Joan Bakewell on Sir David Frost: With David, I felt like I was in safe hands

David was blessed with a stratospheric confidence and insouciance about pulling off the impossible

Joan Bakewell
Sunday 01 September 2013 21:30
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When David interviewed me for my 80th birthday earlier this year, we had known each other for decades. He could easily have busked it. Instead he arrived with sheaves of notes from my autobiography and a forensically prepared list of questions.

I felt like I was in safe hands. I knew David could pursue enquiries but he wouldn’t leave me gasping. That security that he so naturally instilled in his subjects is, I believe, what made them open up to him in the way they did.

David was perfectly skilled for his time: he was so bright, full of initiative, had an extraordinary memory and was a remorseless networker. He spotted very early on that a mix of jokes and solemnity was a potent broadcasting formula. That Was The Week That Was, which he presented at the age of 23, was a watershed for British television and society. It made lampooning the establishment permissible and much of Britain’s appetite for satire, typified in the likes of Spitting Image and Private Eye, began there.

David was blessed with a stratospheric confidence and insouciance about pulling off the impossible. There were times when presenting Breakfast with Frost that he would arrive in the studio fifteen minutes before we were scheduled to be on air. New producers would be fearful he wouldn’t show; but those who had worked with him before knew it would be fine. He would have read all the papers in the car and by the time he had his earpiece everything was under full control. You just had to let him be.

Those qualities never left him. Even during the times when his career slumped just prior to Nixon. David had enormous self-belief. He knew how to win people over – his photographic memory meant he never forgot a name. He could meet people a decade later and enquire about their family.

We always talked about how an interview began long before the cameras started rolling. Being interviewed by him more than half a century after we first met in television was perhaps no finer example.

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