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.”

News
i100
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
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
Latest stories from i100
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

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Real Staffing - Leeds - £18k+

£18000 - £27000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Sales - Trainee Recruitment Co...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices