David Paradine Frost was born in Tenterden, Kent, on 7 April 1939, the son of a Methodist minister of Huguenot descent, the Rev. Wilfred John “W. J.” Paradine Frost, and his wife, Mona (Aldrich); he had two elder sisters. While living in Gillingham, Kent, he was taught in the Bible class of the Sunday school at his father’s church (Byron Road Methodist) by David Gilmore Harvey, and subsequently started training as a Methodist local preacher, which he did not complete. Frost attended Barnsole Road Primary School in Gillingham, then Gillingham Grammar School and finally – while residing in Raunds – Wellingborough Grammar School. Throughout his school years he was an avid football and cricket player, and was offered a contract with Nottingham Forest F.C. For two years before going to university he was a lay preacher following his witnessing of an event presided over by the Christian evangelist Billy Graham.
Frost studied at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, from 1958, graduating from the university with a Third in English. He was editor of both the university’s student paper, Varsity, and the literary magazine Granta. He was also secretary of the Footlights Drama Society, which included actors such as Peter Cook and John Bird. During this period, Frost appeared on television for the first time in an edition of Anglia Television’s Town And Gown, performing several comic characters. “The first time I stepped into a television studio”, he once remembered, “it felt like home. It didn’t scare me. Talking to the camera seemed the most natural thing in the world.”
According to some accounts, Frost was the victim of snobbery from the group with which he associated at Cambridge, which has been confirmed by Barry Humphries. Christopher Booker, while asserting that Frost’s one defining characteristic was ambition, commented that he was impossible to dislike. According to the satirist John Wells, the Old Etonian actor Jonathan Cecil congratulated Frost around this time for “that wonderfully silly voice” he used while performing, but then discovered that it was Frost’s real voice. After leaving university, Frost became a trainee at Associated-Rediffusion. Meanwhile, having already gained an agent, Frost performed in cabaret at the Blue Angel nightclub in Berkeley Square, London during the evenings.
Frost was chosen by writer and producer Ned Sherrin to host the satirical programme That Was the Week That Was, alias TW3 after Frost’s flat mate John Bird suggested Sherrin should see his act at The Blue Angel. The series, which ran for less than 18 months during 1962-63, was part of the satire boom in early 1960s Britain and became a popular programme.
The involvement of Frost in TW3 led to an intensification of the rivalry with Peter Cook who accused him of stealing material and dubbed Frost “the bubonic plagiarist”. The new satirical magazine Private Eye also mocked him at this time. Frost visited the United States during the break between the two series of TW3 in the summer of 1963 and stayed with the producer of the New York production of Beyond The Fringe. Frost was unable to swim, but still jumped into the pool, and nearly drowned until he was saved by Peter Cook. At the memorial service for Cook in 1995, Alan Bennett recalled that rescuing Frost was the one regret Cook frequently expressed.
For the first three editions of the second series in 1963, the BBC attempted to limit the team by scheduling repeats of The Third Man television series after the programme, thus preventing overruns. Frost took to reading synopses of the episodes at the end of the programme as a means of sabotage. After the BBC’s Director General Hugh Greene instructed that the repeats should be abandoned, TW3 returned to being open-ended. More sombrely, on 23 November 1963, a tribute to the assassinated President John F. Kennedy, an event which had occurred the previous day, formed an entire edition of That Was the Week That Was. An American version of TW3 ran after the original British series had ended. Following a pilot episode on 10 November 1963, the 30-minute US series, also featuring Frost, ran on NBC from 10 January 1964 to May 1965. In 1985, Frost produced and hosted a television special in the same format, That Was the Year That Was, on NBC.
Frost fronted various programmes following the success of TW3, including its immediate successor, Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, which he co-chaired with Willie Rushton and poet P. J. Kavanagh. Screened on three evenings each week, this series was dropped after a sketch was found to be offensive to Catholics and another to the British royal family. More successful was The Frost Report, broadcast between 1966 and 1967. The show launched the television careers of John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett, who appeared together in the Class sketch.
Frost signed for Rediffusion, the ITV weekday contractor in London, to produce a “heavier” interview-based show called The Frost Programme. Guests included Sir Oswald Mosley and Rhodesian premier Ian Smith. His memorable dressing-down of insurance fraudster Emil Savundra, regarded as the first example of “trial by television” in the UK, led to concern from ITV executives that it might affect Savundra’s right to a fair trial. Frost’s introductory words for his television programmes during this period, “Hello, good evening and welcome”, became his catchphrase and were often mimicked.
Frost was a member of a successful consortium, including former executives from the BBC, which bid for an ITV franchise in 1967. This became London Weekend Television, which began broadcasting in July 1968. The station began with a programming policy which was considered ‘highbrow’ and suffered launch problems with low audience ratings and financial problems. A September 1968 meeting of the Network Programme Committee, which made decisions about the channel’s scheduling, was particularly fraught, with Lew Grade expressing hatred of Frost in his presence. Frost, according to Kitty Muggeridge in 1967, had “risen without a trace.”
He was involved in the station’s early years as a presenter. On 20 and 21 July 1969, during the British television Apollo 11 coverage, he presented David Frost’s Moon Party for LWT, a ten-hour discussion and entertainment marathon from LWT’s Wembley Studios, on the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Two of his guests on this programme were British historian A.J.P. Taylor and entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. Around this time Frost interviewed Rupert Murdoch whose recently acquired Sunday tabloid, the News of the World, had just serialised the memoirs of Christine Keeler, a central figure in the Profumo scandal of 1963. For the Australian publisher, this was a bruising encounter, although Frost said that he had not intended it to be. Murdoch confessed to his biographer Michael Wolff that the incident had convinced him that Frost was “an arrogant bastard, [and] a bloody bugger”.
In the late 1960s he began an intermittent involvement in the film industry. Setting up David Paradine Ltd in 1966, he part-financed The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (1970), in which the lead character was based partly on Frost, and gained an executive producer credit. In 1976 Frost was the executive producer of the British musical film The Slipper and the Rose, retelling the story of Cinderella. Frost was the subject of This Is Your Life in January 1972 when he was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at London’s Quaglino’s restaurant.
In 1968 he signed a contract worth £125,000 to appear on American television in his own show on three evenings each week, the largest such arrangement for a British television personality at the time. From 1969 to 1972, Frost kept his London shows and fronted The David Frost Show on the Group W (U.S. Westinghouse Corporation) television stations in the United States. His 1970 TV special, Frost on America, featured guests such as Jack Benny and Tennessee Williams.
In a declassified transcript of a 1972 telephone call between Frost and Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Frost urged Kissinger to call chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer and urge him to compete in that year’s World Chess Championship. During this call, Frost revealed that he was working on a novel. Frost interviewed heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali at his training camp in Deer Lake, Pennsylvania in 1974, prior to The Rumble in the Jungle with George Foreman. During the interview, Ali remarked “Listen David, when I meet this man, if you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait till I whip Foreman’s behind.”
In 1977 The Nixon Interviews, a series of five 90-minute interviews with former US President Richard Nixon, were broadcast. Nixon was paid $600,000 plus a share of the profits for the interviews, which had to be funded by Frost himself after the US television networks turned down the programme, describing it as “checkbook journalism”. Frost’s company negotiated its own deals to syndicate the interviews with local stations across the US and internationally, creating what Ron Howard described as “the first fourth network.” Frost taped around 29 hours of interviews with Nixon over a period of four weeks. Nixon, who had previously avoided discussing his role in the Watergate scandal which had led to his resignation as President in 1974, expressed contrition saying “I let the American people down and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life”.
Following the 1979 Iranian Revolution Frost was the last person to interview Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the deposed Shah of Iran. The interview took place in Panama in January 1980, and was broadcast by ABC in the United States on 17 January. Frost was an organiser of the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. Ten years later, he was hired as the anchor of the new American tabloid news program Inside Edition. He was dismissed after only three weeks, and then-ABC News reporter Bill O’Reilly was recruited as his replacement.
Frost was one of the “Famous Five” who launched TV-am in February 1983 but, like LWT in the late 1960s, the station began with an unsustainable “highbrow” approach. Frost remained a presenter after restructuring. Frost on Sunday began in September 1983 and continued until the station lost its franchise at the end of 1992. Frost had been part of an unsuccessful consortium, CPV-TV, with Richard Branson and other interests, which had attempted to acquire three ITV contractor franchises prior to the changes made by the Independent Television Commission in 1991. After transferring from ITV, his Sunday morning interview programme Breakfast with Frost ran on the BBC from January 1993 until 29 May 2005. For a time it ran on BSB before moving to BBC 1. Frost hosted Through the Keyhole, which ran on several UK channels from 1987 until 2008 and also featured Loyd Grossman. Produced by his own production company, the programme was first shown in prime time and on daytime television in its later years.
Frost worked for Al Jazeera English, presenting a live weekly hour-long current affairs programme, Frost Over The World, which started when the network launched in November 2006. The programme regularly made headlines with interviewees such as Tony Blair, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Benazir Bhutto and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. The programme was produced by the former Question Time editor and Independent on Sunday journalist Charlie Courtauld. Frost was one of the first to interview the man who authored the Fatwa on Terrorism, Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri. During his career as a broadcaster Frost became one of Concorde’s most frequent fliers, having flown between London and New York an average of 20 times per year for 20 years. In 2007, Frost hosted a discussion with Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi as part of the Monitor Group’s involvement in the country. In June 2010, Frost presented Frost on Satire, an hour-long BBC Four documentary looking at the history of television satire.
Frost was known for several relationships with high profile women. In the mid-1960s, he dated British actress Janette Scott, between her marriages to songwriter Jackie Rae and singer Mel Tormé; in the early 1970s he was engaged to American actress Diahann Carroll; between 1972 and 1977 he had a relationship with British socialite Caroline Cushing; in 1981 he married Lynne Frederick, widow of Peter Sellers, but they divorced the following year. He also had an 18-year intermittent affair with American actress Carol Lynley. On 19 March 1983, Frost married Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard, daughter of the 17th Duke of Norfolk. Over the next five years, they had three sons, Miles, Wilfred and George, and for many years lived in Chelsea, with their weekend home at Michelmersh Court in Hampshire.
On 31 August 2013, Frost was aboard a Cunard Line cruise ship, the MS Queen Elizabeth, when he had a heart attack and died. Cunard said that the vessel had left Southampton for a ten-day cruise in the Mediterranean ending in Rome. British Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute, saying: “He could be—and certainly was with me—both a friend and a fearsome interviewer.” Michael Grade commented: “He was kind of a television renaissance man. He could put his hand to anything. He could turn over Richard Nixon or he could win the comedy prize at the Montreux Golden Rose festival.” On 13 March 2014, a service was held at Westminster Abbey, at which Frost was honoured with a memorial stone in Poets’ Corner.
- April, 07, 1939
- Tenterden, Kent, England
- August, 31, 2013
- MS Queen Elizabeth, Mediterranean
Cause of Death
- Heart attack
- Holy Trinity Parish Churchyard
- Oxfordshire, England