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One of the most accomplished interviewers of the late 20th century, Sir David Frost was a British journalist and television presenter whose conversations with world leaders and cultural icons frequently elevated him from news reporter to news maker. He initially came on the scene as a satirist with the comedy series "That Was the Week That Was" (BBC, 1962-63) and "The Frost Report" (BBC, 1966). But with "The Frost Programme," he displayed not only a talent for serious reporting, but a gift for generating hard-hitting and often controversial interviews with political figures and celebrities from both sides of the Atlantic. Frost's reputation brought him to American in the 1970s, where he memorably faced off against disgraced President Richard Nixon before a record-breaking television audience; the interviews would later serve as the basis for an award-winning play and motion picture. Frost later returned to England to host several long-running morning interview programs and maintain interests in a variety of television companies. Though occasionally criticized for his journalistic approach, David Frost's 40-year career in news was ultimately as important to history as the subjects he interviewed. No less than British Prime Minster David Cameron spoke fondly of Frost upon the occasion of the broadcaster's death in August 2013.
Born David Paradine Frost in Kent, England on April 7, 1939, he was the son of a Methodist minister, and actually began training for the cloth as a young man. He never completed his studies; instead focusing his interests on English and literature at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge University. There, he divided his time between editing the school newspaper and literary journal and serving as secretary for the famed Footlights Dramatic Society. He would continue to pursue both avocations - and frequently combine them - throughout his professional career.
After graduation, he moved into television as a trainee at the ITV contractor Associated-Rediffusion and later at its Anglia Television station. In 1962, Frost was tapped by producer Ned Sherrin to present "That Was the Week That Was," a satirical program that lampooned - often to merciless levels - the government and its important figures. The series, which counted among its contributors Monty Python's John Cleese and Graham Chapman, as well as Dennis Potter, Kenneth Tynan and Roald Dahl, frequently found itself at the center of complaints from establishment figures whose public and professional lives had been the subject of its parodies. Audiences, however, loved the show, which later spawned an American version on NBC from 1964-65. Frost followed the show to the States for its second season, which gave him his first taste of exposure in the United States. Amusingly, it was politics that signaled an end to both series; the BBC canceled its version for fear that the humor would affect its impartiality during the 1964 election year, while American broadcasts were constantly pre-empted by Republican speeches and specials, which effectively broke the show's momentum with viewers.
After the demise of the American "TW3," as it was affectionately known to its fans, Frost returned to England for Sherrin's follow-up series, "Not So Much a Programme, More of a Way of Life" (BBC, 1964-65). A darker take on "TW3's" satire, it helped to launch the careers of Michael Crawford and Eleanor Bron, among others, but did not share its predecessor's popularity. Frost returned to form with its follow-up, "The Frost Report," another news satire that featured on-screen and script contributions from Cleese and many of his future Monty Python co-stars, as well as Marty Feldman, Nicky Henson and Ronnie Corbett. Another ratings smash, it solidified Frost as a popular talent in his native country; however, some of his fellow writers and performers voiced a very different opinion of the man in private. Comics such as Peter Cook, who had come to fame as a member of the satirical stage show "Beyond the Fringe," accused Frost of plagiarism, while the Python troupe singled him out in sketches as opportunistic and unctuous in his interview style.
In spite of the growing criticism, Frost forged ahead with his career; by the mid-1960s, he had decided to tackle serious journalism on television, and the result was "The Frost Programme" (ITV, 1966-68). The first television news program in England to include a live audience, it attracted some of the biggest and most important names in UK news, and helped to establish Frost as a tough and probing interviewer. Over the course of the next five years, Frost was front and center for a string of interview programs in both the UK and America, each of which yielded bigger names to face off against the host; the world figures he interviewed ranged from Britain's prime minister and heads of the Middle East to the Beatles and Muhammad Ali. Some of his TV efforts were lighter than others; "The David Frost Show" (syndicated, 1971-73) was an attempt to break into the late-night chat arena that garnered negative press for what was perceived as Frost's fawning over Hollywood celebrities. But the ratings generated by these appearances helped to make Frost a news figure in his own right. In America, he was a frequent guest on television talk shows and specials. He also returned briefly to his comedy roots as the host of the short-lived "David Frost Revue" (syndicated, 1971-73).
Though Frost claimed many laurels during the 1970s and 1980s, few were as monumental as his 1977 interview with ex-President Richard Nixon. Recorded shortly after his resignation from the presidency over his role in the Watergate scandal, the interviews provided a fascinating portrait of Nixon, who concluded the questioning by implicitly citing his involvement in Watergate. The broadcasts earned the largest television audience in American history up until that time, and later served as the basis for the Tony-winning play "Frost/Nixon," which explored both Frost's backroom brokering to win over Nixon, as well as his struggle to pry the truth about the scandal out of the ex-president. The acclaimed production was later adapted into a motion picture by Ron Howard with Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon. The success of the Nixon interviews eventually made a Frost interview a pre-requisite for American presidents, and he would later become the only interviewer to face off against every commander in chief from 1969 to 2004, as well as all British prime ministers during that period. Frost also conducted the last interview with the Shah of Iran prior to his death in 1979.
In addition to his hosting and interview duties, Frost was also busy in other broadcast and entertainment capacities. His David Paradine Productions oversaw a variety of television series, as well as the Academy Award-nominated musical feature "The Slipper and the Rose" (1976). He later served as the executive producer of the Music for the UNICEF Concert at the United Nations in 1979, and helped to launch the ITV franchises London Weekend Television and TV-am. The latter served as his home base for "Frost on Sunday" (ITV, 1983-1992), a morning program that balanced aspects of Frost's early and later career with a mix of comedy and variety with interviews and news. When TV-am ended in 1992, Frost returned to the BBC for the first time since the late sixties with "Breakfast with Frost" (BBC, 1993-2005), which became a Sunday tradition for UK viewers. He also continued to contribute to American television during this period; most notably with his brief tenure as the host of the muckraking "Inside Edition" (syndicated, 1989- ). After only three weeks on the job in 1988, he was replaced by Bill O'Reilly.
In 1987, Frost added game shot host to his extensive C.V. by presiding over and producing "Through the Keyhole" (ITV/Sky One/BBC One, 1987- ), which challenged celebrity panelists to view footage of a mystery guest's property in order to determine his identity. He continued with the series throughout its extensive run, while keeping busy as a contributor to numerous documentaries and television specials about many aspects of his storied career, ranging from "TW3" to Richard Nixon. Frost also continued to work in news. After "Breakfast with Frost" ended its run, he hosted a live weekly current events program for Al Jazeera English beginning in 2006. In addition to his involvement with news and television production, Frost was a member of numerous charitable organizations, including the Alzheimer's Research Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. For his numerous contributions to English and global culture, he received knighthood in 1993.
Sir David Frost died August 31, 2013, on board an ocean liner bound from Southampton to Rome. He suffered an apparent heart attack while giving a lecture during the voyage. After the announcement of Sir Frost's death, British Prime Minister David Cameron said of the venerable broadcaster, "He could be - and certainly was with me - both a friend and a fearsome interviewer."
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