As anyone who’s seen him live, grew up watching him on tv or has caught the amazing documentary Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story, Frank Sidebottom is one of the greatest comedic creations Britain has ever produced, and in 1992 he got his own six part series off of the back of this pilot. Set, as you might have guessed, in Frank’s shed which was located in his mum’s garden, it’s a character comedy chat show but unlike many (The Eric Andre Show especially) the guests are in on the joke.
It’s not just celebrity chat either, there’s a couple of sketches, a prerecorded film and Frank just messing about in the daft fashion that he’s so famous for. For those not aware of the character Frank’s an incredibly enthusiastic man who just happens to have a massive paper mache head, and much of the comedy comes from his innocent, slightly absurd and excited take on the world (pretty much everything is fantastic) and his clumsy slapstick. Also involved is his sort of friend Little Frank who looks exactly like him bar being much much smaller, Alfonse Allegro (Frank’s brother Martin Sievey) the keyboard player who plays naff jingles, and the annoying broadcaster James Whale keeps popping in to ask if he’s going to be part of the show or not.
A lot of the joy of the show comes from the interviews, in the pilot he chats to Sharyn Hodgson (Carly from Australian soap Home and Away) and asks her questions like when it comes to his shed “Bet you’d like to live here, wouldn’t you?” and concerning kangaroos “If you throw them do they come back?”. Sharyn finds the whole thing amusing and plays along, even when Frank falls off his seat while interviewing her and after showing her a fake photo of himself with Kylie he claims “I think she wants to marry me actually, but well, I’m a man of the world”. His second guest was radio DJ and tv presenter David Hamilton and he too is subjected to ridiculously silly questions including “Have you ever tried your Mum’s hat on in front of the mirror?” and “You’ve made loads of money haven’t you, how much exactly?”, plus there’s a fun sequence where Frank reads his palm and gives him the sage advice to “Avoid toast this week”. Hamilton also has a ball, and playfully teases Frank about the fact that he’s actually taller than him, leading to my favourite illogical line of the show where Frank retorts “Well I’ve been working all night”.
Apart from the interviews there’s a couple of segments like “The fantastic news” where Frank reads out stories from the local newspaper, the first being “Ron’s back in town” as a branch member of the Britania Building Society had returned to the area, and there’s also info about how the chemists in Timperley was now open between 1pm and 2.15pm on Tuesdays along with “Do’s and Don’ts About Installing Satellite Dishes” where Frank gives tips like “There’s no need to bring it in at night, you can leave it up” and how to disguise it if neighbours think it’s unsightly. The whole segment sums up part of Frank’s charm as he’s so fascinated by these inane stories, and so makes them very funny indeed.
The same applies to his version of The Paul McCartney Story where he explains he’s the perfect person to tell the tale as he was in The Beatles, and proves it with picture of the Please Please Me album which has him in it the background. It’s nicely surreal with facts including the fact that John Lennon originally saw Paul modelling underwear in a catalogue and supposedly said “Eh Francis, why don’t we buy him for the group?”. I have a real fondness for obvious lies presented as the truth and if the same applies with you then you’ll find it hilarious, and if you don’t, well, you probably still will anyway such is Frank’s way with words.
Two other segments are also incredibly strong, the first being Frank showing a film called “Space Is Ace” which accidentally involves some footage of an old “Miss Timperley” contest but the majority of which is ludicrous stop motion footage of Daleks and R2D2 wandering around, while it ends with a hand coming in and picking up a rocket so it can fly through the air, none of it makes any sense but that’s a large element of the hilarity of the whole thing. The second segment is a reenactment of the British defeating the Spanish armada where Frank plays bowls with Little Frank’s head (much to the disgust of a booing audience) and then blows up the armada with a thermonuclear missile, before falling over and commenting “That was very good that”. Sure it’s childish, but some of the best things are and it’s impossible not to love.
The only part of the show which isn’t that effective comes at the end where David Hamilton and Sharyn Hodgson were invited back to take part in a quiz with two members of the public, and Frank digs out an old “Magic Robot” board game. This was a game from the nineteen-fifties where you’d ask a question and then the robot would spin round and point at the right answer, but the questions were unfortunately a bit dull and they don’t give Frank or the contestants much to work with. Still, it’s short and over with quickly, and contains one great line where Frank exclaims “Don’t boo me robot, he don’t like it” so it’s not really an issue.
The show ends with a rendition of “Guess who’s been on Match Of The Day?”, one of Frank’s much loved songs, and then it’s over with, though I could have happily watched much more of it. Thankfully that’s possible as the show was commissioned and six more episodes produced, all of which you can buy on dvd thanks to Network releasing it. The only disappointing element is that it only got one series as presumably viewing figures weren’t all that, which is frustrating as it’s shockingly lovable and filled with moments that will make you burst out laughing.
The series itself carried on in the chaotic manner of the pilot though it had a higher budget so we get to see the whole garden as well as the shed, and there’s a band on hand and a studio audience too. It was also the tv debut of Caroline Aherne, who appears as next door neighbour Mrs Merton, while DJ and (and one of Frank’s band members) Mark Radcliffe took over keyboard duties as the new Alfonse, and guests included Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson, Midge Ure, Adamski, footballer Lee Chapman, The Farm, Keith Chegwin and Nicholas Parsons. It truly is one of the best underrated comedy series ever made, and if you love this pilot and don’t buy the dvd you’d be a really annoying fool who I’d glare at for a long old time, I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again.