Celebrated television host and interviewer
David Frost - Born: April 7th, 1939; Died: August 31st, 2013
David Frost, left, talks with former US president Richard Nixon. Photograph: AP
David Frost interviewing Enoch Powell on LWT. Photograph: PA Wire
Sir Harold Wilson talking to David Frost at a recording session in Yorkshire Television’s Leeds studios for “The Wilson Interviews”. Photograph: PA
For half a century, Sir David Frost, who has died aged 74, was hardly ever off television, from 1960s satire on the BBC to encounters with the great and good on al-Jazeera. In the process, he became the world’s most celebrated television interviewer.
Frost was a bon vivant, smoker of big cigars, dapper dresser, friend of the rich and famous, and so much of a jet-setter that, for a while, he was Concorde’s most frequent flier.
His greatest journalistic coup came in 1977 when he interviewed the disgraced US president Richard Nixon and induced him to confess in public his guilt over Watergate. “I let down the country,” Nixon told Frost. “I let the American people down and I have to carry that burden for the rest of my life.” The play, and later film, Frost/Nixon, was based on the interviews.
Frost was born in Tenterden, Kent. His father was a Methodist minister of Huguenot descent. He was educated at Gillingham and Wellingborough grammar schools. For two years before university, he was a lay preacher after seeing the charismatic evangelist Billy Graham.
A talented footballer, he turned down a contract with Nottingham Forest to attend Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
By the end of his time at Cambridge, Frost had not only appeared in a television comedy sketch with Peter Cook, but also had a traineeship with the London TV company Associated-Rediffusion, an agent and a cabaret gig at the Blue Angel club in Berkeley Square. There he was spotted by Ned Sherrin, a young BBC TV producer who had been charged with creating something singular – a subversive TV show.
After two pilots, the first That Was the Week That Was, or TW3, was broadcast in November 1962 and quickly gained a reputation for lampooning the establishment. After two successful series in 1962 and 1963, the show did not return in 1964, an election year – so great were the BBC’s fears over compromising the corporation’s impartiality.
Frost went on to co-chair Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, for one season from the winter of 1964.
Arguably, though, Frost’s next British TV series, The Frost Report, was more important in that it gave a platform for most of the greatest British comedians of the next 30 years all five of Monty Python’s stars, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett.
But Frost, still in his 20s, had bigger dreams. He wanted to diversify his TV brand. Back at Rediffusion, he presented an interview-based series, The Frost Programme. Just as he had (arguably) revolutionised TV satire, making it threatening to, rather than complicit with, the establishment, here he was changing the nature of the TV interview: unctuous deference was out; aggression and scepticism were in.