OTTAWA -- These are sad days for Frank, Canada's fortnightly magazine of rumor and satire. Why? Because Brian Mulroney and his wife, Mila, have just left the capital after nine years to make way for a new prime minister. They leave Frank bereft of its most reliable targets, the couple familiarly known to its readers as "vulgar, bone-weary political hack" Byron Muldoon and his "long-suffering shopaholic wife," Imelda.

It was Muldoon, Prime Minister Mulroney, after all, who gave Frank its best-known review -- and a small circulation boost -- in reacting to the incident that for better or worse gives this compendium of innuendo, parody and embarrassing truth its reputation across Canada's chattering class.

Though nonpartisan in its droll savagery, Frank had never been kind to the Mulroneys. But two years ago the prime minister went volcanic after the magazine announced a contest for young conservatives to "deflower" his daughter, Caroline, then 17. A return coupon read, "Yes, I did it. I've enclosed proof of conquest."

Calling it an "incitement to gang-rape my daughter," Mulroney declared on national television that he'd "wanted to take a gun and go down there and do serious damage to these people," Frank's editors. Canadian newspaper columnists and other guardians of the public weal mostly took the irate father's side, pronouncing Frank's gag one step over the punch line. Sondra Gotlieb, onetime Washington gossip victim as wife of Canada's ambassador, thought it was far worse: "a frightening craziness ... that one associates with psychopaths like {would-be assassin John} Hinckley." Mulroney was faulted only by the gun-control lobby, which said he oughtn't even to hyperbolize about wanting to settle a score with a firearm.

Michael Bate, the magazine's 48-year-old editor, called the spoof "clumsy" at the time but seems to nurse no real regrets. "We threw a pie, and the pie inadvertently hit her rather than the PM, who it was aimed at," he says. Mulroney invited the pie with what (for Bate and his defenders) was a loathsome display of opportunism -- ostentatiously squiring his fetching daughter around to political events and an international economic summit at a time of dwindling popularity.

Bathed in noontime sunlight at a corner cafe in his neighborhood, Bate tenders sympathy gloved in a last slap: "I don't blame him for being mad. I wouldn't want my daughter sleeping with young Tories either."

In a nation of polite, authority-loving people -- so goes the myth of Canada, anyway -- Frank is a remarkably rude and anarchic anomaly. For that reason, perhaps, it has become obligatory reading in the Ottawa-Montreal-Toronto power triangle.

Its 15,000 subscribers and regular newsstand buyers barely reflect the tens of thousands of others who get individual juicy pages by fax and office bulletin board. Colin MacKenzie, deputy managing editor of the Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto, likens its impact to that of a "Peking wall poster."

By turns outrageous and viperish, scabrous and silly, Frank ("Frank by Name, Frank by Nature" is the slogan) purports to deliver the inside poop on the high and mighty here. Those it can't undo with blush-worthy facts it treats with baser ridicule. If adultery, sycophancy and hypocrisy are fair game, so are nose jobs, portliness and thinning hair.

Lots of Canadians don't like it. Frank humor, wrote columnist Michelle Landsberg in the Toronto Star, is "the nose-picking third-grade Fleet Street tabloid style of wit, with a special interest in flatulence, breasts, ridicule of people's appearance and a sniggering kind of racism."

But E. Graydon Carter, a founding editor of Spy magazine, currently editor of Vanity Fair -- and an expatriate Canadian -- is tickled by what he sees: "I am shocked at how funny it is. I was once asked if I thought a Spy could work in Canada, and I said I didn't think that Canada produced larger-than-life characters with sufficient frequency. Frank proves that statement completely wrong."

Speaking of larger-than-life characters, Bate is much relieved that Kim Campbell was chosen by the Progressive Conservatives to succeed Mulroney. Frank, politically incorrect from the start, ran its first Campbell cover last fall, when she was justice minister. It showed the future prime minister's head pasted to Madonna's unclothed body with the slogan "Naked Ambition Tour." An unmarried woman whose tongue has a mind of its own, the new prime minister is also known for being thin-skinned: Ergo, things may be looking up for Frank after all.

Nothing in the United States, let alone in Washington, the city that needs comeuppance most, quite compares to Frank. Spy, even in its heyday, never quite got under Washington's skin. If Frank has a true model, it is Britain's Private Eye, which pioneered the use of code language that by hilarious repetition comes to have new meaning to its regular readers.

Where Private Eye would always describe a public figure as "tired and emotional" to telegraph his drunkenness, Frank prefers "moist and garrulous." "Ugandan relations" was Private Eye's absurdist term for sexual congress; Frank uses the more straightforward "horizontal jogging." The cast of characters at Frank also includes "bumboys" and "fartcatchers" (aides and other sycophants), "bingo-callers" (television anchors) and "avid pianists" or "eligible bachelors" (homosexuals).

Frank and its anonymous correspondents weave together a biweekly tapestry of gossip from Parliament and Canada's civil service, Bay Street (Toronto's financial center) and the media. Regular features include "Low-Definition Television," in which talking heads are made to say idiotic things; "Braunnose of the Week," in which journalistic puffery is exposed; and "Drivel," which comes in many forms.

Inaccurate and mean-spirited it may sometimes be -- Bate himself admits to needing a shower after putting an issue to bed -- but Frank has managed to land some truthful, if painful, blows, recording the legal troubles of senators, the extramarital affairs of anchorpersons, the embarrassing peccadilloes of developers.

For months and months, the mainstream media ignored Frank's early revelation that former prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau was, at 71, the father of a child born to a prominent single lawyer. And the mainstream press finally was forced to look into Frank's allegations that Mulroney, whose drinking days were supposedly behind him, had had a lapse into moist garrulousness after a particularly serious political setback two years ago -- only to dismiss the stories.

"People buy us for dirt, dirt in high places" says Bate, a former wire service reporter, musician and computer game creator. As one of the full-time staff of two, he's also the writer-rewriter of almost everything in the magazine, which explains its remarkably consistent voice and attitude.

Bate is not hung up, he says, by "the whole accuracy thing." He says everything is checked out, just as it is in the mainstream media, but the standard for publication is slightly different. "If we can't prove it, but something has the ring of truth, we'll print it," he says. "If I know something to be one hundred percent true, I don't care. I'm much more interested in something speculative, that makes me wonder, and think a little more."

Litigious Washington minds certainly will have asked themselves by now: Doesn't Frank ever get sued?

Bate shrugs. Those who have felt Frank's lance often bluster, but eventually they think better of pursuing legal action. "Does someone really want to spend $15,000 {about $12,000 U.S.} to challenge 'horizontal jogging with his assistant'? We don't have any assets. What are the damages going to be?"

The newsprint magazine is owned by four people, including Bate and businessman David Bentley, a Briton who founded Frank six years ago as a purely local troublemaker in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and hired Bate in 1989 to put out a different national edition from Ottawa. Frank gets free legal assistance, according to Bate, from one of Canada's creamiest law firms, McCarthy Tetrault.

"There's a general feeling among lawyers that Frank is something like a porcupine," says William McDowell, Frank's lawyer. "There's not much to be gained from the litigation, and in the process you're going to get stung by Frank in the publication and in the litigation."

Threats are frequent -- and Bate says the Caroline Mulroney business even brought a visit to Frank offices from the police -- but no legal threat has ever gone beyond the discovery stage.

Canadian journalists, virtually none of whom would want to miss an issue, seldom have good things to say about it -- possibly because they're so regularly and embarrassingly chronicled in its pages. But what troubles Bate is that the mainstream media in Canada so seldom pick up leads from Frank, which is nothing if not a file of extremely interesting story ideas. Bate knows the big news organizations have the resources; he suspects they just don't have the will.

"The mainstream media is so cozy with {Canada's ruling establishment}," he says. "They cover all the unsubstantiated gossip about Charles and Di and about Clinton's indiscretions, but when it comes to Canadians, there seems to be a 3,000-mile fishing limit."

With its renown and survival on the Canadian scene, Frank is beginning to sway to the siren song of self-promotion, trying to break through to another level of visibility.

Random House of Canada this fall will publish "The Best of Frank," a collection of bogus ads, "Low-Definition Television," covers and newspaper parodies from the past -- the Caroline contest conspicuous by its absence -- with a glowing introduction by Carter.

The magazine pulled its first major hoax this spring -- child's play, really, for a publication used to more savage sport. Using color copiers, Frank printed its own set of postage stamps and mailed off letters affixed with them. All but two of the letters were delivered.

So it was that Canada Post officials found themselves explaining how they might have honored stamps depicting Kim Campbell smoking a joint, Parti Quebecois leader Jacques "Fat Jack" Parizeau giving a middle-fingered salute, Canada's flag being flown upside down by U.S. Marines during last year's World Series, hockey announcer Don Cherry ("Snivelling Bigots in Our Time"), athlete Ben Johnson ("Freestyle Doping") and three prominent Canadian journalists ("Burnt-Out Old Hacks").

One of those burnt-out old hacks had defended the Caroline Mulroney gag and had praised Frank in print as "the best thing to happen to Canadian journalism in decades."

Frank, my dear, just doesn't give a damn.