RICHARD PHILLIPS-JONES looks at Teeny Todd, The Demon Barber of Queer Street, from The Two Ronnies
Teeny Todd, The Demon Barber Of Queer Street
(The Two Ronnies, series 9, episode 3, broadcast 19th December 1981)
The Two Ronnies were already something of a national institution by the time their ninth series together started its run in late 1981, the duo of Corbett and Barker having launched their mix of sketches, solo spots, comedic serials and musical numbers on BBC1 a decade earlier. It had by now settled into a much-loved format, and a regular Saturday night primetime position, watched by millions of families across the nation, ours included.
At risk of being accused of comedy heresy, the musical bits on The Two Ronnies were never really my cup of tea. They are certainly fondly remembered by a large number of Brits who were watching at the time, but my natural in-built aversion to musicals in general (my personal hell would be the complete works of Andrew Lloyd Webber running on a loop), added to my impatience to get to the closing news-item gags ensured that I generally treated these sections with indifference at best, distractedly flicking through the TV listings in the paper while the rest of the family laughed at the screen.
My preconceptions got a major jolt for the episode broadcast on BBC1 on Saturday, 19 December at 8:35pm. Ronnie Corbett’s joke-trailing monologue was drawing to a close, and I was probably all set to head to the kitchen for a Jaffa Cake as the musical number began. This was different, though. When this segment opened with a shot of a graveyard, my interest was unsurprisingly piqued: Warlords Of Atlantis (1978), with its giant octopus had been screened on BBC1 that same evening, and it suddenly looked like an unexpected horror-tinged double-bill was on the cards.
To the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”, a sinister figure in a black cloak appeared, and began to sing…
It would be fair to say they had my attention.
As the tale gets underway, it transpires that the titular Teeny Todd (Ronnie Corbett) is the half-brother of the more famous Sweeney. He presents himself to his sibling’s former accomplice Mrs. Lovett (Ronnie Barker), who immediately suggests reviving her former arrangement with Todd to supply fresh meat for her pie shop.
In no time at all, Teeny Todd’s barber shop is open for business, with a splattering of Kensington Gore which must have raised a few eyebrows in the BBC’s Light Entertainment department. Their throats freshly slit, Teeny’s victims are deposited via a chute to the widow Lovett’s bakehouse for preparation.
Dressed in a blood-soaked apron, armed with a meat cleaver (and a giant economy-sized bottle of HP Sauce) Ronnie Barker never looked more sinister, singing “Send down, oh send down, oh send down a body to me…”, before preparing to dismember the unfortunate punter.
Interspersed along the way are gags referencing McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken (there’s a suggestion that Colonel Saunders is looking to buy out their business) and unfortunate pets ending up wrapped and baked in pastry, before a finale sees the police descend on the pie shop and barbers – Have the pair been rumbled, or are the coppers just there to place their lunch order? You’ll have to track down the episode (available on DVD) to find out.
This was a timely skit in so much as Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd musical had made its way from Broadway to the West End the previous year, but the Two Ronnies’ effort owed a great deal more to the British music hall tradition, and of course the Tod Slaughter melodramas of the 1930’s.
Whilst not The Two Ronnies’ first encounter with the traditions of British horror (who could forget their serial, The Phantom Raspberry Blower Of Old London Town in 1976?), Teeny Todd came completely out of the blue, no doubt causing consternation amongst self-appointed guardians of public morals, who likely harrumphed that the BBC was going to hell in a handcart and that civilisation as we knew it was doomed.
And that, dear reader is what’s known as a recommendation.
Have you seen Teeny Todd, The Demon Barber of Queer Street? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!