Television lost one of its most incisive voices this weekend, when Sir David Frost died of a heart attack while preparing to give a speech aboard the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth. Over fifty years in broadcasting, Frost weathered and excelled in the changing force of television media, moving from satire and entertainment – in the likes of Through the Keyhole – to being responsible for some of the most extraordinary discussions with high profile political figures ever committed to celluloid; none more explosive than the moment he got disgraced President Richard Nixon to apologise for his part in the Watergate scandal.
As an interviewer, Frost was charming, intelligent, brutal and beguiling, and those set in front of his camera were both honoured and highly wary as Frost probed his way towards the uncomfortable revelation or quashed the antics of a recalcitrant guest. He represented all that was entertaining and intelligent about TV interviews, and, in an era when our networks are filled with a glossy glut of filmstars being fawned over by the congenitally approving, his loss is felt all the more keenly.
"Frost was charming, intelligent, brutal and beguiling, and those set in front of his camera were both honoured and highly wary"
So here, in honour of a man who created some of television’s most memorable moments, we pick out five of our favourite quotes from his stellar cast of interviewees, alongside a telling quote from the man himself, when he was interviewed in 2006 by CNN, that demonstrates his passion for his job.
Frost/Nixon, Watergate Scandal Interview, 1977
Frost: I think that there are three things… I would like to hear you say ... I think the American people would like to hear you say ... One is: there was probably more than mistakes; there was wrongdoing, whether it was a crime or not; yes it may have been a crime too. Second: I did - and I'm saying this without questioning the motives - I did abuse the power I had as president, or not fulfil the totality of the oath of office. And third: I put the American people through two years of needless agony and I apologise for that. And I say that you've explained your motives, I think those are the categories. And I know how difficult it is for anyone, and most of all you, but I think that people need to hear it and I think unless you say it you are going to be haunted by it for the rest of your life.
Nixon: I’m sorry, I just hope I haven’t let you down. Well, when I said I just hope I haven’t let you down, that said it all, I had. I let down my friends, I let down the country, I let down our system of government, all the dreams of those young people that ought to get into government but will think that it’s all too corrupt and the rest. Most of all, I let down the opportunity that I would have had for 2 and a half more years to succeed in great projects and programmes that were to build a lasting peace, which has been my dream, as you know from our first interview in 1968. Before I thought I might even win that year, I didn’t tell you I didn’t think I might win but I wasn’t sure. Yep, I let the American people down, and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life.
Frost/Mohammed Ali, 1974
Frost: Tell me, when you were boxing which do you consider your strongest hand?
Ali: The strongest is the right, but the fastest and most constant is the left
Frost: What would be your advice to young boxers today?
Ali: Hit and run.
Frost/ Margaret Thatcher, 1985
After peppering Thatcher with a barrage of questions regarding the sinking of the Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives three years before, Frost caused the Prime Minister to snap:
Thatcher: Do you think Mr Frost, that I spend my days prowling round the pigeon-holes of the Ministry of Defence, to look at the chart of each and every ship? If you do, you must be bonkers!
Frost/John Lennon & George Harrison, 1967
Frost: Is meditation solely concerned about the self or does it in any way make one more responsible for other people?
Harrison: Your actions – whatever they are – are your actions. It’s all about your attitude toward other people. If you treat them good, they’ll do the same; if you hit them in the face, they’ll probably do the same thing. And that’s not much to do with religion. Action and reaction, that’s the thing Christ was saying. Whatever you do, you get it back.
Lennon: It’s the same in all universes, in all religions. It’s just opening your mind to see that. Buddha was groovy, you know. And Jesus was all right. It’s exactly the same thing.
Frost: What differences were there, would you say, between Jesus and Maharishi, for instance?
Lennon: Well, Maharishi didn’t do miracles, you know. The giggle – I can’t say how divine or superhuman that is.
Frost/ John Lennon & Yoko Ono, 1969
Yoko hands David a small box
Frost: To David, a box of smile.
Lennon: (To audience) We give him a lot of gear and he throws it away after. He’ll regret it! Still looking for his Picassos.
Frost pulls out a small mirror from the box, laughing.
Frost: (Holding the mirror up to his face) It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Lennon: We thought you’d like it.
Frost: What do you want to do now, the pair of you?
Lennon: Make peace and sell it, that’s all we’re going to do, whatever we do will be for peace…
Fionnula Sweeney/Frost, CNN, 2006
Sweeney: So, David, compared to when you started, at the beginning, was there ever a point in your career where you suddenly went, "I've got it. I'm able to do these interviews. Nothing much phases me these days."
Frost: Well, I don't get nervous, I never have. I don't know why… I remember being in Australia on a program hosted by Margaret Whitlam, the wife of the then prime minister, and Leonard Bernstein was on the program. And for some reason, Margaret said to him, "When are you going to retire?" And he said, "I shall retire the moment that, before a performance, I cease to feel the pain up and down my spine. I shall retire the moment I cease to feel sickness in the pit of my stomach." And I said, "That's funny. I shall retire the moment I start to feel any of those things."
Text by Tish Wrigley
Research by Rhiannon Wastell