I watched this video for the first time a few days ago and it inspired me to make an entry about the interviewee, Enoch Powell. Little did I know that I'd be posting it here tonight because of the interviewer, Sir David Frost. At the moment I read the news on Sunday morning via a tweet, I felt numb and disoriented. Only a few hours earlier I had watched the latest episode of Al Jazeera's The Frost Interview, with Marc Andreessen, Silicon Valley software pioneer and co-founder of Netscape browser. I hadn't watched the Qatari-based news channel in many weeks, and I wasn't really paying attention to the telly when I switched over to it. Until I thought I heard a familiar voice. As I turned around I realised it was only a voice-over, which made me a tad hesitant that it was really him, but within a few seconds he appeared on screen and removed all doubt. It felt like a reminder to finalise that entry on Enoch Powell. Turns out dad watched the same programme last night as well.
Sir David was my favourite political interviewer, but unlike most Brits, Americans and Australians, who may have had the pleasure of growing up with him in one form or another, I didn't really get to know him until I moved to Montreal for university in 2002. Until then, I had been fed scraps from his Breakfast with Frost programme that was broadcast on the BBC World channel that we received in Oman. However once I had access to high speed internet and the freedom to do as I please, I was able to watch every episode of Breakfast with Frost, in full, via the BBC website. In those days, a number of Auntie's political TV programmes were available internationally. However, by the summer of 2004, several were made unavailable. But not Breakfast with Frost. Those were the heady days of the Iraq War and Frost's interviews with Bush, Blair and other prominent politicians, made for gripping as well as entertaining viewing from across the pond. I was struck by his warm and charming interviewing manner, in which his guests were lulled into a false sense of security, before he delivered a knock-out punch. He was the smiling assassin. He always seemed so interested in what the interviewee had to say. Whether he meant it or not was irrelevant, because he seemed to be at pains to make the participant feel at ease. And he was obviously so knowledgeable. He struck me as a conversationalist with the gift of listening. He could be cocky and witty too.
By the time I moved here in the summer of 2007, I had become aware of the Frost/Nixon play, and thanks to YouTube, I was able to play catchup with what I'd missed. Then came the Frost/Nixon film in the autumn of 2008, and a programme in 2010 on BBC Four, presented by him on the history of satire on TV. As a massive fan of political satire and history, it was more than I could've asked for. But it was not until the satire documentary that I realised his original connection with America, nor how big he became there over the years. In more recent months I came across a YouTube account of TV-am clips from the moment of its inception in the 1980s. Until then I had never realised Sir David's role in it, nor how he was almost solely responsible for introducing breakfast television, which we all take for granted today, into these Isles. I also never realised his connection with Australia as a result of that venture. The more I watched of him, the more I grew to like him. In particular I loved his style in front of the camera from programmes such as That Was the Week That Was. I think it's fair to say he was a lot more cocky and direct in those days, and although he may have mellowed in later years, he never lost that knock-out punch technique which floored many an interviewee. His was a stellar career spanning over fifty years, spread over four continents. He was perhaps the best known British journalist outside these Isles until BBC World arrived in the 1990s.
And then there's the hour-long interview with Enoch Powell from 1969, a year after Powell's explosive speech about immigration. As I watched the interview I was impressed with how well Powell kept his cool, despite Sir David's provocations. I doubt any modern politician or their media minder would allow someone to get away with such style of questioning today, but there was still something charming and witty about it. None of his modern successors are a patch on him. Not Paxo, not Andrew Neil, nor Jon Snow. The nearest equivalent is perhaps Eddie Mair. Frost was certainly one of a kind. A man of many talents, who paved the way and brought new ideas. In his tribute on the radio a couple hours ago, Barry Cryer described him as a practicing catalyst. He was certainly that. And although oft overused, he was certainly a legend too. We may never see the likes of him again and for that, he will be sorely missed. Farewell, good night, and thank you for the memories.