Monday, 21 June 2010

Frank Sidebottom aka Chris Sievey,
a personal Obituary.

A beautiful June day has turned into a sad one as the death has been announced of
Frank Sidebottom, one of the few people who can truly claim the title of comedy genius.

I first met Frank, Little Frank and their alter ego, Chris Sievey working in children's TV in the late 1980's.

On meeting him, one was immediately immersed in Frank's world, seeing everything from the perspective of a papier mache head from the garden shed world of Timperley.

One of my first experiences with Frank was hauling his Bontempi organ from Maidstone to a gig in Kilburn. He was dressed as Vegas era Elvis. Driving back, we stopped at the Kentucky Fried Chicken in the Old Kent Road where Elvis/Frank ordered 100 pieces of the Colonel's chicken in buckets which he ate all night and continued to eat, live on air, on ITV Saturday morning show,"What's Up Doc?" the following morning.

A day spent with Frank meant leaving reality, normality, time and a sense of security behind.
I spent his 40th birthday with him in The Maidstone Hilton Hotel. He ordered 40 snails to celebrate the day. Once he had eaten them all he said,"Thank you very much, I'll have another forty of those." he then ordered another 40, and then another. The kitchen defrosted all their remaining snails until he had eaten enough.

I think I can say that I am one of the few who have worked with Frank's alter ego,
Chris Sievey, without the head on. As a dummy Frank, I have even tried one of the early papier mache heads on, and very smelly it was, after endless, sweaty gigs. His children Stirling, Asher and Harrison believed that 'that man Frank' lived in the spare room as they had seen his head in the wardrobe, even though Harrison at eighteen months had appeared on the show with him as, 'the baby'.

Chris played characters on 'What's Up Doc": Sir Bernard, the Censor, for which he shaved the top of his head and sported a Bobby Charlton comb-over. His wife later asked him who he thought he was? "Fucking Robert de Niro?'. On 'Endurance UK,' - a more-warped version of the Japanese gameshow - he was a near-naked, nazi-helmeted, Hitler-moustached gimp, advertised as 'Something for the Ladies'.

There is a photo somewhere...

Chris was at least twice as mad and creative as Frank; entertaining, random, storytelling, leaping into disastrous adventures with a true English eccentric's appetite for bending a dull society into his skewed world view. While Frank was a teetotal Mummy's boy, Chris was, in obituary euphemism, a dedicated 'bon viveur'.

Arriving on the 10 am in Manchester for another birthday, Chris was waiting in the bar with pints to galvanise us for a day's adventure; drawing, writing, playing pool etc. and planning lo-fi TV shows that would never happen, let alone be remembered on the train back to London.

Again, at the Maidstone Hilton, I found him at the reception desk with his trousers around his ankles, waving a box of tissues at the flustered receptionist and complaining about the poor quality of reception on the porn channel.

His wife , Paula, was, is, a lovely - and long suffering - woman...

Working with Frank a couple of years later, he had returned from a Manchester City game abroad.
He had something to show us.
He had been chided by his fellow fans for not sporting a Man City Tattoo. Frank, underneath the head, was a sensitive, artistic soul not given to the crude tribalism of tattooing. However, after several gallons of beer and the egging on of fans and his son, Stirling, Frank headed for the tattoo parlour.

"Right, I'll show you," he said. "I'll get the worst tattoo you've ever seen."

On a brown envelope, with a thick black marker, he drew a wheelbarrow with a punctured tyre.

"Tattoo that," he said to the tattooist. "Exactly as it is. On me shin. At an angle."

The tattooist brought out his fattest needle and, as instructed, tattooed the crude black drawing, at an angle on Frank's scrawny, white shin.

"Thank you," he said in his nasal voice. "Now, underneath, write 'sand'."

The tattooist did so, in crude capital letters. Frank inspected the handiwork and said:

"Right, now cross it out."

The tattooist inked a line through the word 'sand'.

"Now, beneath it, write 'gravel'," Frank said.

The tattooist did as he was told. Frank inspected the work.

"Now cross it out," Frank said. And the tattooist crossed out 'gravel'.
"Now write 'cement'." Frank said. The tattooist did.

"Now cross it out," Frank said. Another inky line was drawn, with some high degree of pain by now through the word.

"Now write 'dirt'," Frank said. He did.
"Cross it out." The tattooist did so again.

Frank inspected the ugly blur of wheelbarrow, with puncture, and four, crossed out words beneath it.
"Very good," he said. "Now write 'Paula', for me wife... because she'll kill me when she sees it."

Having told the story, Chris/Frank rolled up his trouser leg and uncovered the scrawny shin... and the dressing room gasped as he revealed what was, without doubt, 'The Worst Tattoo in the World."

They do not make them like that any more. There will never be another Frank Sidebottom...or another Chris Sievey.

He was a one-off.

Our sympathies are with Little Frank and the family.

"Thank yow."

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