It may have come as sobering news to Andrew Marr, still recovering from a stroke although back in the hot seat at The Andy Marr Show (tm), to learn that his predecessor in the BBC’s flagship Sunday 0900 slot, David Frost, has passed at the age of 74, following a suspected heart attack while giving a speech on the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth.
Not quite Christine Keeler
Frost may have slowed the pace of his work in his later years: at one time back in the late 1960s there was a topical joke that he once looked out of the window of a plane crossing the North Atlantic and saw himself on another flight going the other way. He claimed not to suffer from jet lag: at the time, Frost was doing three shows every weekend for ITV as well as working in the States.
David Frost knew everyone there was to know: he was charming, agreeable and still able to coax the odd slip out of interviewees who were not always on their guard, as the questioning did not veer into the hardball category of his contemporaries, like Robin Day and John Humphrys. In this, he often got more from those encounters, as did Alan Whicker, who also died recently.
And Frost was never short of work, nor of the apparent desire to keep on doing it. He could have put his feet up after handing over the Sunday morning reins to Marr, but moved on to a berth at al-Jazeera, bringing instant respectability to the network. If Frostie was there, then it must be OK both to work there, and to tune in. Frost was, especially in his later years, an authoritative presence.
All of this, though, forgets where David Frost came from: he burst onto the nation’s TV screens, live and in 405 line black and white, with That Was The Week That Was, in 1963. He led the team, though was only in his early 20s. Think about that: who today would give a berth to a young team, some of them only just out of University, whose front man was only just old enough to vote?
That Frost did so well was on occasion resented by those who worked with him: Peter Cook once claimed that Frost had plagiarised his whole act, and that his one regret was that he had once saved Frost from drowning. But even in his 20s, Frost was making powerful television, as with his screen demolition of crooked insurance man Emil Savundra (in two parts, HERE and HERE).
Yes, the spectacle of “Frost/Nixon” did not come out of nowhere: there were many memorable moments in his CV. There will no doubt be plenty of fawning among the tributes, but folks do not get to the top, and remain there, by humouring everyone all of the time. David Frost seized the opportunity given him in the early 60s, and single-mindedly made himself into an authentic media star.
Others may try to do likewise. Very few will get close. That is all.