Off His Shed: The Return Of Frank Sidebottom

After almost twenty years, Frank's Fantastic Shed Show finally finds it’s wonderfully shambolic way back to our TVs.
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After almost twenty years, Frank's Fantastic Shed Show finally finds it’s wonderfully shambolic way back to our TVs.

Of all the famous comedy Franks - Skinner, Boyle, Randle, Carson, Spencer, Worthington, Zappa, Bruno – only one ever wore a painted papier-mâchéhead, played dodgy cover versions on a Bontempi organ and presented an early 90’s TV show from his garden shed. Although I’m sure there was days when Frank Bruno truly believed he… [section removed at the request of several mental health charities]… while on a trampoline, it was actually the late Chris Sievey, creator of Timperley’s Frank Sidebottom, that brought us the wondrous Franks’ Fantastic Shed Show.

This was Frank Sidebottom’s closest shave with the mainstream, six half hour chat/variety shows made by YTV in the early nineties. The perennially underachieving Sidebottom presents the show from a TV studio designed (no doubt by the artistically talented Sievey himself) to look like his back garden and shed. Frank and pals frantically rampage around the place squeezing laughs from targets as disparate as badly cut 'n' pasted Beatles album covers and snooker games against Denis Taylor played with lard-smeared cues. It’s under rehearsed, seemingly unscripted and rattles along without stopping to worry whether it’s working or not. Quite honestly it’s craply brilliant and brilliantly crap.

The producers tried to cram too much into each show, with filmed inserts, bands, banter with sidekick characters, celebrity interviews and crowd singalongs all fighting for space in each half hour. The idea seems to have been to keep throwing things at Frank and let them randomly bounce off his oversized bonce. The scattershot selection of guests includes the bewildered likes of Gerry Anderson, Dennis Lacorriere, John Stalker and Bob Holness. There are appearances from Mark Radcliffe and an embryonic Mrs Merton and some truly dreadful bands – The Farm and Londonbeat are the highlights! But really it’s all about revelling in three plus hours of Frank at his insuppressible best.

It’s under rehearsed, seemingly unscripted and rattles along without stopping to worry whether it’s working or not. Quite honestly it’s craply brilliant and brilliantly crap.

The show came along just after Vic Reeves Big Night Out and was always hamstrung by inevitable comparison. It shares a great many characteristics with Big Night Out but is even more disorganised and unfocussed, but in a good way. It’s knowing, semi-zoo style also has the feel of contemporary shows like Sean’s Show and Gilbert’s Fridge and it will probably reside in the same underappreciated corner of cult TV world – and that’s a real shame because it’s a show that deserves more attention.

Most Sidebottom fans will be delighted that this series is finally available after years of searching ebay for VHS copies. Newcomers to Frank - possibly attracted as a result of the very public outpouring of affection show for Sievey after his death or from the furore surrounding the story of Selfridges nicking Frank’s head for their shop dummies – won’t get from this a real sense of the man’s craft. For that you had to see one of his ramshackle live shows. But as there’ll sadly be no more live Frank this will give newcomers a tempting tease of the talents of Timperley Titan. Don’t buy this expecting razor sharp wit and tight pacing, it comes from the same school of charming amateurism as John Shuttleworth and shares the same style of joyfully silly songs, get it because it‘s great to stick on when you want 30 minutes with someone you like.

It would probably have been better received had it had a script (I’m assuming it didn’t have much of a one) and some rehearsal – but then it wouldn’t have been Frank. It had to be all over the shop and all but ignored to remain true to the spirit of the man.

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