This is the first in a series of posts in which I will be exploring fictional characters names. For the foreseeable future I will be focusing these character studies on the bad guys, bosses, brutes, bullies, degenerates, despots, deviants, dirt bags, felons, gangsters good-for-nothings, goons, heavies, hoodlums, hooligans, intimidators, kingpins, knaves, louts, miscreants, oppressors, psychos, rapscallions, rascals, reprobates, rouges, ruffians scalawags, scoundrels, thugs, tough guys, troublemakers, tyrants, villains, wise guys, wrongdoers, and evil doers. Why? simply because villains tend to be colorful characters, and as Jay Chiat said “I’d rather be a pirate than be in the navy.”
Character Study No.1: Teddy Bass
The name of Ian McShane’s character, Teddy Bass, from the 2000 film Sexy Beast, sounds harmless enough at first blush, a metaphorical mashup of equal parts lingerie (teddy, a camisole top and panties), plush and cuddly stuffed animal (teddy bear), and extraneous boondoggling buffoon white elephant in the room, Big Mouth Billy Bass. Think Elvis playing his own hillbilly-strawberry-blond-wig-wearing cousin in the epic Kissin’ Cousins.
Baby let me be,
Your lovin teddy bear
Put a chain around my neck,
And lead me anywhere
Oh let me be
Your teddy bear.
(“(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear” by Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe and published in 1957 by Gladys Music.)
But make no mistake, Teddy Bass is a not your Teddy Bear, lovin’ or otherwise. He is what McShane describes as an “interpretation of the male macho and misogyny of all different kinds of male animals.” He is a monolithic black hole of pure evil incarnate, a hedonist, and a sociopath to-boot. He sails down the streets of London, leaving in his wake a bloody shambles of devastation. He is simply the scariest cat you are likely to have the misfortune of meeting.
Please allow me to introduce myself
I’m a man of wealth and taste
I’ve been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man’s soul and fate
Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name, oh yeah
Are you Teddy Pendergrass? No. Digression No.1: Teddy Pendergrass was a vocalist for Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes on the hit, “If You Don’t Know Me by Now.”
Are you one of The Teddy Bears? No. Digression No.2: The Teddy Bears was Phil Spector’s first vocal group. “To Know Him Is to Love Him” was a hit song that Spector wrote for The Teddy Bears, inspired by words on his father’s tombstone: “To Know Me Is To Love Me.”
Are you Teddy Roosevelt? No. Digression No. 3: “The name Teddy Bear comes from former United States President Theodore Roosevelt, whose nickname was ‘Teddy’. The name originated from an incident on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi in November 1902. A suite of Roosevelt’s attendants, led by Holt Collier, cornered, clubbed, and tied an American Black Bear to a willow tree after a long exhausting chase with hounds. They called Roosevelt to the site and suggested that he should shoot it. He refused to shoot the bear himself, deeming this unsportsmanlike, but instructed that the bear be killed to put it out of its misery, and it became the topic of a political cartoon by Clifford Berryman in The Washington Post on November 16, 1902. While the initial cartoon of an adult black bear lassoed by a handler and a disgusted Roosevelt had symbolic overtones, later issues of that and other Berryman cartoons made the bear smaller and cuter.”
But enough digressions, let’s get back to Mr. Bass. On paper or screen his surname could be read as either Bass (pronounced “base”) as in a low-pitched sound or tone, the tones in the lowest register of an instrument, a male singing voice of the lowest range, an instrument that sounds within this range, deep, low, resonant, sonorous, deep-tones. “Base” and treble? Bass and trouble? And this haunting tone is wonderfully evoked in Teddy’s theme, aptly titled “Teddy the Beast,” from the Sexy Beast soundtrack by Roque Baños (Edeltone 2001). One can almost hear the three Macbeth witches chanting “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble,” as a chorus to this creepy, eerie and utterly hypnotic theme, which by the way is embedded in the illustration for this article, above.
Sexy Beast. Most lingerie teddies, also referred to as camiknickers, are designed for maximum sex appeal. Our Teddy Bass is no exception, he is a very sexy garment indeed, and under closer examination bears a passing resemblance to the raciest black jaguar Brit of them all, Bryan Ferry.
Being evil is no picnic. “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” is a song consisting of a melody by American composer John Walter Bratton. It remains popular as a children’s song, having been recorded by numerous artists over the decades. “If you go down in the woods today / you’re sure of a big surprise….”
More unsportsmanlike conduct. Although the East-End accents in this film take about a half an hour to adjust to — and after seeing this film three times I still mistake the protagonist’s name, which is Gail, as Gal, rather than “Gale” — I believe Teddy’s last name is pronounced “Bass” as in any of various marine fishes of the family serranidae, such as the sea bass and the striped bass. Or does he originate from the black, largemouth or foulmouth Bass varieties? Either way it is safe to say Teddy’s adversaries sleep with the fishes or end up on the wrong end of a Super Bass-o-Matic ’76.