Obituary: David Frost was most illustrious TV inquisitor of his generation
Broadcaster probably interviewed more world figures than any other
For the Christmas edition of that programme in December 1959, the programme-makers decided they wanted a spoof of TV and they approached Footlights and asked Sir David and the comedian Peter Cook to write it.
Later Sir David said: “We went to the station to do it, and I walked into this rather odd environment of a television studio and I thought ‘This is home. This is for me’. It was an instant feeling, and from that moment on, for me the decision was made. It was a very memorable day.”
After the enormous success of That Was The Week That Was, Sir David set up his own company David Paradine Ltd which gave birth to many more hugely popular programmes, including A Gift of Song, Spitting Image, Through the Keyhole, Peeping Times, How to Irritate People and The Spectacular World of Guinness Records.
Sir David was instrumental in starting up two important TV franchises: LWT in 1967, and as one of the Famous Five who launched TV-am in February 1983. In July, 1969, during the British television Apollo 11 coverage, he presented David Frost’s Moon Party for LWT, a 10-hour discussion and entertainment marathon.
His dramatic interview with Richard Nixon was at the time the most widely watched news interview in the history of TV. It was shown in almost every televised nation in the world, and garnered the largest audience ever achieved for such an interview in the United States. It was later dramatised into a sell-out West End play, and more recently a Hollywood movie.
It was a brilliant scoop. Sir David, whose career at that stage appeared to be on the decline, poured some of his own wealth into this interview. It was a gamble, but it totally restored his fortunes — and there was no looking back after that.
Another of his programmes, The Frost Report, effectively launched John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett on their subsequent glittering careers.
Sir David’s list of interviewees reads like a roll call of the world’s most famous and powerful people. They include virtually every US president and British prime minister during his working life.
Others included Prince Charles, the Duke and Duchess of York, the Princess Royal, Robert F Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, Pierre Trudeau, Mikhail Gorbachev, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, King Hussein, Golda Meir, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, and countless more.
He was the only person to have interviewed all six British prime ministers serving between 1964 and 2007 (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair) and the seven US presidents in office between 1969 and 2008 (Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and George W Bush). He was also the last person to interview Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran.