recently to hang around with dead people.
Strangely, neither whinger had ever visited this historic place. Although the whingers are often to be seen on their knees, this is usually in the context of crawling out of a bar.
The church is instantly recognisable. The rear portico backs on to the Covent Garden piazza and was the setting for George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion.
Built in 1633 by Inigo Jones, its connection with the theatre began 30 years later when the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane was established by one of two theatre companies licensed by the newly restored Charles II following the decade long ban of theatre imposed by Oliver Cromwell (with whose rather draconian approach we quite often have some sympathy; after seeing anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber, for example).
The churchyard is cluttered with benches dedicated to a range of theatrical types – Beryl Reid, Sheila Gish, Evelyn Laye (“Boo” to her friends), Gladys Cooper and Gretchen Franklin – on which local office workers eat their lunch and homeless people obsessively unpack and repack their belongings.
Inside the church are the ashes of Victorian actress Ellen Terry and the walls are covered with memorials to people such as Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward, Anna Neagle, Flora Robson, Boris Karloff, Stanley Holloway, Dennis Price, Sybil Thorndike, Gracie Fields and Ivor Novello.
The ashes of Dame Edith Evans are scattered nearby.
In his excitement to capture the moment Andrew lost his lens cap of his box brownie. This gave Phil an excuse to crawl around on the floor and he was delighted to find not only a discarded sock but the missing item which had poignantly turned up near one of the lower plaques dedicated to the much missed Hattie Jaques.
By a bizarre coincidence, the Whingers followed up their pilgrimage with a visit to the cinema to see Venus and – blow us – if there wasn’t a scene set in the church we’d just left in which ageing actors Leslie Phillips and Peter O’Toole enjoy a dance together. Spooky.