Terrible news from Twitter, sadly confirmed by the Manchester Evening News, one of our favourite comedians (and host of our 100th favourite TV show of the last decade) Frank Sidebottom has died after losing his battle with cancer.
As an off-kilter comic in the 1980s, the most obvious move might have been for Chris Sievey’s alter ego to have become one of the Friday Night Live “Thatcher eh? Grr!” crowd, but instead his act took a delightfully innocent turn, putting on a distinctively family friendly act, but one so wonderfully bizarre his appearances on kids television were disappointingly few and far between.
It says a lot about Frank Sidebottom that when he has cropped up on TV, radio and the mainstream media, his appearances have really stuck in our memory. Here are a few of our favourites.
- Frank becoming the most well-known contributor to legendarily raucous kids comic Oink!, Indeed, an Oink!-based tie-in single, for the post part only available via mail order, even made the lower echelons of the Indie Charts in the late 1980s.
- A brief but memorable scene in 1989 Marks & Gran-penned role reversal sitcom “Snakes & Ladders” saw newly gentrified pauper John Gordon Sinclair visit a posh London wine bar. Taking place in a futuristic world where “South Britain” is a place of luxury in sharp contrast to the squalor of the North, this was best encapsulated by the way this posh London wine bar only ever played songs by performed Frank Sidebottom.
- Before operating principally from within the head of his alter ego, Chris Sievey wrote a couple of games for the ZX Spectrum, both of which are playable at the excellent World Of Spectrum;
1983’s “Flying Train” was just a wonderful kind of arcade affair that seemed to prevail on Uncle Clive’s black box or wires in the early 1980s, right from the very first instruction screen packing in delightful jokes, throwing in a phony “R Tape loading error” message before cheekily telling you to buy an Oric instead, and using precisely the pleasing turn of phrase that you just would never expect to see in a more sober kind of videogame:
- The game itself was simple, yet – considering it was only a free giveaway game issued (quite uniquely at the time) as the B-side to Sievey’s 7” single “Camouflage” – quite enjoyable, with the player dropping the top half of a locomotive onto the bottom half of a locomotive. Why? Because you’re a railwaynaut. That’s why.
Indeed, us writing this tribute has become slightly delayed by us taking time out to start our new band (The Brokens) on the road to rock superstardom. No need to take our word on how much fun The Biz is, you can enjoy it for yourself right here.
- “The Biz” wasn’t Chris Sievey’s last dalliance with videogames, however. EA’s TV campaign for FIFA 10 – one of the world’s most popular videogaming franchises – saw a lovely little cameo from Frank Sidebottom himself, possibly to the mild bemusement of viewers in the USA, where the advert also aired.
- The early 1990s saw Frank become a more regular fixture on our TV screens, with Timperley’s finest regularly cropping up alongside host Tony Wilson in Channel Four’s UK version of MTV’s Remote Control. Much more enjoyable however was Frank’s Fantastic Shed Show, going out in the wee small hours on ITV, with a tiny budget, and which saw Frank interviewing and introducing guests from Dennis Taylor to Pop Will Eat Itself. The programme also saw early appearances from Frank’s “next door neighbour” Mrs Merton, played by Caroline Aherne, who went on to become a huge comedy hit on her own.
- Sadly, it took until 2006 before Frank was given his own standalone series, but when it arrived, it was every bit as special as “Shed Show”. Channel M’s “Frank Sidebottom's Proper Telly Show in B/W With Repeats In Colour” was a marvellous little gem, tucked away in a part of the Sky EPG few outside Manchester ever visit. As the title suggested, the first airing of each episode was in monochrome, while subsequent repeats were in full colour. Why? Because it was BRILLIANT, that’s why. All great fun, with Frank interviewing a variety of guests (with David Soul seemed especially confused by the goings on), making on-location reports from the streets of Manchester, and even including a stop-motion animated show-within-the-show. If that weren’t enough, Channel M’s nightly testcard contained Frank engaging in bouts of improvised whimsy with his cardboard sidekick Little Frank.
Even when diagnosed with cancer, Frank – speaking through his Twitter feed - remained resolutely upbeat and in character
Frank’s upbeat nature continued, regularly performing gigs and auctioning his artwork for cancer charities, right up until the shocking news earlier today, less than 24 hours after Frank’s last Twitter update, which announced that a future gig with his Oh Blimey Band should still be going ahead.
Despite rarely appearing on television, his records barely troubling the Top Forty, it seems that absolutely loads of people had a soft spot for Frank Sidebottom, so much so that as we type these words, “Frank Sidebottom” is the second highest trending term on Twitter globally, with people expressing their shock at the news even outnumbering people talking about the World Cup.
Right now, there’s the start of a Twitter campaign to get Frank’s World Cup Song “Three Shirts On My Line” – to number one in the charts. All proceeds go to Cancer Research, We’re still trying to find a link to where the song can be purchased, Until then, here’s a live version. If we find a working link to where it can be bought, we’ll update this post accordingly.
RIP Frank Sidebottom. He will be missed. You know he will. He really will.