Oh the Timperley test card’s on, so follow Frank down to the bottom of his garden. There’s been an outpouring of love for Frank Sidebottom since his creator Chris Sievey died earlier this year. He had many fans, but was never more than a cult figure.
Frank’s Fantastic Shed Show was just about the closest he got to the mainstream – a 1991 Yorkshire TV production aired late night in various ITV regions. Now released on DVD, it’s a typically curious, hit-and-miss affair that perfectly illustrates why Frank is so fondly remembered but never made it big.
The format is pretty awkward. It’s essentially a chat show, with a small audience gathered in a back garden set, and various underwhelming guests dropping by. The guests don’t know what to make of Frank, and Frank seems to have little to no idea of who they are, which makes for a few laughs, but does get tiresome over the course of six episodes.
A good few familiar faces pop up as regular characters, including Mark Radcliffe, on Bontempi organ duty, and Caroline Aherne, making her first TV appearance, as Mrs Merton. Marc ‘Lard’ Riley and Phil Cornwell also turn up. There is some great banter and a few funny video inserts, and this is where most of the laughs are.
But those guests… The desperately dull cavalcade includes Nicholas Parsons, Adamski, John Stalker, Bob Holness, Dennis Locorriere out of Dr Hook and, almost inevitably, Keith ‘Cheggers’ Chegwin (making ill-advised gags about drinking). Of course, they’re just stooges for Frank’s gags, but we would much rather be alone with Frank and the other regulars.
The musical guests are the real low point. Each 20-odd minute show features two tedious mimed performances by the likes of London Beat, Oceanic and latter-period Farm. Thankfully, the DVD chapter breaks mean they can easily be skipped. They don’t half date the show.
Tellingly, the most enjoyable episode is the unaired pilot, which is light on guests, and lets Frank do the two musical numbers (Wild Thing and Guess Who’s Been on Match of the Day?). It’s the closest this DVD gets to representing the Frank Sidebottom live shows. The forthcoming Fantastic Showbiz CD and DVD Box Set is likely to do a much better job.
So the Shed Show is funny, endearing, and completely shambolic. It’s never going to convert any newcomers, but Frank fans will find plenty here to enjoy. Just remember to skip past the musical guests.
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