TV reviews: David Frost | Who Do You Think You Are?

David Frost interviews Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Picture: ITV
David Frost interviews Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Picture: ITV
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I DON’T often say this, but well done ITV. Twice recently it has scooped the BBC with a tribute to a goggle-box colossus to which the state broadcaster has equal claim. First it was Alan Whicker, last week Sir David Frost.

David Frost – Hello, Good Evening And Farewell; STV, Monday, 11.05pm

Who Do You Think You Are?; BBC1, Wednesday, 10.35pm

Father Figure; BBC1, Wednesday, 11.35pm

Maybe the Beeb could have improved on David Frost – Hello, Good Evening And Farewell, but ITV got in first, something of which Frosty the journalist would surely approve.

Actually, I’m not sure I wanted much more from this programme. Frost raising his palms for a lightning punch combo by Muhammad Ali – check. Frost introducing his musical guests: “Ladies and gentlemen… the Beatles!” – check. Frost signing off, filling the screen, while the insurance swindler Emil Savundra gesticulated behind him, eager to put his crooked point across – check. The latter was Frost inventing trial by television. He also invented television satire. And, hang on, didn’t he invent actual television?

“The first star conceived and created by TV,” said Sir Michael Grade, who was good value as usual and, not wishing to hasten his demise, I hope TV will do him proud too. Concorde was invented for Frost, said Grade, so he could beat the time difference to present eight daily shows in a seven-day week, here and in the US. He was electric back then; you just plugged him in. The old clips must have surprised those watching whose earliest encounter with him was Through The Keyhole, when he seemed to be in urgent need of clockwork wind-up: “Let’s. See. Whose. House. It. Is.”

So many clips. To Noel Coward: “Do you wish you had ever been a critic?” Coward, appalled: “Good God, no. I also wish nobody else had ever been a critic.” We got to see that when Frosty said “Hello” he always narrowed his eyes; when he said “Good evening” his body shuddered, as if it had been given too many volts; when he said “Welcome” he was as sincere as he could be, though on That Was The Week That Was he was quickly into some Establishment-baiting, such as this mimicking of a royal reporter: “The Queen, smiling radiantly, is swimming for her life.”

Frost didn’t invent chat television but never again will an interviewer get his own movie (Frost/Nixon – there’s no point waiting for Norton/Biggins). Yes, he became Establishment himself. No, I didn’t think politicians saying they liked how he asked questions (Breakfast With Frost) was any kind of praise. But the autumn of his great career did produce the tribute’s funniest moment: Tony Blair’s reaction on being asked, re President Bush: “Do you pray together?”

From having met Marianne Faithfull, I know her grandfather invented a contraption called the Frigidity Machine and that a great-uncle wrote the book which minted the word “masochism”. You tend not to forget such things, or indeed how completely beguiling she was that day. There was no need for her Who Do You Think You Are? to go that far back, though. The question “What did you do in the war, Mummy?” was sufficient.

Faithfull began, as you fear is required of her even in mundane post-office transactions, by talking about Mick Jagger. She loved him and he her, but in 1970 she felt compelled to walk away. “In the Swinging Sixties I had to pretend that everything was wonderful and wild and sexual – it really wasn’t,” she said. Her mother Eva had an “unconscious hatred” of men which had a big effect on Faithfull, although she didn’t know it could be traced back to Eva’s trauma in wartime Vienna. “I had no idea and no real respect for what she had done and what had happened to her,” the Rolling Stones’ muse admitted.

On to Vienna. Eva, half-Jewish, had fled there after the Nazi crackdown had killed her risqué showgirl career in Berlin, only for Hitler to annexe Austria. Faithfull was shocked to learn about Gestapo persecution and the torture of her grandfather who was involved in the Communist Resistance. Worse was to follow at the war’s end when the liberating Red Army raped 100,000 women, among them Eva and her mother. The historians making the big reveal were typical of Who Do You Think You Are?: precise, calm, a bit prim. Possibly they’d never had anyone confess before: “It took me years, until I was 50, not to have to take drink or drugs in order to have sex.” But then there’s only one Marianne Faithfull.

Fact: Modern Family outguns all other domestic sitcoms for gags and Phil is king of the klutzy dads. Jason Byrne’s Father Figure at least began with a good visual joke involving exploding baked beans. Unfortunately it then ran out of them.


Drama - By Any Means

BBC1, Sunday, 9pm

“Are you cops?” the mysterious trio are asked by their latest catch. “It’s a grey area,” they reply. Shelley Conn, Warren Brown and Andrew-Lee Potts star as a maverick crimebusting unit taking orders from Gina McKee. First up, Keith Allen plays a right bad yin.

Comedy - The Wrong Mans

BBC2, Tuesday, 9pm

“If you’re not here by five o’clock we’ll kill your wife.” The warning is left on the phone of a bored council worker after he witnesses a car crash. Does he have a wife? He barely seems to have a life. James Corden and Mathew Baynton have written and co-star in this comedy caper.

Reality - Strictly Come Dancing

BBC1, Friday, 9pm

After the big launch, the 108th series then missed a week, as if to say: “We can do this, suckers, because The X Factor is past it and you’re hooked.”

Extra rehearsal time should mean less clodhopping, which would be a shame. This column is rooting for Countdown’s Rachel Riley.