SIR David Frost, the veteran broadcaster who pioneered satirical television and prodded a reluctant US president Richard Nixon into apologising for
Watergate, has died of a suspected heart attack while on board a cruise ship. He was 74.
The journalist and comedy sketch-writer had a pioneering career in television that paved the way for shows such as Have I Got News For You and pugilistic presenters such as JeremyPaxman.
But he was best known internationally for his series of television interviews with the disgraced Nixon, which were watched by 47 million viewers and became the basis of the Oscar-winning film Frost/Nixon.
Sir David, who was an astute businessman and multi-millionaire, died on Saturday night on board the liner Queen Elizabeth, where he had been invited to deliver a speech.
A statement released by his family yesterday morning said: “Sir David Frost died of a heart attack last night aboard the Queen Elizabeth, where he was giving a speech. His family is devastated and have asked for privacy during this difficult time. A family funeral will be held in the near future.”
Prime Minister David Cameron led politicians in paying tribute to the interviewer. He offered his condolences to Sir David’s widow, Carina, adding: “Sir David was an extraordinary man – with charm, wit, talent, intelligence and warmth in equal measure. He made a huge impact on television and politics. The Nixon interviews were among the great broadcast moments, but there were many other brilliant interviews. He could be – and certainly was with me – both a friend and a fearsome interviewer.”
Former prime minister Tony Blair, who was once asked by Sir David if he and George W Bush prayed together, described news of his death as “very sad”.
He added: “He had an extraordinary ability to draw out the interviewee, knew exactly where the real story lay and how to get at it, and was also a thoroughly kind and good-natured man.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell hailed him as a “peerless” broadcaster, while First Minister Alex Salmond tweeted that he was “a real pioneer of broadcast journalism”.
The actor and comedian Stephen Fry expressed his shock on Twitter. “Oh heavens, David Frost dead? No!! I only spoke to him on Friday and he sounded so well. Excited about a house move, full of plans… how sad.”
Born in Kent and a graduate of Cambridge University, Frost began his television career at ITV, but made his name at the BBC, hosting the satirical news show That Was The Week That Was, which mocked the government of the day. He followed it up with The Frost Report, where he developed his catch-phrase “hello, good evening and welcome”.
A media entrepreneur as well as a presenter, he developed a career that straddled the Atlantic, which he crossed on a weekly basis on Concorde. He also put his money where his mouth was, paying Richard Nixon $600,000 (£390,000) and 20 per cent of any future profits for a series of ground-breaking TV interviews in which the president finally admitted that he had let down the country through the Watergate scandal.
Although Sir David began his journalistic career berating guests on The Frost Report for failing to give a straight answer, he mellowed in later life – but still managed to slip in difficult questions with a smile.
He once said: “John Smith said to me, ‘You have a way of asking beguiling questions with potentially lethal consequences. I would be content to have that on my tombstone.”
The wit and wisdom of Frost
• Catch-phrase: “Hello, good evening and welcome.”
• On interviewing people: “What is more likely to get the coat off your back: the wind or the sun? Wind
makes you draw the jacket around round yourself. The sun encourages you to take it off.”
• On success: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.”
• On television: “Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.”
• On former US president Richard Nixon: “He was the most fascinating man. I mean, an enigma. There’s never been anyone who was such an enigma in the Oval Office. Someone has to be pretty fascinating, pretty enigmatic, pretty Nixonian to keep one fascinated for 28 and three-quarter hours.”
• Richard Nixon, during Frost interview: “I had let down my friends, I let down the country. I let down our system of government and the dreams of all those young people that ought to get into government, but will think it is all too corrupt...