Stephen Fry's Key to the City

Synopsis: Stephen Fry tours the City of London, discovering the hidden mysteries of this rich and powerful square mile. Along the way, he visits the Bank of England's vaults, witnesses high drama at the London Metal Exchange as dealers buy and sell stocks, and experiences Dead Man's Walk at the Old Bailey, where many condemned criminals trod their final steps. Plus, as a recipient of the Freedom of the City of London, Stephen finds out just what privileges this gives him.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Michael Waldman
Actors: Stephen Fry


That's the city.

Good Lord!

Good Lord!


The Square Mile. The City of London.

It's an extraordinary institution.

Everything is so concentrated here.

It's just amazing.

I love it.


From drool-worthy quantities of cash

in the Bank of England vaults...

Oh, my!

Is that what I think it is?

- Hello.

- Is that Doris? - Yes, it's me. sharing an honour with the

lovely Doris...

You can always buy a life's supply

of lavatory paper.

I like it.

(PRISONERS SHOUT) prisoners' cries in the Dead

Man's Walk at the Old Bailey...

- That's the cell that's being

discharged. - Oh, really?

We're processing prisoners now.

..and bewildering ceremonies...

..I'm going to delve into the secrets

of the City.

Well, I was offered some months ago,

the freedom of the City of London.

And I had no idea what that meant.

I don't know what the City is.

Part of me knows it's a square mile

filled with banks.

And banks are... Well, they're the

enemies of society at the moment.

But I also know it is much older

than that.

It goes back to Dick Whittington and

the 12th Century.

It's the Corporation of the City of

London. It's liveries and guilds.

And mansion houses and guildhalls.

I've no idea what 'the freedom'


They say it means I can drive goats

over Tower Bridge.

I'm sure that's nonsense.

The whole thing set me out on a

course of thinking,

"If I'm going to accept this honour,

I want to penetrate the City."

It's one of those very British


It's like a little corner of

the world that is completely hidden.

It's both ancient and modern and

very exciting.

And here I am outside the Guildhall

which is one of the great buildings.

I dare say Richard Whittington

himself walked into it.

Hello. Where am I supposed to be


- You're going this way. I'll take you

up there. - Thank you.

Oh. Oh, my. Already I can see people

in funny costumes.

That's what I was hoping for.

Ladies and gentlemen, would you

please be upstanding

to receive your distinguished


I wonder what I'll be given? A key?

A pin number.

Or maybe a swipe card.

Stephen Fry, would you please


This is the declaration of a


I'd like you to read it aloud

beginning with your name.

I, Stephen Fry, do solemnly declare

that I will be good and true to our

lady sovereign

Queen Elizabeth II

and that I will be obedient to the

Mayor of this City.

Now, on behalf of the Chamberlain

of this great and ancient City of


it is a particular pleasure tonight

for me to extend

the right hand of fellowship to you

and to greet you all

as citizens of London.

- Congratulations.

- Thank you very much indeed.

Thank you.

I'm free!


I live only a couple of miles away

in the West End of London.

But the city seems like a foreign


I intend to use my new freedom as a

passport to explore

its hidden mysteries.

Tracing the outlines of the original

Roman settlement,

the City is a small local authority

that has vastly more wealth and


than any other borough in the UK yet

is a mere square mile.

The reason London was founded as a

trading port is this river.

With ships from all over the world

coming to do business.

I'm hoping to get my hands on

the levers of power at Tower Bridge -

that symbol of London that allowed

trading ships

into the heart of the City.

Oh, my goodness. Look at it. There

it is.

It's a sight that not everybody

sees. Even Londoners.

Tower Bridge was built in 1886 and

Eric Sutherns

has the splendid title of Bridge


It's so funny to see the white lines

of the road at that angle.

- Here's the warship coming through

now. - Terrific.

They're flying the Union Jack.

I've got a statutory duty to open

the bridge to any vessel

that gives me the required 24 hours


It's like an Escher print. All


staircases in different directions.

I ask Eric if I can see how this

masterpiece of Victorian engineering

actually works.

- the... - It's known as the

Bascule Chamber.

This is the Bascule...

Oh, my God!

Oh, my goodness. It's a theatre.

You could have rows of people on


Except, presumably, when it rises...

You're under the road. Under the

south bascule.

When we do a bridge lift, that

travels down

- and goes up against the wall.

- So if we stood here, we'd be killed.

Not killed. You'll have time to get


You'd have to duck. And if it was a

full one?

- Would I be safe against that wall?

- A full lift.

You would be safe. But it would

touch you before it stopped.

So it would be rubbing up against

your shoulders before it stopped.

Tower Bridge. Christine. We're about

to start your bridge lift now.

Originally operated by completed


it's now all controlled by one man,

and today, Eric allows

that one man to be me.

Stand by bridge staff. Stopping road



- This noise is normal, yes? Good.

- That's normal.

We're now waiting for the traffic to

clear at the bridge.

Now press those two. Now you can

press pedestrian gates.

These is just unbelievable.

Look around to make sure everything

is safe and no-one is on the bridge.

- OK. - Halfway back to creep speed.

Just gently. Watch the centre of the

bridge and you'll see it moving.

- Oh, my heavens. - Now all the way


Oh, my goodness!

- I'm raising the bridge. - Just watch

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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