Television host, Journalist, Comedian & Writer

David Frost

David Paradine Frost (1939-2013) was a notable British political journalist and television presenter.

He was born in the small town of Tenterden, Kent, on April 7th, 1939, just under five months before the outbreak of World War II. His mother, Maude Frost, was commonly known as Mona, while his father, Wilfred Frost, was a Methodist church minister.

David was initially raised In Kent, where he attended a succession of schools in the large town of Gillingham, and was also instructed in Bible study at a Sunday school attached to his father’s church, which was the Methodist Church at Byron Road, Gillingham, a building that has since been converted into a Sikh temple called Siri Guru Nanak Gurudwara. This early religious education eventually led to him becoming a lay preacher in his late teens.

Although he started his secondary education at a grammar school in Gillingham, David was subsequently compelled to change schools when his family moved to the small town of Raunds, Northamptonshire. He therefore completed his secondary education at Wellingborough Grammar School in the substantial town of Wellingborough, which is situated about nine miles to the west-south-west of Raunds.

At school, Frost was a successful football player, leading to his being offered a contract to play for Nottingham Forest upon the completion of his A Levels. But he rejected the offer in favour of studying English at the University of Cambridge, which he began to attend in 1958.

David Frost (left) interviews Rose Kennedy (right) in his show "The David Frost Show" (1971)
David Frost Show, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons (Cropped)

At Cambridge, David was an active member of the Cambridge Footlights, the university’s long-established amateur dramatics society, and at one point took on the role of its secretary. He also became involved in writing for two student-led publications. One of these was Varsity, a student newspaper that had been launched in 1947 and remains in publication to this day. The other was Granta, a much older literary magazine that had been launched by students at Cambridge University in 1889 and would remain under the control of students there until the 1970s. Granta is also still in print, but ceased to be affiliated to the University of Cambridge in the late 1970s, and is now an independent quarterly magazine that coexists with Granta Books, a publishing house that was launched as an offshoot of the magazine in 1989.

On the back of his student acting exploits, Frost played various comic roles on a fortnightly programme themed on life in Cambridge called Town and Gown. This was produced by Anglia Television, the independent television company with a licence to broadcast in Cambridgeshire and much of East Anglia.

This experience gave Frost a taste for working in television; and on leaving Cambridge with a third-class honours degree, he took up a traineeship with Associated-Rediffusion, at that time the ITV broadcasting licence holder for Greater London and its periphery.

Alongside working for a regional independent television company, Frost managed to find time to perform in cabaret in the evenings at a nightclub called the Blue Angel in Berkeley Square, West London.

A tip-off from one of his flat-mates of the time, actor John Bird (1936-2022), who had acted alongside him for the Footlights in Cambridge, led to Frost being talent-spotted in his cabaret role by TV producer Ned Sherrin (1931-2007) and recruited to host a new satirical current affairs programme called That Was the Week That Was.

Although it lasted only two seasons, from November 1962 to December 1963, this programme made Frost a household name and set in place a vogue for similar evening light entertainment shows based loosely on politics, which have continued to be broadcast into the 21st century.

Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally. Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else have your way.

Its successor, bearing the eccentrically long-winded title Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, ran for just one series from November 1964 to April 1965, but also featured Frost as its main presenter.

In the meantime, Frost had also been recruited to present a shorter American spin-off of That Was the Week That Was, which he presented for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) from January 1964 to May 1965.

After this, Frost headed up a similarly satirical show in his own name, The Frost Report, which ran on BBC1 for two series, spanning March 1966 to December 1967. Simultaneously with this, he began to present a serious current affairs programme for Rediffusion London, the revised name of his early employer Associated-Rediffusion, which bore the confusingly similar name of The Frost Programme. This appears from limited available online records to have run initially from 1966-1968, and again from 1970 to 1973, with a final series appearing in 1977. As host of The Frost Programme, Frost left behind his accustomed work as a comic actor and satirical presenter, and began instead to conduct serious interviews with the world’s leading politicians and some other controversial characters, a role for which he would ultimately be better known than any of his early acting work.

Frost was involved as part of a consortium that bid successfully for the new independent television franchise that became known as London Weekend Television (LWT), which began broadcasting in 1968. He became a regular presenter for shows on LWT from its very launch, and current affairs was again the thematic mainstay of his output.

In 1966, Frost also branched out into independent entrepreneurship, setting up the television production company David Paradine Productions. Among many other productions, it notably created a TV comedy show called At Last the 1948 show, which ran for two series within 1947; a satirical film called The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970); a musical film based on the fairy tale Cinderella, called The Slipper and the Rose (1976); the long-running show looking at the insides of celebrities’ houses, Through the Keyhole (1987-2008); and an interview show presented by Frost himself for Al Jazeera English until shortly before his death, Frost Over the World (2006-2012).

Frost’s involvements in the USA gathered pace in the late 1960s when he was awarded a contract to present a new 90-minute show called The David Frost Show, produced by the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and syndicated to different television stations affiliated to it. At its peak, it ran on five evenings every week; and it had clocked up more than 770 episodes by the time it ended in 1972.

Although this show was cancelled after a few years, Frost continued to be in high demand as an interviewer of politicians and other celebrities in the years to follow. Among his notable interview subjects in the later 1970s were heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) in 1974, and the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (1919-1980), in 1979. But most famous of all was his series of interviews with ex-US President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) in 1977. After gathering 28 hours of footage over 12 interview sessions spread across four weeks, Frost had selections from it broadcast in five separate programmes during May and September that year.

In February 1983, Frost became one of the inaugural presenters of the new breakfast television programme TV-am, which was broadcast on the independent television network (ITV) throughout the UK. After just three months, allegedly considered too serious for the weekday morning audiences, he was moved by the station managers to a Sunday morning slot, where his show, initially just called Good Morning Britain, subsequently ran through a series of name changes, including The Sunday Programme (1985), David Frost on Sunday (1986) and ultimately Frost on Sunday (1988). He remained in place as its host until the end of 1992, when TV-am was stripped of its broadcasting licence.

Having lost his contract with TV-am when it lost its licence, Frost was immediately headhunted by the BBC, which installed him as the host of a similar political discussion show on Sundays called Breakfast with Frost with immediate effect from early January, 1993, just one week after his last broadcast for TV-am. During his time on this show, Frost notably interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2000. Breakfast With Frost itself ran for more than twelve years until May 2005. Frost then turned his attention to his new show on Al-Jazeera (as detailed above), which continued until shortly before his death.

In his extended career as a political interviewer, Frost is notable for having recorded interviews with every British Prime Minister to have served from 1964 until his death in 2013 and every United States President to have served from 1969 to 2008.

Frost had a colourful love life, including two marriages and at least five other high-profile relationships with women. His first marriage, to English actress Lynne Frederick (1954-1994), lasted just 17 months from January 1981 to June 1982. Within a year of their divorce, in March 1983, he married noblewoman Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard (born 1952), with whom he had three children, all sons, between 1983 and 1988.

Among Frost’s earlier celebrity lovers were English actress Janette Scott (born 1938), American actress Diahann Carroll (1935-2019), American model Karen Graham (born 1945), American actress Carol Lynley (1942-2019), and British-born American journalist, magazine editor and entrepreneur Caroline Cushing Graham.

In August 2013, while hired as a guest speaker on a cruise ship, Frost suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 74. It was revealed by his post-mortem that he had been suffering from a hereditary form of heart disease known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Tragically, his son Miles died of the same cause just two years later, aged only 31.