Sir David Paradine Frost, OBE (7 April 1939 – 31 August 2013) was an English journalist, comedian, writer, media personality and television host.
After graduating from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, Frost rose to prominence in the UK when he was chosen to host the satirical programme That Was the Week That Was in 1962. His success on this show led to work as a host on US television. He became known for his television interviews with senior political figures, among them the Nixon Interviews with former United States President Richard Nixon in 1977, which were adapted into a stage play and film.
Frost was one of the "Famous Five" who were behind the launch of ITV breakfast station TV-am in 1983. For the BBC, he hosted the Sunday morning interview programme Breakfast with Frost from 1993 to 2005. He spent two decades as host of Through the Keyhole. From 2006 to 2012 he hosted the weekly programme Frost Over the World on Al Jazeera English and from 2012, the weekly programme The Frost Interview.
Frost died on 31 August 2013, aged 74, on board the cruise ship MS Queen Elizabeth, on which he had been engaged as a speaker. In March 2014, his memorial stone was unveiled in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey for his contribution to British culture.
David Paradine Frost was born in Tenterden, Kent, on 7 April 1939, the son of a Methodist minister of Huguenot descent, the Rev. Wilfred John "W. J." Paradine Frost, and his wife, Mona (Aldrich); he had two elder sisters. While living in Gillingham, Kent, he was taught in the Bible class of the Sunday school at his father's church (Byron Road Methodist) by David Gilmore Harvey, and subsequently started training as a Methodist local preacher, which he did not complete.
Frost attended Barnsole Road Primary School in Gillingham, St Hugh's School, Woodhall Spa, Gillingham Grammar School and finally – while residing in Raunds – Wellingborough Grammar School. Throughout his school years he was an avid football and cricket player, and was offered a contract with Nottingham Forest F.C. For two years before going to university he was a lay preacher following his witnessing of an event presided over by the Christian evangelist Billy Graham.
Frost studied at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, from 1958, graduating with a Third in English. He was editor of both the university's student paper, Varsity, and the literary magazine Granta. He was also secretary of the Footlights Drama Society, which included actors such as Peter Cook and John Bird. During this period, Frost appeared on television for the first time in an edition of Anglia Television's Town And Gown, performing several comic characters. "The first time I stepped into a television studio", he once remembered, "it felt like home. It didn't scare me. Talking to the camera seemed the most natural thing in the world."
According to some accounts, Frost was the victim of snobbery from the group with which he associated at Cambridge, which has been confirmed by Barry Humphries. Christopher Booker, while asserting that Frost's one defining characteristic was ambition, commented that he was impossible to dislike. According to the satirist John Wells, the Old Etonian actor Jonathan Cecil congratulated Frost around this time for "that wonderfully silly voice" he used while performing, but then discovered that it was Frost's real voice.
After leaving university, Frost became a trainee at Associated-Rediffusion. Meanwhile, having already gained an agent, Frost performed in cabaret at the Blue Angel nightclub in Berkeley Square, London during the evenings.
Frost was chosen by writer and producer Ned Sherrin to host the satirical programme That Was the Week That Was, alias TW3 after Frost's flatmate John Bird suggested Sherrin should see his act at The Blue Angel. The series, which ran for less than 18 months during 1962–63, was part of the satire boom in early 1960s Britain and became a popular programme.
The involvement of Frost in TW3 led to an intensification of the rivalry with Peter Cook who accused him of stealing material and dubbed Frost "the bubonic plagiarist". The new satirical magazine Private Eye also mocked him at this time. Frost visited the United States during the break between the two series of TW3 in the summer of 1963 and stayed with the producer of the New York production of Beyond The Fringe. Frost was unable to swim, but still jumped into the pool, and nearly drowned until he was saved by Peter Cook. At the memorial service for Cook in 1995, Alan Bennett recalled that rescuing Frost was the one regret Cook frequently expressed.
For the first three editions of the second series in 1963, the BBC attempted to limit the team by scheduling repeats of The Third Man television series after the programme, thus preventing overruns. Frost took to reading synopses of the episodes at the end of the programme as a means of sabotage. After the BBC's Director General Hugh Greene instructed that the repeats should be abandoned, TW3 returned to being open-ended. More sombrely, on 23 November 1963, a tribute to the assassinated President John F. Kennedy, an event which had occurred the previous day, formed an entire edition of That Was the Week That Was.
An American version of TW3 ran after the original British series had ended. Following a pilot episode on 10 November 1963, the 30-minute US series, also featuring Frost, ran on NBC from 10 January 1964 to May 1965. In 1985, Frost produced and hosted a television special in the same format, That Was the Year That Was, on NBC.
Frost fronted various programmes following the success of TW3, including its immediate successor, Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, which he co-chaired with Willie Rushton and poet P. J. Kavanagh. Screened on three evenings each week, this series was dropped after a sketch was found to be offensive to Catholics and another to the British royal family. More successful was The Frost Report, broadcast between 1966 and 1967. The show launched the television careers of John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, who appeared together in the Class sketch.
Frost signed for Rediffusion, the ITV weekday contractor in London, to produce a "heavier" interview-based show called The Frost Programme. Guests included Sir Oswald Mosley and Rhodesian premier Ian Smith. His memorable dressing-down of insurance fraudster Emil Savundra, regarded as the first example of "trial by television" in the UK, led to concern from ITV executives that it might affect Savundra's right to a fair trial. Frost's introductory words for his television programmes during this period, "Hello, good evening and welcome", became his catchphrase and were often mimicked.
Frost was a member of a successful consortium, including former executives from the BBC, which bid for an ITV franchise in 1967. This became London Weekend Television, which began broadcasting in July 1968. The station began with a programming policy which was considered 'highbrow' and suffered launch problems with low audience ratings and financial problems. A September 1968 meeting of the Network Programme Committee, which made decisions about the channel's scheduling, was particularly fraught, with Lew Grade expressing hatred of Frost in his presence. Frost, according to Kitty Muggeridge in 1967, had "risen without a trace."
He was involved in the station's early years as a presenter. On 20 and 21 July 1969, during the British television Apollo 11 coverage, he presented David Frost's Moon Party for LWT, a ten-hour discussion and entertainment marathon from LWT's Wembley Studios, on the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Two of his guests on this programme were British historian A. J. P. Taylor and entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. Around this time Frost interviewed Rupert Murdoch whose recently acquired Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, had just serialised the memoirs of Christine Keeler, a central figure in the Profumo scandal of 1963. For the Australian publisher, this was a bruising encounter, although Frost said that he had not intended it to be. Murdoch confessed to his biographer Michael Wolff that the incident had convinced him that Frost was "an arrogant bastard, [and] a bloody bugger".
In the late 1960s he began an intermittent involvement in the film industry. Setting up David Paradine Ltd in 1966, he part-financed The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970), in which the lead character was based partly on Frost, and gained an executive producer credit. In 1976 Frost was the executive producer of the British musical film The Slipper and the Rose, retelling the story of Cinderella.
In 1968 he signed a contract worth £125,000 to appear on American television in his own show on three evenings each week, the largest such arrangement for a British television personality at the time. From 1969 to 1972, Frost kept his London shows and fronted The David Frost Show on the Group W (U.S. Westinghouse Corporation) television stations in the United States. His 1970 TV special, Frost on America, featured guests such as Jack Benny and Tennessee Williams.
In a declassified transcript of a 1972 telephone call between Frost and Henry Kissinger, President Nixon's National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Frost urged Kissinger to call chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer and urge him to compete in that year's World Chess Championship. During this call, Frost revealed that he was working on a novel.
Frost interviewed heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania, in 1974, prior to the Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman. During the interview, Ali remarked "Listen David, when I meet this man, if you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait till I whip Foreman's behind."
In 1977 The Nixon Interviews, a series of five 90-minute interviews with former US President Richard Nixon, were broadcast. Nixon was paid $600,000 plus a share of the profits for the interviews, which had to be funded by Frost himself after the US television networks turned down the programme, describing it as "checkbook journalism". Frost's company negotiated its own deals to syndicate the interviews with local stations across the US and internationally, creating what Ron Howard described as "the first fourth network."
Frost taped around 29 hours of interviews with Nixon over a period of four weeks. Nixon, who had previously avoided discussing his role in the Watergate scandal which had led to his resignation as President in 1974, expressed contrition saying "I let the American people down and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life".
Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution Frost was the last person to interview Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the deposed Shah of Iran. The interview took place in the Contadora Island in Panama in January 1980, and was broadcast by ABC in the United States on 17 January.
Frost was an organiser of the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. Ten years later, he was hired as the anchor of the new American tabloid news program Inside Edition. He was dismissed after only three weeks, due to poor ratings. It seems he was "considered too high-brow for the show's low-brow format." ABC News reporter Bill O'Reilly was recruited as his replacement.
Frost was one of the "Famous Five" who launched TV-am in February 1983 but, like LWT in the late 1960s, the station began with an unsustainable "highbrow" approach. Frost remained a presenter after restructuring. Frost on Sunday began in September 1983 and continued until the station lost its franchise at the end of 1992. Frost had been part of an unsuccessful consortium, CPV-TV, with Richard Branson and other interests, which had attempted to acquire three ITV contractor franchises prior to the changes made by the Independent Television Commission in 1991. After transferring from ITV, his Sunday morning interview programme Breakfast with Frost ran on the BBC from January 1993 until 29 May 2005. For a time it ran on BSB before moving to BBC 1.
Frost hosted Through the Keyhole, which ran on several UK channels from 1987 until 2008 and also featured Loyd Grossman. Produced by his own production company, the programme was first shown in prime time and on daytime television in its later years.
Frost worked for Al Jazeera English, presenting a live weekly hour-long current affairs programme, Frost Over The World, which started when the network launched in November 2006. The programme regularly made headlines with interviewees such as Tony Blair, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Benazir Bhutto and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. The programme was produced by the former Question Time editor and Independent on Sunday journalist Charlie Courtauld. Frost was one of the first to interview the man who authored the Fatwa on Terrorism, Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.
In 2007, Frost hosted a discussion with Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi as part of the Monitor Group's involvement in the country. In June 2010, Frost presented Frost on Satire, an hour-long BBC Four documentary looking at the history of television satire.
Frost was the only person to have interviewed all eight British prime ministers serving between 1964 and 2014 (Harold Wilson, Edward Heath, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron) and all seven US presidents in office between 1969 and 2008 (Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush).
He was a patron and former vice-president of the Motor Neurone Disease Association charity, as well as being a patron of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, Hearing Star Benevolent Fund, East Anglia's Children's Hospices, the Home Farm Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He was also recognized for his contributions to women's charity 'Wellbeing for Women'.
After having been in television for 40 years, Frost was estimated to be worth £200 million by the Sunday Times Rich List in 2006, a figure he considered a significant over-estimate in 2011. The valuation included the assets of his main British company and subsidiaries, plus homes in London and the country.
Frost/Nixon was originally a play written by Peter Morgan, developed from The Nixon Interviews which Frost had conducted with Richard Nixon in 1977. Frost/Nixon was presented as a stage production in London in 2006, and on Broadway in 2007. The play was adapted into a Hollywood motion picture starring Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon, both reprising their stage roles. The film was directed by Ron Howard and released in 2008. It was nominated for five Golden Globe awards: Best Motion Picture Drama, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Screenplay and Best Original Score, and for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing.
In February 2009, Frost was featured on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's international affairs programme Foreign Correspondent in a report titled "The World According To Frost", reflecting on his long career and portrayal in the film Frost/Nixon.
Frost was known for several relationships with high-profile women. In the mid-1960s, he dated British actress Janette Scott, between her marriages to songwriter Jackie Rae and singer Mel Tormé; in the early 1970s he was engaged to American actress Diahann Carroll; between 1972 and 1977 he had a relationship with British socialite Caroline Cushing; in 1981 he married Lynne Frederick, widow of Peter Sellers, but they divorced the following year. He also had an 18-year intermittent affair with American actress Carol Lynley.
On 19 March 1983, Frost married Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard, daughter of the 17th Duke of Norfolk. Over the next five years, they had three sons and for many years lived in Chelsea, with their weekend home at Michelmersh Court in Hampshire.
On 31 August 2013, Frost was aboard a Cunard Line cruise ship, the MS Queen Elizabeth, when he had a heart attack and died. Cunard said that the vessel had left Southampton for a ten-day cruise in the Mediterranean, ending in Rome. The then British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute, saying: "He could be—and certainly was with me—both a friend and a fearsome interviewer." Michael Grade commented: "He was kind of a television renaissance man. He could put his hand to anything. He could turn over Richard Nixon or he could win the comedy prize at the Montreux Golden Rose festival." On 13 March 2014, a service was held at Westminster Abbey, at which Frost was honoured with a memorial stone in Poets' Corner. His post-mortem found that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and his 31-year-old son Miles Frost died from the same condition in 2015.
The tournament was dramatic enough thanks to Fischer's antics, but telephone conversation on 3 July 1972, capturing British journalist David Frost asking Kissinger to persuade the grandmaster to attend the championship adds more to the story. Kissinger had an intellectual interest in chess, and the Spassky-Fischer head-to-head alone would have likely piqued his interest in the match, but Frost wanted Kissinger to get involved to ensure Fischer's participation.
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