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Sweeney Todd was born on October 26, 1756, in Brick Lane.The house in which the child first breathed the fetid air of the East London slums is not known, but it was probably near Spitalfields.On one occasion he was left for dead after a beating - for pilfering from a murderer.

Sweeney Todd's name is seen in Victorian 'penny dreadful' newspapers and then 19thcentury melodrama, complete with his own catchphrase, "See how I polish 'em off!

" In modern times, the Demon Barber's tale has been adapted first as a Stephen Sondheim musical and now a Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

Todd's story, however, has always been dismissed as exactly that - a story. Academics pronounced him a fictional composite, his grisly character an amalgam of several serial killers.

From my early days as a journalist on Fleet Street, I, too, have been fascinated by Todd.

Then the man was stripped of his money, and his flesh.