It is a common statement that because of its simplicity the bacterial cell makes an ideal model for the study of a wide variety of biological systems and phenomena. While no-one would dispute that much of our under standing of biological function derives from the study of the humble bacterium, the concept of a simple life-form would be hotly disputed by any scientist engaged in the determination of the relationship between structure and function within the bacterial cell. Bacteria are particularly amenable to intensive study; their physiology can be probed with powerful biochemical, genetical and immunological techniques. Each piece of information obtained inevitably raises as many questions as answers, and can lead to a highly confused picture being presented to the lay reader. Nowhere is this more evident than in the study of the surface layers of the bacterial cell. Examination of the early electron micrographs suggested that the bacterial cytoplasm was surrounded by some sort of semi-rigid layer, possessing sufficient intrinsic strength to protect the organism from osmotic lysis. The belief that the surface layers were rather passive led to their neglect, while researchers concentrated on the superficially more exciting cytoplasmic components. Over the last twenty years our view of the bacterial envelope has undergone extensive revision, revealing a structure of enormous complexity.