David Frost died

I’ve just learned from CNN and the Guardian that British journalist and broadcaster David Frost has died at age 74.  The Guardian notes that he died of a heart attack while on a cruise ship—the Queen Elizabeth that was sailing from London to Lisbon.  As the Guardian reports:

The 74-year-old, whose programmes included That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report, was to give a speech on board the Queen Elizabeth, which is believed to have set sail from Southampton on Saturday on a cruise to Lisbon.

. . . Frost, who was knighted in 1993, helped establish London Weekend Television and TV-am, and was famed for his political interviews, most notably with Richard Nixon in 1977, in which the US president for the first time conceded some fault over Watergate.

In the U.S. we know him mainly for his four television interviews with Richard Nixon in 1977, during which Frost finally got the old rogue to confess that he’d behaved unethically during l’affaire Watergate.  As Wikipedia notes, “The premiere episode drew 45 million viewers, the largest television audience for a political interview in history — a record which still stands today.”

But of course Frost had a long and distinguished career.

After going from a grammar school to Cambridge University, Frost was active in student journalism and the Footlights theatrical revue. From there he became a trainee at independent television before finding fame as the host of That Was The Week That Was, the pioneering TV political satire show. Frost’s distinctive delivery of his catchphrase, “Hello, good evening and welcome,” soon became instantly recognisable and much mocked.

The programme ran on the BBC during 1962 and 1963, before transferring to the US.

From then on Frost was a regular TV figure on both sides of the Atlantic, with shows including The Frost Report and Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life.

In later years, Frost hosted the Frost on Sunday talkshow on ITV, before returning to the BBC for the first time since the early 1960s in 1993 for Breakfast with Frost, which ran until 2005.

For many years he also hosted Through the Keyhole, which by coincidence returned to ITV on Saturday night under a revamped format.

After Breakfast with Frost ended, the broadcaster made a surprise move to al-Jazeera, where he interviewed political figures.

Frost’s interviews with Nixon were made into a terrific movie by director Ron Howard in 2008: “Frost/Nixon,” which you should see if you haven’t already (Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 92% rating from the critics, which is very high).

Here’s a short clip with scenes from the first interview (there are several others on YouTube). I tell you, I’m not a fan of the “trigger warning” trope, but, having lived through the Nixon era and the debacle of Watergate, I think I’d need a trigger warning for something like this—”Warning: Video of Richard Nixon.” His resignation was one of the high spots of my youthful period of antiwar activism.

22 Comments

  1. Les Faby
    Posted September 1, 2013 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    My strongest memory of TV from childhood was from That Was the Week that Was. The Surgeon-General’s report on smoking was just released. The smoking cast member read straight from the report and it sinking in. At the end, a close up of him crushing his cigarette into an ashtray. Cut to their sponsor’s ad: Come to Marlboro Country.

  2. Posted September 1, 2013 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Yes, Watergate and Nixon’s resignation defined my formative years as well. I was glued to the TV during the Watergate hearings. Haldeman and Erlichman were the arch-villians of the age.
    Several decades later, when I was a jungle guide in the Amazon, Haldeman and his family showed up to spend a week in the jungle with me! His kids were wonderful, all liberal Democrats. We had a good time. One thing he said, though, gave some insight into the mind-set of the Nixon White House. During a dinner we were talking about the internment of Japanese-Americans in the US during WW2. He said that if this internment stopped even one Japanese spy from revealing something important, then it was worth it. The end justifies the means. That epitomized for me the philosophy of that administration.

    One of our most ethical and humane presidents, Carter, was soon elected after Nixon’s VP Ford, and for a moment it seemed America might become a more decent state showing real moral leadership in the world. But that was short-lived. Reagan and subsequent presidents (including now Obama) ruined that possibility. The Iran-Contra hearings were as riveting and even more deeply disturbing than the Watergate hearings. That was where the elder Bush first had a presence, as director of the CIA in charge of our state-sponsored terrorism in Nicaragua and our arming of dictators with chemical weapons. It has all been downhill since then.

    • Posted September 1, 2013 at 8:32 am | Permalink

      It’s sad that decades ago, a President could be hounded out of office by public outrage for his lying about spying on a single office, but today Obama goes free in spite of lying about vast spy operations that touch huge numbers of Americans, with enormous potential for abuse. How successful the government has been at turning Americans into moral cowards since 9-11. The constitution and the rule of law mean nothing now.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted September 2, 2013 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

        Oh, I don’t know. If you read the history of the Nixon administration, I think you’ll find that those folks were singularly depraved. Yes, every administration has favored power over transparency, but the Nixon administration was unique in its total disregard for the law.

        • Posted September 2, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

          I think the Nixon administration may have seemed so at the time, but I suspect administrations like that of Reagan and the second Bush outdid Nixon (they were just better at hiding it). Setting up secret, illegal international funding schemes (eg selling weapons to our official enemy, Iran) to avoid congressional scrutiny so they could finance secret, illegal international terrorism in Nicaragua is pretty bold. Especially if the persistent rumors are true that their CIA was also involved in transporting cocaine from Central America to the US to finance the contras. I was living in Costa Rica at the time and there were some messy plane crashes that Costa Ricans thought were evidence of this.

          By the way, after spending that week with Haldeman, I did not feel that he was depraved.

          • truthspeaker
            Posted September 3, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

            It’s no coincidence that the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations contained people who served the Nixon administration.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 2, 2013 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

        … could be hounded out of office by public outrage for his lying about spying on a single office …

        Spying on a single office? Maybe you should refresh your recollection with the Articles of Impeachment the House returned against Nixon. I just happen to have a copy right here: http://classes.lls.edu/archive/manheimk/371d1/nixonarticles.html

        The three Articles of Impeachment the House returned against him charged Nixon with 15 separate “high crimes and misdemeanors.” As you’ll recall, he turned tail and ran rather than face trial on these charges in the Senate. (The two additional Impeachment Articles the House gave him a pass on alleged Nixon committed another 31 crimes while in office.) Richard Nixon ran the West Wing of the White House as a continuing criminal enterprise. Not even the most shameless Nixon revisionist claims his impeachment proceedings stemmed from his “lying about spying on a single office.”

        • Posted September 3, 2013 at 11:04 am | Permalink

          Ken, my earlier response to you seems to have gotten lost. Here is the gist of it: Compare the subject of the Watergate hearings to the subject of the Iran-Contra hearings. Both were serious attacks on our democracy, but the latter involved US-sponsored terrorism and murder in Nicaragua, and sales of weapons to our then-enemy to finance the operations without Congressional intervention, and a host of other horrors that make Watergate look mild in comparison. Yet the teflon president came away unscathed and one of the players, Bush sr, was later elected President. Something happened to America’s conscience between the Nixon and Reagan years.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted September 3, 2013 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

            Lou – You’ll get no argument from me about the perfidy and evil of Iran-Contra. And if I suggested otherwise above, let me quote The Gipper and his VP, respectively: “I can’t recall” and “I was out of the loop.”

            • Posted September 5, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

              And you’ll get no argument from me about the criminal mindset of the Nixon administration…..and if I suggested otherwise, I’ll just erase those tapes.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted September 1, 2013 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Yes, Watergate and Nixon’s resignation defined my formative years as well.

      I think I must have been a little too young to “get” Watergate. Or maybe it was because I spent a day doing volunteer work on a wetland nature reserve and overhearing my father and various of the other volunteers talking about Watergate, while the gamekeeper (“Sparrow” by name; very soft spoken and hard to hear because he’d been gassed during the Great War) was simultaneously talking about how he;d have to control the water levels in the ponds and lakes at different times by opening and closing the various sluices. Or, to him, “water gates”.
      I was confused.

      • Richard Olson
        Posted September 1, 2013 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

        Lou Jost & gi-Aiden: comments like you two make here are no small reason why this site is so valuable.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 1, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      What an extraordinary story!

      I think I have PTSD from the Nixon era and surrounding years–the assassinations, Kent State, the Chicago 7 (+1), peace marches, sit-ins, campus strikes, tear gas…But oddly it was a time of measurable advance and hope–the antiwar movement, environmentalism, feminism . . .indeed, it’s been all downhill since then, with only brief interludes of optimism.

      (‘Twas satisfying that Reagan ended up with a couple of Democratic kids as well.)

  3. eddietrickett
    Posted September 1, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on eddietrickett.

  4. John Taylor
    Posted September 1, 2013 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Before watching that Nixon interview I wasn’t aware of the plight of the idle rich. Is there a charity out there that is addressing the issue? Maybe some organization should assist by distributing self help literature at country clubs and fishing lodges. That seems like a worthy cause to which I would contribute.

  5. Posted September 1, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Frost was also responsible for opening the door to the BBC for many aspiring comedians. It is unlikely if anyone would know who John Cleese (and other members of Monty Python) is if David Frost hadn’t recognized his writing ability and invited him to work for him (Phoning him in New York where Cleese was working at the time).

    • Posted September 1, 2013 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      Ah yesss… just as I was going to say

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 1, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      I recall The Frost Report with DF as compere, and John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett (as, invariably, the Upper Class, the Middle Class, and the Working Class).
      Sadly, I ignored it for many weeks before watching my first episode as I took it to be some sort of boring documentary.

      That may well have been John Cleese and the two Ronnies’ first breakthrough into comedy.

  6. Diane G.
    Posted September 1, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    For some reason I always remember this line from TWTWTW. Alec Douglas-Home was Prime Minister, and many people had trouble pronouncing his name the way it was supposed to be pronounced, Hyoom.

    Announcer (D-H’s name spelled as it was pronounced on air, here): In other news, Alec Douglas-Hyoom is in bed with flu. Or, if you prefer, Alec Douglas-Home is in bed with Flo.

  7. Ken Pidcock
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    His resignation was one of the high spots of my youthful period of antiwar activism.

    Indeed. My friends and I planned a party around watching it. It’s an argument for ethical conduct that watching the unethical fall is truly entertaining.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 2, 2013 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    One thing that clearly come through in his extended interview with Frost was how utterly humorless Nixon was.

    I think it was Hunter Thompson who noted that the only thing likely to make Nixon laugh out loud would be the sight of a wheelchair-bound Democrat unsuccessfully struggling to reach the voting-booth lever.

  9. Posted September 7, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I’m just back from an internet-less cruise to Norway, with lots of posts to catch up on, but this one is spookily personal: David Frost’s ship left Southampton in line ahead of ours last Saturday…

    /@


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