Sweeney Todd is a fictional character who first appeared as the antagonist of the Victorian penny dreadful The String of Pearls (1846–1847). Claims that Sweeney Todd was a historical person are strongly disputed by scholars, although there are possible legendary prototypes, arguably making the story of Sweeney Todd an early example of an urban legend.
In the original version of the tale, Todd is a barber who dispatches his victims by pulling a lever while they are in his barber chair, which makes them fall backward down a revolving trapdoor into the basement of his shop, generally causing them to break their necks or skulls. Just in case they are alive, he goes to the basement and "polishes them off" (slitting their throats with his straight razor). In some adaptations, the murdering process is reversed, with Todd slitting the throats of his customers before they are dispatched into the basement via the revolving trapdoor. After Todd has robbed his dead victims of their goods, Mrs. Lovett, his partner in crime (in some later versions, his friend and/or lover), assists him in disposing of the bodies by baking their flesh into meat pies, and selling them to the unsuspecting customers of her pie shop. Todd's barber shop is situated at 186 Fleet Street, London, next to St. Dunstan's church, and is connected to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop in nearby Bell Yard by means of an underground passage. In most versions of the story, he and Mrs. Lovett hire an unwitting orphan boy, Tobias Ragg, to serve the pies to customers.
The tale surrounding the character became a staple of Victorian melodrama. Later it was the subject of a 1959 ballet by English composer Sir Malcolm Arnold and, in 1979, a Tony award-winning Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim. Sweeney Todd has also been featured in several films, the most recent being 2007's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, based on the 1979 musical.