x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Tributes pour in for British broadcaster David Frost

The master of the television interview who famously coaxed an apology for Watergate from the disgraced US president, Richard Nixon, has died suddenly at the age of 74.

David Frost, left, talks with former US president Richard Nixon in this March 1977 photo prior to the taping of his interview.
David Frost, left, talks with former US president Richard Nixon in this March 1977 photo prior to the taping of his interview.

LONDON // The renowned British broadcaster David Frost, a master of the television interview who famously coaxed an apology for Watergate from the disgraced US president, Richard Nixon, has died suddenly at the age of 74.

Frost suffered a heart attack late on Saturday night aboard a luxury cruise liner where he had a speaking engagement.

His sudden death brought a flood of tributes from international celebrities and political leaders, many of whom called him a good friend as well as an acute interrogator.

"David Frost died of a heart attack last night aboard the Queen Elizabeth, where he was giving a speech," his family said, adding that they were "devastated".

A household name in Britain since 1962, when as a recent Cambridge graduate he hosted the cutting-edge satirical BBC television show That Was The Week That Was, Frost secured his broader international reputation with the Nixon interviews of 1977, three years after the US president had retreated into silence after quitting in disgrace.

During those encounters, dramatised in the 2008 film Frost/Nixon, the British talk-show host verbally sparred with Nixon for hours before eliciting a moment of real-life historical drama when Nixon apologised for the bugging of Democrat rivals at Washington's Watergate building, and for the subsequent cover-up.

Frost, the son of a Methodist minister from Kent, near London, launched his career while still at Cambridge University as a leading figure in the Footlights Dramatic Club, a hotbed of innovative comedy that also produced members of Monty Python and other British comedy legends, including Peter Cook and The Goodies.

Speaking for a generation that grew up in a post-Second World War Britain stripped of its imperial power - if not its pretensions - That Was The Week That Was wasbroadcast live on the BBC. It mocked an indignant establishment, enjoying huge ratings and making the youthful Frost a star.

After the British version ended, he presented an American version on the US TV network NBC.

Frost went on to become best known as an interviewer of world leaders, sitting opposite virtually every US president and British prime minister of the age.

He showed a rare talent for extracting intriguing and revealing information.

An engaging personality off-screen, and made wealthy by his interests in a string of successful television ventures, Frost's celebrity-studded contact book - and his lavish parties - were the stuff of legend in the worlds of politics and showbusiness.

That his distinct style and catchphrase - "Hello, good evening and welcome" - became much mimicked only underlined his status as a fixture on the small screen.

More recently, he continued to pursue the art of the interview, presenting a weekly conversation on Al Jazeera International.

Recent guests included the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, and the British racing driver, Lewis Hamilton.

Frost had worked with Al Jazeera English since its launch seven years ago, first of all with Frost Over The World and, most recently, with The Frost Interview.

"With his characteristic incisive, engaging and unique interviewing style, his shows hosted some of the most important and interesting names in recent history," said Al Anstey, Al Jazeera English's managing director. "His conversations with his guests elicited both news lines and a unique insight into their lives."

The British prime minister, David Cameron, spoke for many with his comment on Twitter: "He made a huge impact on television and politics. The Nixon interviews were among the great broadcast moments - but there were many other brilliant interviews.

"He could be - and certainly was with me - both a friend and a fearsome interviewer."