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Peter Haining – The Mystery & Horrible Murders Of Sweeney Todd

Posted by demonik on June 21, 2009

Peter Haining – The Mystery & Horrible Murders Of Sweeney Todd (Frederick Muller 1979)

hainingsweeney1

Blurb

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is a figure famous around the world. A sinister hairdresser who is said to have disposed of his unsuspecting customers through a revolving chair, and having robbed and murdered them, handed over their corpses to his partner in crime to make into meat pies, he has few peers in the annals of crime – or British history for that matter.

Yet this extraordinary character whose name has been familiar to young and old alike since the middle of the Nineteenth Century, is shrouded in mystery:

Was he a real person who actually murdered a hundred and more victims – or just a figment of a writer’s brilliant imagination?

Why is it that although plays featuring his dark deeds have become among the most popular and enduring of any in the history of the theatre, the novel which gave him literary life has been unheard of for a century and a quarter?

And, perhaps most surprisingly of all in view of this notoriety, why has no full length study of the Demon Barber been attempted before now?

These were just some of the questions that had fascinated Peter Haining since his years as a journalist in Fleet Street, and which he finally set out to try and answer in this remarkable book. And not only has he succeeded in coming up with some surprising evidence about Sweeney Todd, but has studied the illusive book which made him famous, and made extensive use of this work. He also looks at the background to the legend, its subsequent enormous success in the entertainment media, and continued growth to the present day. Indeed he discusses all the elements that have gone towards making this such an intriguing story – and even gives space to a variety of theories about the Demon Barber -including one idea that he might actually have been a woman!

At long last, this book throws a revealing light or a figure as famous in London lore as Dick Whittington and Jack the Ripper

The throat-slasher of St. Dunstans seems to have held a lasting fascination for Haining, who also published the long forgotten Frederick Hazleton penny dreadful, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, with a fine introduction by himself for W. H. Allen in 1980. His Sweeney Todd: The Real Story Of The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (Robson, 1998), is a reworking of the earlier books and sets out to “prove” that, not only was there some substance to the macabre story, but that Todd actually existed. It bears a dedication “To W.O.G. Lofts who helped to spring man of the traps”

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