If you’re a Canadian politician, you should be afraid, very afraid.
Frank Magazine will soon be back… Or so it’s rumoured and so we fervently hope.
The last Canadians heard officially from former Frank editor and publisher Michael Bate, back in 2010, was that he’d “morphed into a Canadian composer.” Like, of music.
This was disheartening news. I don’t care if the guy is Charlie Flippin’ Parker, what our country needs is his ability to spin hilarious yarns, not to make music with a steel guitar and a mouth harp or even a battered old anglo-saxophone.
Back in 2008, Mr. Bate pulled the plug on his venerable effort to keep Canadian politicians (and labour leaders, and media meat puppets, and senior bureaucratic elflords … no one was safe) honest. It wasn’t making money any more, he said at the time, and was no longer in tune with the zeitgeist of the era.
The publication was usually described as “a satirical magazine” or “a Parliamentary tip-sheet,” either of which goes only part of the way to explaining the Frank phenomenon, and neither of which does the concept justice. It wasn’t just that Frank was scurrilous, it was that under Mr. Bate’s editorial hand it was scurrilous, laugh-out-loud funny and in possession of an unerring sense of where to strike to inflict maximum damage to deserving targets.
No one was safe – even former Frank contributors. All of the aforementioned categories of subject matter despised it, and prime minister Brian Mulroney was said to have a particular loathing for the publication, probably because of a contest thought up by Mr. Bate about who would deflower the then PM’s daughter.
Offensive, yes, but funny too given the way Mr. Mulroney was shamelessly using the lass to assist with his campaigning. There was also a regular feature, purportedly a diary written by Mr. Mulroney’s beloved wife Mila, known to Frankistes as “Imelda,” that was either a brilliant parody or really was written by Mila Mulroney!
Frank’s Remedial Media column was loved and hated in newsrooms across the land – loved by hard-pressed “sluggos,” that is, hated by the managers who made their lives a misery, a class of people who were notoriously unwilling to let anyone fearlessly report the media’s own foibles.
House o’ Labour happily skewered unions, specifically the people who ran them. But I’m sure there’d also be room under the general heading for the likes of the union-hating foes and their coruscating legalists. Now and again, as I recall, Frank would even go after the clergy. Identifying hypocrisy and cowardice among the puffed-up and self-righteous was Frank’s stock in trade, after all, and with Mr. Bate at the helm, no publication did better.
Loosely based on Britain’s Private Eye magazine – although Mr. Bate’s Canadian publication was always far funnier, at least from any vantage point on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, if as badly printed – Frank provided the useful function of a place where any unauthorized report from inside the Parliamentary Bunker or its environs could see the light of day. This was true no matter how shabbily researched the piece might be, but what the hey!
Just the same, often a week or two after a Frank report, a shamefaced little unattributed item could be counted on to show up saying pretty much the same thing in the pages of the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star.
Another staple was the Frank Prank, in which Parliamentarians and media had the opportunity to prove just how dumb they were, or, occasionally, weren’t. Case in point: In 2007, the Canadian Magazines blog reports, Frank fooled everyone by setting up a completely bogus support group for Conrad Black, then facing legal troubles in the United States.
Lord Black is now happily back in the land of his birth if not of his citizenship, so that function has been taken over by his Lordship’s Sherpas in the stenography department of the National Post and in the Harper cabinet. “I am again flattered by such a thing. I will give you all CONRAD WILL WIN shirts when you are here,” Lord Black is said to have written “Alistair Smith,” who, naturally, turned out to be Mr. Bate.
And speaking of his Lordship, who can forget Conrad’s Prison Diary, another product of the same imagination that gave us the Diary of Mo and Mila (Mo being Maureen McTeer) and the musings of Royal Canadian Legionnaire Dick Little. (Aesthete’s Diary in the early nineties is said to have been penned by none other than Michael Coren!)
Frank had its own private argot: men with balding pates were known as slapheads, over-enthusiastic authors of press releases risked being known as “wind therapists,” those rare journalists who actually did work were inevitably “sluggos,” government media spokesthingies were labelled “fart catchers,” broadcasters were “bingo callers” or “sock puppets,” bullying corporatists “obbergruppenfuhreren.” Drink too much and Frank might record your more “moist and garrulous” moments. And all that’s without even getting into details of what Canada’s notorious stickmen, avid pianists, flautists, ardent heterosexualists and the like might be getting up to.
Frank was founded in 1987 in Halifax, and a Halifax edition still exists. The Bluenose edition was published separately throughout the interregnum, never made any sense and still doesn’t. (It can be found at Frankmagazine.ca if you don’t believe me.) The two totally different editions shared a masthead and logo at least part of that time.
Mr. Bate’s “Central Canadian Edition” started publication two years later and managed to survive until its majority. It wasn’t run by Mr. Bate throughout that time, however, and therein lay a significant part of its problem, which it is said here was not so much with the zeitgeist but the fact the fellow who bought it from Mr. Bate and tried to run it for a spell in the early Zeroes just wasn’t very funny. Apparently he wanted to take it upscale. Well, that couldn’t be done, and it ought not to have been tried.
Now the rumour mill has it that Mr. Bate hopes to re-launch this important Canadian institution quite soon, possibly later this year. With the Globe in Mail a pathetic shadow of its former self, a revivified Frank would be a worthy challenger for the title “Canada’s National Newspaper.”
And if the zeitgeist isn’t right for Frank Magazine now – with Stephen Harper pulling the electoral levers behind the green curtain in Ottawa, the media reduced to flotsam by the reefs if the Internet and a separatist party back in power in Quebec City – well, Canadian civilization as we know it has already come to an end!
This is our nation’s hour of need. Your country calls you, Frank! You too, Bate!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.