I think Frank Sidebottom has always existed at the back of my mind. I’m from a North West-centric Lancashire that is proud to regard Manchester as the true Capital. I grew up in the 1980s, and have always been interested in drawing and comedy, and easily entertained by bright colours and silliness. As a result I have a wash of non-specific friendly memories of Frank on TV, mixed in with all the Timmy Mallett, The Real Ghostbusters and the Paul Daniels Magic Show.
It wasn’t until about five years ago that I became aware of his true comic and artistic genius, presented to me in the weirdest of formats. This was before I moved to Manchester and I was visiting friends, the hip hop group Surreal Knowledge, at their house in Withington. This was when people still video-taped things off TV, and they had taped the Channel M late-night test card.
Sounds tedious I know, but anyone familiar with it will know its true nature, its timeless wonders.
Beautifully framed by the recognisable Test Card F (white lines on grey background) Frank sits at his keyboard, accompanied only by hand-puppet sidekick Little Frank, where he improvises songs and comic routines for untold hours.
I have no idea what happened to this sacred VHS, but fortunately YouTube can provide a few fleeting glimpses of varying quality of Frank’s test card. I’ll provide some links to the best at the bottom of this piece. Particularly great is the Monopoly song.
Under normal circumstances I would protest Channel M to release the entire thing – and any other Sidebottom gems they hold in the vault – as a DVD. However in the last year they have cut back their staff from 74 to 4, closed down their swanky studio at the Urbis and ceased all original programme production.
There doesn’t seem to be a website anymore, and I can’t even confirm that it’s still broadcasting. The analogue signal stopped last year, and even though I am in the heart of Greater Manchester my Freeview box can’t find 200 where (according to Wikipedia) Channel M supposedly resides. I doubt the remaining 4 staff have time to think, let alone produce a Frank Sidebottom DVD. Shame.
Frank has long maintained a strong web presence at Frank’s World (“Hello, and welcome to the ace internet! Isn’t nature wonderful?”) and his MySpace page (cos FaceBook is “Bobbins”), as well as the occasional twittering. Always uploading new content like Timperley TV and his many wonderful drawings, which he often sold on eBay (usually accompanied with a random toy or DVD, presumably to make them more saleable).
He always kept a personal touch with his fans. He sent me the MySpace message “hello kevin,... i'm going to the post office in a bit !, what are you up to this thursday?”
I don’t know, he might have spammed loads of people with a similar message, but it felt personal and it did brighten up my day (as the cliché goes).
On May 11th 2010 he posted on twitter “well,.. after all the hospital tests of scans, and x-rays and cameras down me etc etc ,... yes i've got cancer !!!”. Then “but don't worry, i'm not going anywhere just yet, i'm looking forward to another 25 years in fantastic semi-professional show-bizness first!” Followed by “so i've got a few weeks off from live shows now to have a couple of ops and get shut !!!”
Over the next month he continued to gig as much has he could, cancelling occasionally for good reason, releasing an unofficial World Cup single, playing down the severity of his illness, recording his podcast, and raising £480 for Cancer Research through sale of his “Me as Me after Chemotherapy” drawing (here).
Recently I had done a few of my own drawings of Frank and my plan was to offer them to him to sell in the hope of raising a couple of extra quid for the good cause. I hadn’t got around to finishing them yet, as I didn’t realise the short time he had left. Not sure what to do with them now, as I doubt anyone would buy them off me, unknown that I am.
(one of my drawings of Frank. i admit it's a bit rubbish)
As you all probably know already Chris Sievey aka Frank Sidebottom sadly passed away yesterday at Wythenshawe hospital. Despite his big head, he was a man of the people. Artist, comedian, bloke, weirdo, sing-along leader, and one-man industry on a supremely local scale.
The internet campaign has already started. First to make his World Cup single “Three Shirts on My Line” chart eligible, and then to get it to number 1.
In fact, it seems as though there are two campaigns working to the same end. If they work together there is surely nothing they can’t achieve!!
So come on, let’s get Frank to number 1 – it can be done!!!!!!!!! All proceeds go to Cancer research.
Look – even John Prescott is in on the action!!!!!!!!
Facebook: Let’s get Frank Sidebottom in the charts