The movie Frank was inspired by writer Jon Ronson’s experiences briefly playing keyboards with Frank Sidebottom, the masked, musical alter-ego of comedian Chris Sievey. Frank’s story isn’t really based on Frank Sidebottom—the title character’s cult stardom and mental illness are more akin to Daniel Johnston—but the papier-mâché head and the irrational enthusiasm can both be traced back to Sievey’s curious character, first introduced in 1984. Frank Sidebottom described himself as a 35-year-old pop star from Timperley, where he lived with his mum and sang the hits of the day in a high, warbly voice. And as with the movie Frank, Frank Sidebottom’s delusion was a big part of his charm.
The clip above is cited as Frank Sidebottom’s first television appearance—maybe. (It’s hard enough to keep track of of all the television that’s been beamed out around the world over the decades, let alone to chart the comings and goings of a cult performer that no one was paying much attention to in his early years.) But whether it’s Frank’s TV debut or not, this guest shot on actor/presenter Tony Slattery’s Saturday morning show TX is a fair representation of how surreal the whole Frank Sidebottom experience could be. After squeaking out a Tiny Tim-like version of Dead Or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record),” Frank lounges around on the TX couch during the chat segment, trying to look cool and comfortable, like any other pop star would. And just when things don’t seem like they can get any stranger, venerable double-talk comedian “Professor” Stanley Unwin comes out and converses with Frank in his own mangled version of English. Slattery gives no indication that any of this is bizarre—which only makes it more bizarre. And yet, as always with Frank, his cheerfulness is infectiously sincere, and doesn’t seem like it’s just been painted onto his giant head.
(By the way, for those who want to peek behind the mask, Ronson has just published a memoir called Frank: The True Story That Inspired The Movie; and Steve Sullivan is working on a documentary called Being Frank: The Chris Sievy Story, the trailer of which can be seen above.)