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Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street


There are many myths and stories surrounding the notorious Sweeney Todd of London in true Urban Legend style.

As with the Legend of Jack the Ripper the legend of Sweeney Todd has grown over generations to become deeply seated in English folklore.

As an Englishman I can verify that we generally accept the story as being true although perhaps a little exaggerated over the centuries.

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So what is the truth?

Some say the legend of Sweeney Todd was originally an old piece of Folklore in England (kind of like the "boogie-man", he was a character kids talked about to scare each other).

The story of Sweeney Todd first appeared as a story entitled The String of Pearls: A Romance. This penny dreadful was published in eighteen weekly parts, in Edward Lloyd's The People's Periodical and Family Library, issues 7-24, 21 November 1846 to 20 March 1847. It was probably written by James Malcolm Rymer, though Thomas Peckett Prest has also been credited with it.

In the most common versions of the story, he is an English barber who murders his customers with a cut-throat razor (or "straight razor" in American English), and turns their remains into meat pies. His barber shop is said to have been situated in London’s Fleet Street.

But what of the TRUE story…

It is believed by many, including myself and many English people that Sweeny Todd DID in fact exist and that the String of Pearls penny serial although “fictional” was based on true events.

Little is known of Sweeny’s life before his release from prison in 1775, with a few pounds he had stolen at work in the jail.

With his little knowledge of haircuts, which he had gained during his incarceration, Sweeney Todd decided to open a Barber Shop at 186 Fleet Street, next door to St Dunstan's Church, just a few blocks away from the Royal Courts of Justice.

The shop stood at the side of the narrow alleyway named Hen and Chicken Court, at the corner of Fetter Lane.

The revolving chair, that stood in the centre of the small shop and over a trapdoor that led to a disused cellar when swung over would reveal an identical empty chair that would take its place.

Sweeney when committing his murderous act, would exit through the rear door and down a flight of creaky stairs to where the customer would by now be lying unconscious after their fall. Sweeney would then take out his razor and slit their throats (through Sweeney Todd's act this type of razor became known as a cut throat razor).

The story of Sweeney Todd ended at the end of a rope on January 25th 1802. He was strung up outside Newgate Prison; it is said before a crowd of thousands, who had been waiting throughout the night to see Sweeney’s demise. After his execution his body was given over for medical research by a group of hospital surgeons.

Sweeney Todd ended up, like so many of his victims, with his entrails on a plate. And as for Mrs. Margery Lovett, she was to cheat death by the hangman, she was found by prison warders poisoned in her cell at Newgate prison.

The Musical

The story of Sweeny Todd became a staple of Victorian melodrama and was made into a hit Broadway musical in 1979.

In Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (which the film is based on), Todd was known as Benjamin Barker, a middle class barber, married to Lucy Barker with a daughter, Johanna.

The villainous Judge Turpin exiles Benjamin to Australia on false charges in order to have Lucy to himself. Mrs. Lovett tells Todd that Lucy poisoned herself. Turpin adopts baby Johanna as his ward. By the time Todd returns to London, Johanna has become a young woman and falls in love with a sailor, Anthony, with whom she plans to elope.

In the Sondheim musical, Mrs. Lovett takes in an orphan boy, Tobias Ragg, after Sweeney kills Toby's previous guardian, Adolfo Pirelli, who turns out to be a former assistant that tries to blackmail him. Toby is generally the first character to catch onto Sweeney Todd's crimes and also is responsible for Todd's death.

The Movie

Sweeney Todd has also featured in several films, the most recent being Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), directed by Tim Burton, with Johnny Depp in the title role.

The results of this old friendship are astounding and have breathed new life into an old property which is no easy task. It's dark, it's moody, and it's a musical, all wrapped up into one

Sweeney Todd is the whimsical type of musical where characters randomly break into song, with musical numbers that attest to their grim lives, so there’s no need for elaborately choreographed dance sequences.

The melodies have a murky tone and, of course, Burton revels in showing grim details with a hint of humor.

Somehow, the funniest moments are when Todd’s victims slide from his barber’s chair, through the hatch in the floor, and plop into the furnace room below, their heads cracking against the concrete. It’s an expertly conceived film, and an impressive entry into Burton’s filmography.

So, what do you think…

Fact or fiction?

Just be careful the next time you go to the barbers ;-)

Medicom's Sweeny Todd Action Figure

Sideshow is pleased to announce that Medicom Toy Corporation has allowed Sideshow Collectibles to import a limited number of their 12-inch RAH Sweeney Todd figure from the film 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'.

The Sweeney Todd figure features an authentic likeness of Johnny Depp and comes complete with his trademark razors.

Medicom's outstanding 1:6 scale figures are of the highest quality and detail, ready to take life on your shelf in any dynamic pose that you desire.

Medicom Toy's RAH body is one of the most articulated 12-inch figure bodies available, capable of nearly any pose that the human body can achieve.

Figure Specs

License: Sweeney Todd

Product Type: 12 inch Figure

Product Size: 12" H (304.8mm)*

Product Weight: 2.00 lbs (0.91 kg)*

Box Size: 14.00" H (355.6mm) x 7.00" W (177.8mm) x 4.00" L (101.6mm)*

Est. Shipping Weight: 3.00 lbs (1.36 kg)*

* Product size and weight are approximate values. Est. Ship Weight is an estimated value for U.S. shipping calculated by item, box and shipping materials. US shipping costs may be estimated in DIM weight if oversized warning appears above. click here for additional information. International (non-EU) shipping costs are only based on dimensional weight, click here for more information.

Manufactured by: Medicom Toy

Due:Nov / Dec, 2008

Limited Edition: TBD

Pre-order Now $159.99 (more information)


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