Sir David Frost: death of a showman - colleagues and prime ministers mourn TV’s great pioneer

Sir David is thought to have died from a suspected heart attack while aboard the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship on Saturday night

Television, the great medium of the late 20th century, simply will not be the same without the influence of Sir David Frost, who died on Sunday.

His spellbinding interrogation of Richard Nixon in 1977, the first after the President’s resignation over Watergate, was his career-defining moment – best characterised by his theatrical tossing aside of his clipboard of questions. It made his name in America and transformed the art of the broadcast interview.

But he was also a great pioneer of satirical comedy, electrifying a generation with new possibilities in puncturing those in power as the host of That Was The Week That Was in 1962. So influential was the show that the BBC dropped it over fears it might unduly sway the electorate.

Sir David, who was 74 and died on board the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship where he was to give a speech, was not only a compelling figure on camera; he was a great strategic thinker within the broadcast industry who helped change the rhythm of television in 1983 as one of the co-founders of TV-am. His relationship with Al-Jazeera played a crucial part in establishing the reputation of the Qatar-owned network as a global news provider which challenges the hegemony of Western broadcasters.

Frost's big break came when he co-created satirical show That Was The Week That Was Frost's big break came when he co-created satirical show That Was The Week That Was

David Cameron, who was due to be interviewed by Sir David this week, led the tributes to the broadcaster. “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.” He said Sir David was “both a friend and a fearsome interviewer”.

Tony Blair lamented the loss of a “huge figure in broadcasting” and said: “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 good-natured man.”

The broadcaster Jon Snow told The Independent: “Frostie was the first great current affairs showman. His style of interviewing was unparalleled: his ability to put guests at ease – often to the point that everything appeared so ridiculously laid back that many of his subjects would barely realise when the killer question had been delivered.”

“Television-wise, he was a breed apart: one driven guy who dared to chase the outrageously impossible.”

There were few world leaders who could resist the charm of an interview invitation from Sir David. His office was lined with photographs of him with the most powerful figures of his lifetime, including Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Sir David Frost was played by Michael Sheen in the cinematic take on his famous interview Sir David Frost was played by Michael Sheen in the cinematic take on his famous interview

But Sir David’s own profile had grown as much as many of theirs, helped by the making of the 2008 film Frost/Nixon, which showed how he personally ensured those historic interviews took place despite a lack of backing from the major networks. The film’s director Ron Howard said: “He had the nerve to do this outrageous, ridiculous thing of bundling these local stations together and still create a mega television event and it worked.”

The writer of the film Peter Morgan said the “legendary broadcasting figure” had enjoyed an “extraordinary, four-dimensional, vivid career.”

Sir David’s famed conviviality had been part of his success in landing star guests from across the worlds of politics, sport and entertainment, throughout his career. The secret of his interviewing style – which prised from Nixon the admission that “I let down the country” – was to put people at their ease. Jealous critics dubbed his show “Bedtime with Frost”. But his friend and fellow broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson said yesterday: “It’s not right to say he was a ‘soft’ interviewer – he had a persuasive interview style which led to the unmasking of a scoundrel.” Sir Michael added that “I never heard him say a bad word about anybody”.

Sir David’s move to Al-Jazeera  risked his reputation in America. By 2011, Sir David so charmed the former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had previously dubbed the network as “vicious”, that he exclaimed: “I’m delighted you are doing what you are doing.”

British audiences will remember Sir David as a broadcaster of remarkable breadth. When That Was The Week That Was was dropped after one series, he fronted The Frost Report, which gave an early break to a generation of star British comedians including John Cleese and Ronnie Barker.

Cleese said on Sunday: “I owe a great deal of my professional career to David and I am very grateful for what he did for me. Life is going to feel rather diminished by the loss of his welcoming, cheery and optimistic voice.”

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music(who aren't Arctic Monkeys)
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

£30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home