The character was instantly recognisable by his large spheroidal head, styled like an early Max Fleischer cartoon. This was initially made from papier-mâché, but later rebuilt out of fibreglass.
Frank, usually dressed in a 1950s-style sharp suit, was portrayed as an aspiring pop star from the small town of Timperley, part of Manchester. His character was cheerfully optimistic, enthusiastic, and seemingly oblivious to his own failings. Although supposedly 35 years old (the age always attributed to Frank irrespective of the passage of time), he still lived at home with his mother, to whom he made frequent references. His mother was apparently unaware of her son's popularity. Frank sometimes had a sidekick in the form of "Little Frank", a hand puppet who was otherwise a perfect copy of Frank.
Comedy character Mrs Merton started out as Frank's sidekick on his radio show Radio Timperley, and the similarity of the characters is evident, exuding a sense of great ambition which belies a domestic lifestyle in the North of England. Sidebottom's former Oh Blimey Big Band members include Mark Radcliffe and Jon Ronson, and his driver was Chris Evans.
Frank was first revealed to the world on a 12 inch promotional record which came free with the Chris Sievey-created video game The Biz for the ZX Spectrum computer in 1984. The Frank Sidebottom character was initially created to be a fan of Sievey's band The Freshies but the popularity of the character led Sievey to focus his output on Frank Sidebottom comedy records, many of which were released on Marc Riley's In-Tape record label of Manchester and previous to that, on EMI's Regal Zonophone imprint.
He reached cult status in the late 1980s/early 1990s thanks to extensively touring the country. Performances were often varied from straightforward stand-up comedy and featured novelty components such as tombola, and a lot of crowd interaction. Sometimes the show also included lectures. Contrasting against the alternative comedians of the time, Frank Sidebottom's comedy was family-friendly, if a little bizarre for some.
Frank was perhaps most popular in the North West of England, where his success was caught up in that of the Madchester scene, and for a time was a regular on regional ITV station Granada. He even featured as a reporter on its regional news programme, Granada Reports. At one point Frank had his own television show on ITV entitled Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Shed Show. He also made numerous appearances on Channel 4, including the British version of the game show Remote Control which was presented by Tony Wilson, where each week he would pose "Frank's Fantastic Question" to the contestants. He also made several appearances on the Television South/ITV Saturday morning children's show No. 73.
Along with television, the Frank Sidebottom character also made appearances on radio, on stations such as Manchester's Piccadilly Radio and on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 5 BBC Radio 5, alongside Mark and Lard. Frank also had his own comic strip in the children's weekly comic Oink! which was launched in the mid-1980s.
Frank sang the Beatles song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" on the charity album Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father, which featured other acts like Michelle Shocked, The Christians, Sonic Youth, Billy Bragg,Hue and Cry, The Fall and Wet Wet Wet. He later recorded "Flying" for another Beatles tribute album, Revolution No. 9.
Frank faded into obscurity in the late 1990s, rarely appearing either on TV or live appearances. A one-off performance at Manchester's Club Indigo Vs Manic Street Mania in December 2005 seemed to be the catalyst for a comeback.
In 2006, Frank reappeared in Greater Manchester on local television channel Channel M. His new show, Frank Sidebottom's Proper Telly Show in B/W, featured celebrity guests and animation. The first showing of each show was in black and white ("so you don't have to turn the colour down"), whilst subsequent repeats were shown in full colour. He also made five appearances on Iain Lee's programme on London's LBC as well as on numerous community radio stations such as Forever Manchester. Frank appeared as a test card shown late at night on Channel M, where he and Little Frank ramble on and sing songs whilst framed in a parody of the classic Test Card F. On 6 March 2007, in an episode of the Podge and Rodge Show on Ireland's RTÉ Two, he appeared in their 'Sham-Rock' talent section, performing a medley of songs by The Smiths. He received an overall score of 22 points from judges James Nesbitt and Glenda Gilson, putting him in first place for all the series' acts so far.
Frank starred in his own exhibition of drawings, animation and cardboard at London's Chelsea Space Gallery next to Tate Britain between 4 July–4 August 2007. He also appeared at "Late" at Tate Britain on 3 August 2007.
He appeared in the Series 3 Christmas special of BBC Scotland's Videogaiden, performing "Christmas is Really Fantastic", and later appeared on the Series 3 Awards show, and the final web-exclusive episode ("Closedown"). Frank appeared briefly as a Manchester United fan in an advert for the FIFA 10 video game in 2009.
Frank performed at Kendal Calling in 2008. In late 2009 and early 2010 he supported John Cooper Clarke on a UK tour.
Frank's last professional appearance was at the Pyramid Arts Centre, Warrington on 4 June 2010. His last personal appearance was at the Salutation pub, Higher Chatham Street, Manchester on 11 June 2010 when he launched his World Cup single, Three Shirts on the Line.
Following Sievey's death in June 2010, a social networking campaign was launched to gain Frank his first UK hit. "Guess Who's Been on Match of the Day" entered the charts at No. 66. In December 2010, Frank Sidebottom's 1986 song "Christmas Is Really Fantastic" was re-released in an attempt to become the Christmas number one.
Frank Sidebottom's Fantastic Shed Show was a television programme shown in 1992 featuring Chris Sievey as fictional character Frank Sidebottom. Guests included Caroline Aherne, Phil Cornwell, Midge Ure, Gerry Anderson, Pop Will Eat Itself and Keith Chegwin.
The show was produced by Dave Behrens for Yorkshire Television and was shown on most of the ITV network in the United Kingdom.
Death, funeral and memorial concert
Sievey was diagnosed with cancer in May 2010, and died at Wythenshawe Hospital on 21 June 2010 at the age of 54 after collapsing at his home in Hale, Greater Manchester. Sievey left a daughter, Asher, aged 30, and two sons: Stirling, 31, and Harry, 18. After it was reported that Sievey had died virtually penniless and was facing a pauper's funeral provided by state grants, a grassroots movement on various social networking websites raised £6,500 in a matter of hours. The appeal closed on Monday 28 June with a final balance of £21,631.55 from 1,632 separate donations.
Sievey's funeral was held on 2 July 2010 at Altrincham Crematorium. The private service was attended by more than 200 members of his family, friends and former colleagues.
On 8 July 2010, over 5,000 fans of Frank Sidebottom gathered for a party at the Castlefield Arena in Manchester to celebrate Sievey's life. The acts included Badly Drawn Boy and surviving members of Frank's Oh Blimey Big Band who played in tribute.
A publicly funded statue of Frank was unveiled on 20 October 2013 at 11:37 in Timperley village, the timing a reference to one of the character's catchphrases.