TELEVISION / Hello, good evening and welcome: Jasper Rees on a television biography of David Frost and a guide to bringing up baby

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The Independent Culture
THIRTY YEARS ago David Frost was the smoothest thing on television. Nowadays it's Football Italia (C4, Sunday), which for the second year running brings long-haired square-ballers to the home of square-jawed long-ballers. Hello, good afternoon, and welcome.

Still on football, Frost may well be the only person in history to have had a breakfast cereal named after him and been offered terms by Nottingham Forest. On these grounds alone he deserves to have his life story told, never mind the Olympian heights conquered by grilling Nixon or hosting Through The Keyhole. But which version of the life? According to Ned Sherrin, who gave him a job on That Was The Week That Was, you either regarded the graduate-on- the-make shown in part one as 'St George for England' or discerned a stronger resemblance to 'a supercilious little git'.

With the conquest of Washington still to come, and the TV-am's egg not yet on his face, the jury is still out. In the meantime, has anyone troubled to point out how gormless the great man looks? Those hangdog eyes, that plunging proboscis, that squashed little mouth - with hindsight you'd have expected something rather more harmonious from the prototype of that specious species, the television personality.

This was not the impression at Associated Rediffusion where, in applying for a job, the young Frost conducted his first interview. Someone on the board cavilled that the boy was just too bright. We never did find out which sense of the word was intended, but there's only one definition of 'pushy', and from the start Frost appears to have gone to immense pains to embody it.

Although a book has just been published on the life and work of David Frost, the screen was the place to do it, here in the laboratory where the man went to work on himself. For Frost was both Dr Frankenstein and the monster, a genius at self-creation, a tool in his own hands. We saw Frost posing as Disraeli, Frost posing as Christine Keeler, but it is clear that the person Frost impersonated best was Frost.

Unlike the subject himself, Frost in the Air seems uncertain of its own identity. With part one devoted almost exclusively to quotations from TW3, and very little reminiscence from the elder statesman himself, we have used up one third of the series wading only one tenth of the way through a 30-year career. Does one short-lived satire, hastily axed by an Auntie that was even keener on appeasement than it is now, loom quite so large on Frostie's CV?

Frost has spawned all sorts of hollow successors - people who but for television would be nice nobodies bothering no one - and two of them were to be found on LWT's The Inside Track . . . on Parenting (ITV, Sunday), a how-to manual that tackled adulthood's most taxing problem. With Nick Ross and Jeremy Beadle on board - television's Mr Compassion and Mr Cruelty - the intention was clearly to point out that parents will always come in several shapes and guises. As Beadle would admit to administering only two spankings, one paused to wonder what subtler means of punishment he might deploy: cheerily torching the doll's house, perhaps, or puncturing the trike tyres.

But we stray. Here was some sense amid much muddle. Ross presented the whole essay from that venue of ultimate gratification for children and ultimate nightmare for parents, an adventure park. Yes, folks, bringing up your kids is one helluva ride (and it ain't cheap]). In between there was a varied diet. Scare-mongering sketches made way for case histories, in which real- life families played out their barneys to camera. Then the child psychologists went to work, poring over slow motion replays of parents making all the wrong moves. You half expected to hear Geoff Boycott obsessing about the corridor of uncertainty. Most of the nastiest moments seemed to happen in the corridor.

At times the links looked a little too well oiled. 'As Gloria Estefan knows knows only too well. . .' chimed in Ross as we cut away from one celeb's avowal that parenthood is no different when you're famous. However, if you could see your way past the edgy editing, there were answers to such eternal teasers as 'how do you get away with only one bedtime story?' and 'how do you stop your child telling you to stick the washing-up up your fundament?'. Even David Frost might not have a ready-made reply for that one.

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