When British journalist and broadcaster Sir David Frost died at 74 of a heart attack on the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth last week, it was a sad but weirdly appropriate end to an eclectic career.
Frost rose to prominence not as a Fleet Street reporter biding his time until a big story about corrupt officials came along, but as a humorist who turned the news of the day into sketch-worthy comedy. In 1962 and 1963 as the Cold War escalated, Frost was the epitome of droll sophistication and skepticism on the BBC program “That Was the Week That Was.”
After the satiric show was canceled, Frost decided to break with comedy and move toward conventional news and opinion, with celebrity interviews thrown into the mix. He became the host of “The David Frost Show” in 1969 and burnished his reputation as a quick-witted and tenacious interviewer. His American fans found his approach engaging.
Three years after resigning the presidency in disgrace, Richard M. Nixon agreed to a series of interviews with Frost for $600,000. U.S. broadcasters lamented the fact that a British “celebrity interviewer” had landed such a coveted subject and worried that “checkbook journalism” would become the norm.
Meanwhile, Frost patiently laid the groundwork for Nixon’s unprecedented admission that he had “let the American people down.” If it wasn’t the full-throated confession many wanted, it was a tacit admission that Nixon hadn’t simply been hounded from office by political enemies.
Frost continued to be a pillar of TV journalism in England long after his star dimmed in the United States. In recent years, he’d begun reporting for Al Jazeera English and was scheduled to interview the British prime minister. With David Frost’s passing, however, there is a hole in British broadcast journalism.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette