FROST, DAVID

British Broadcast Journalist/Producer

David Frost is an outstanding television presenter, political interviewer and producer, who is successful on both sides of the Atlantic. The awards recognizing his achievements in television include two Golden Roses from the Montreux international festival (for Frost Over England) as well as two Emmy awards (for The David Frost Show) in the United States. His long career was honored by knighthood in 1993.

Frost was one of the first generation of university graduates who bypassed Fleet Street and went straight into television. While at Cambridge, he showed his satirical talent in the Footlights Revue and edited the university newspaper, Granta. In 1961 he moved to London to work for ITV during the day and perform in cabarets at night. His nightclub performance drew the attention of BBC producer Ned Sherrin, who invited him to host That Was The Week That Was, often called TW3. In the "satire boom" of the early 1960s the irreverent, topical and politically oriented TW3 introduced satire to television in Britain. Among others topics, the program poked fun at the Royal family, the Church, high politics, and the respectable tenets of British life. TW3 brought the divisions of British society to the surface, and the ensuing controversy made the BBC to discontinue it. From 1964-65 Frost co-hosted the next, milder satirical program Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life. At its most successful, this program bore significant resemblance to TW3 and reached the same end.

The success of TW3 made Frost a transatlantic commuter after NBC had bought the rights and put on the American version (1964-65) with executive producer Leland Hayward. The shorter, less political and outspoken program never had the same impact as its British counterpart, but made Frost's name in the United States, nevertheless.

Back in Britain, BBC's new show The Frost Report (1966-67) focused on one topic per program and tackled social and contemporary issues as opposed to the political and topical focus of TW3 and Not So Much.... Drawing on the talent of John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, the program brought humor to the topics of education, voting and the like. The working environment provided for the development of a new humorous trend in Britain, and five of the comedians went on to form Monty Python's Flying Circus.

From 1966 to 1968 The Frost Programme at ITV showed the beginning of the transition from the comedian to the serious interviewer. Frost pioneered such TV techniques as directly involving the audience in the discussions and blending comedy sketches with current affairs. From this time on Frost's mixture of politics with entertainment would draw mixed responses from critics. At this time his "ad-lib interviewing" style, as he calls it, was characterized by rather remorseless fire on well-chosen subjects, and led to his label as the "tough inquisitor".

From anchorman to executive producer Frost filled many different roles in the television business. In 1966 he founded David Paradine Ltd. and as an entrepreneur he put a consortium together to acquire the ITV franchise for London Weekend Television in 1967. LWT's programming did not live up to its franchise undertaking in the long run and was criticized in Britain for emphasizing entertainment to the detriment of substantial programming.

On the strength of his British chat shows Group W (the U.S. Westinghouse Corporation television stations) selected Frost to anchor an interview daily from 1969-72. Frost kept his London shows and fronted The David Frost Show in the United States. He used more one-to-one interviews than before and managed to mix friendly conversation with confrontation. Throughout these endeavors Frost's instinct for television, his handling of the audience, and his ability to put guests at ease and make them accessible justify the label "The Television Man," given him years earlier by the BBC's Donald Baverstock.

Frost's television personality status, niceness, and ability to market himself well enabled him to attract prominent interviewees. He has interviewed every British Prime Minister since Harold Wilson as well as leading politicians and celebrities from a number of different countries. His show The Next President (1968, 1988, 1992) has become a regular on American television featuring interviews with presidential candidates in the run-up for the presidency. The most famous of the Big Interviews characterizing Frost's recent focus is The Nixon Interviews (1977). This interview is the only televised assessment Richard Nixon gave about his conduct as president, including the Watergate affair. The interviews were syndicated on a barter basis and were subsequently seen in 70 countries.

When interviewing leading public figures Frost retains his persistence, but he has refined his style into an apparently soft interrogative method where the strength of a question is judged more by the range of possible responses. Unlike his entertainment-oriented shows, which were often followed by rows over questions of bias, the big interviews are usually judged as fair and balanced.

On the way to fame as a serious political interviewer Frost had a new chance to combine politics and satire. As executive producer he helped to launch Spitting Image in 1984. This show, a scathing satire, picked up on already existing perceptions of politicians and highlighted them in puppet caricatures. When Margaret Thatcher was portrayed as a bald man who ate babies and lived next door to Hitler, the life-size puppets were thought to be as dangerous for politicians as TW3 was. As a result, before the 1987 elections the program was not even broadcast. In another transAtlantic parallel, this popular program also made it into the United States. In 1986 NBC carried Spitting Image: Down and Out in the White House hosted by David Frost, and in 1987 The Ronnie and Nancy Show special appeared on the screens.

In 1982 Frost successfully bid for a commercial breakfast television franchise, TV-am, and became director of the new venture. Despite the five famous flagship presenters, TV-am as a whole faced the same criticism as London Weekend Television. Its leisurely approach to hard news, especially during the Gulf War, was thought to cost it the franchise in 1991.

After losing TV-am, Frost signed a contract with the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service in 1990 to produce Talking with David Frost, a monthly interview program. In the program Frost interviewed Yitzhak Rabin, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Ted Turner as well as a number of famous and infamous personalities. At times he has been criticized for an interviewing style thought to be too sympathetic towards his influential guests.

Frost's business ventures also include filmmaking, where he acts as executive producer. The satirical The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970) featuring Peter Cook taking over the Prime Ministership and The Search for Mengele (1985) documentary indicate the variety of films he has produced. As a writer, Frost draws on his commuter observations. He described The English (1968) and The Americans (1970) in his books. Apart from other writings, he published his autobiography in 1993.

In Britain Frost has often been criticized for his showbiz leanings, his mannerisms and his apparent ability to use the fame bestowed by television to further his career in a number of different fields. Nevertheless, his flair for television and his ability to produce high-quality current affairs and interview programs are widely recognized. His excellent political interviews show how television is able to provide insights into political decisions and contribute to the historical record. Throughout his long career, Frost has always been ready to experiment with something new. His personal contributions to satire and political programs as well as his business ventures make him a prominent figure of broadcasting.

-Rita Zajacz

 


David Frost
Photo courtesy of David ParadineTelevision, Inc.

DAVID (PARADINE) FROST. Born in Tenderden, Kent, Englan, 7 April 1939. Attended Gillingham Grammar School; Wellington Grammar School; Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, M.A. Married 1) Lynne Frederick in 1981 (divorced 1982); 2) Carina Fitzalan-Howard in 1983; children: Miles, Wilfred and George. Served as presenter of Rediffusion specials, 1961; established name as host of That Was the Week That Was, 1962-63; later gained reputation as an aggressive interviewer on The Frost Programme and other shows; co-founder, London Weekend Television; chair, David Paradine group of companies , since 1966; served on British/U.S. Bicentennial Liaison Committee, 1973-76, and has hosted shows on both sides of the Atlantic; interviewed Richard Nixon for television, 1976; helped launch TV-am commercial breakfast television company, 1982. LLD, Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts. President, Lord's Taverners, 1985, 1986. Order of the British Empire, 1970; knighted, 1993. Recipient: Golden Rose of Montreux (twice); Royal Television Society Silver Medal, 1967; Richard Dimbleby Award, 1967; Emmy Awards, 1970, 1971; Guild of Television Producers Award, 1971; TV Personality of the Year, 1971; Religious Heritage of America Award, 1971; Albert Einstein Award, 1971. Address: David Paradine Ltd, 5 St Mary Abbots Place, London W8 6LS, England.

TELEVISION SERIES

1961     This Week
1961      Let's Twist On the Riviera
1962-63 That Was the Week That Was
1963      A Degree of Frost
1964-65 Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of             Life
1966-67 The Frost Report
1966-67 David Frost's Night Out in London
1966-68 The Frost Programme
1968-70 Frost on Friday
1969-72 The David Frost Show
1971-73 The David Frost Revue
1973      A Degree of Frost
1973      Frost's Weekly
1974      Frost on Thursday
1975-76  We British
1976       Forty Years of Television
1977      The Frost Programme
1977-78  A Prime Minister on Prime Ministers
1977-78 The Crossroads of Civilization
1978      Headliners With David Frost
1979-82 David Frost's Global Village
1981-86 David Frost Presents the International              Guinness Book of World Records
1981-92 Frost on Sunday
1982      Good Morning Britain
1986-88 The Guinness Book of Records Hall of Fame 1987-88 The Next President with David Frost
1987-88 Entertainment Tonight
1987-93 Through the Keyhole
1989      The President and Mrs Bush Talking with              David Frost
1991-     Talking with David Frost
1993-      The Frost Programme
1993-      Breakfast with Frost

TELEVISION (producer)

1967 Last the 1948 Show
1968 No--That's Me Over Here!
1969 The Ronnie Barker Playhouse

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1975 James A. Michener's Dynasty
1978 The Ordeal of Patty Hearst

TELEVISION SPECIALS (selection)

1966     David Frost at the Phonograph
1967     Frost Over England
1968     Robert Kennedy the Man
1970     Frost Over America
1972-77 Frost Over Australia
1973-74 Frost Over New Zealand
1973     That Was the Year That Was
1975     The Unspeakable Crime
1975     Abortion--Merciful or Murder?
1975     The Beatles--Once Upon A Time in America 1975     David Frost Presents The Best
1976     The Sir Harold Wilson Interviews
1977     The Nixon Interviews
1978     Are We Really Going to Be Rich?
1979     A Gift of Song--Music For Unicef Concert
1979     The Bee Gees Special
1979     The Kissinger Interviews
1980     The Shah Speaks
1980     The American Movie Awards
1980     The 25th Anniversary of ITV
1980     The Begin Interview
1980     Elvis--He Touched Their Lives
1981     The BAFTA Awards
1981     Show Business
1981     This Is Your Life 30th Anniversary Special 1981     The Royal Wedding
1981     Onward Christian Soldiers
1982     The American Movie Awards
1982     A Night of Knights: A Royal Gala
1982     Rubinstein at 95
1982     Pierre Elliott Trudeau
1982     The End of the Year Show
1982-83 Frost Over Canada
1983     David Frost Live by Satellite from London
1983     The End of the Year Show
1984     David Frost Presents Ultra Quiz
1985     That Was the Year That Was
1985     The Search for Josef Mengele
1985-86 Twenty Years On
1987     Spitting Image: Down and Out in the White             House
1987    The Spitting Image Movie Awards

1987-88 The Spectacular World of Guinness Records 1988     ABC Presents a Royal Gala
1991     The Nobel Debate

FILMS (producer)

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, 1970; Charley One-Eye, 1972; Leadbelly, 1974; The Slipper and the Rose, 1975; The Remarkable Mrs Sanger, 1979.

RADIO

David Frost at the Phonograph, 1966, 1972; Pull the Other One, 1987, 1988, 1990.

STAGE

An Evening with David Frost, 1966.

PUBLICATIONS

That Was the Week That Was. London: W.H. Allen, 1963.

How to Live Under Labour--Or at least Have as much a Chance as Anybody Else. London: Heinemann, 1964.

To England with Love. London: Hodder and Stoughton; Heinemann,1967.

The Presidential Debate. New York: Stein and Day, 1968.

The Americans. New York: Stein and Day, 1970.

Whitlam and Frost. London: Sundial, 1970.

I Gave Them A Sword: Behind the Scenes of the Nixon Interviews. New York: Morrow, 1978.

I Could Have Kicked Myself. With Michael Deakin, 1982.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. With Michael Deakin, 1983.

David Frost's Book of the World's Worst Decisions. With Michael Deakin. New York: Crown, 1983.

David Frost's Book of Millionaires, Multimillionaires, and Really Rich People. With Michael Deakin. New York: Crown, 1984.

The Mid-Atlantic Companion. With Michael Shea. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1986.

The Rich Tide. With Michael Shea. London: Collins, 1986.

David Frost: An Autobiography (Part One: From Congregations to Audiences). London: Harper Collins, 1993.

FURTHER READING

Briggs, Asa. The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom. Volume V: Competition. London: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Frischauer, Willi. Will You Welcome Now.... David Frost. London: Michael Joseph, 1971.

Tinker, Jack. The Television Barons. London:Quartet, 1980.

 

See also British Programming; Spitting Image; That Was the Week That Was