Thursday, October 13, 2005

Interview with Sir David Frost

Interview took place on 4th October 2005 - the day that Ronnie Barker died.

Sir David Frost is going to be performing at the Chester Gateway on Tuesday 18th October and makes a plea for questions: the first half of his performance will be on his comedy and humour - with clips from the THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS and THE FROST REPORT (including a tribute to the late Ronnie Barker); the second half will be a question and answer session and he is hoping to get a lot of good questions from the members of the audience. It will include anecdotes from his interviews which Sir David says is always a lot of fun.


A quick google reveals that:

“He is the only person to have interviewed the last seven Presidents of the United States and the last six Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom”
(The Times)

His Nixon Interviews achieved “the largest audience for a news interview in history”
(New York Times).

So I interviewed him with some trepidation... However I have to say he was charming - a thoroughly good human being who, I believe, treats everyone with the same respect.

Clare Dudman: Do you have any connection with Chester or the north-west?
Sir David Frost: My connection with Chester is not as terrific as I would like, but my Uncle, the Reverend Kenneth Aldrich, had several very happy years as the Methodist Minister in Chester. So we heard a lot about Chester from him, and of course I’ve followed the somewhat roller coaster fortunes of Chester Football Club.

C.D: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
D.F: Going to Cambridge - I’d started writing shows for the local Methodist Youth Club already, but at Cambridge I was able to meet other people with similar ambitions and was very lucky to meet a fantastic range of people - Peter Cook, John Cleese, Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi, Graeme Garden, Bill Odie - a tremendous cross-section of people together with future ministers including Ken Clarke and Michael Howard.

C. D: What is your proudest moment?
D F: There’s been a number: the birth of our three sons - very much so - then career-wise the response to the Nixon interviews in 1977, and this year I was given the BAFTA fellowship which is their highest honour.

C.D: Who was your favourite interviewee? The most devious? The most difficult?
D.F: Well, Nelson Mandela was certainly one of the most memorable, Baldur von Schirach, the former head of Hitler Youth was the most devious, the most difficult was ex King Ibn Sa’ad of Saudi Arabia because we had two interpreters, one for him and one for me and by the time I’d put the question my interpreter, who put it to his interpreter who put it to him and then he had responded to his interpreter who responded to my interpreter who responded to me you found you’d forgotten the question. Nowadays Gorbachov has a terrific simultaneous interpreter - if Gorbachov talks for just one minute the guy is so quick, after Gorbachov stops the interpreter only needs another 3 or 4 words to complete the minute.
C.D: That’s amazing.
D.F: Yes, amazing - that makes it much easier than with ex-King Ibn Sa’ad

C.D: Do you think that the TV interview has changed over the years? How?
D.F: I think it has - in the sense politicians have learnt how to deal with some sorts of questions, and then you have to play the game.. of chess, and learn how to challenge them again - that’s changing all the time. I think there are more pointless hectoring interviews. You only need to be an adversarial interviewer in an adversarial situation. When I was interviewing Nixon on the Watergate or the notorious swindler, Dr Emil Savundra then these had to be confrontational - but it is pointless to be confrontational otherwise. Confrontation tends to shut people up when the task is to draw them out.

C.D: Are American audiences different from British ones?
D.F: I don’t think American audiences are particularly different. I think because America is a nation of immigrants, whereas we are a nation of emigrants, I think Americans are particularly generous, perhaps more generous than we are in this country. I think the tastes are just the same; but with just two differences - one liner jokes is more prevalent in America, whereas the character comedy is more prevalent over here.

In politics - if you make one mistake, one big verbal mistake than your career will be over, but that doesn’t happen over here. As someone pointed ot - in Britain politicians stand for office; in America they run for office - which suggests a slightly more vigourous democracy.

C.D: What do you think THAT IS THE WEEK THAT WAS’s biggest legacy?
D.F: It opened the windows and let in the fresh air to television. Before we came along no one had ever done a sketch about the royal family, no one was allowed to make jokes about religion...Many producers said they were very grateful to THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS because they could do much more after THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS than they could do before it.
C.D: You were involved in SPITTING IMAGE as well weren’t you?
D.F: I was involved in SPITTING IMAGE but didn’t start it. The producer was John Lloyd who was brilliant, and the puppeteers were Fluck and Law. I was involved because I told John Lloyd that I thought we could get SPITTING IMAGE off the ground in America - if we had a whole story over half an hour instead of lots of little stories. So we did four or five which were successful.

C.D: What have you most enjoyed doing in your professional life?
D.F: I love comedy and the feeling of an audience’s laughter. This is true of all the well-known shows we’ve been talking about, but it’s also true of speeches too. I would say that I like to surf an audience (even though I’m not a swimmer so don’t even know how to surf), and their laughter.

C.D: What is happiness?
D.F: Happiness comes from doing the things you enjoy and, even more important, doing the things you believe in.

C.D: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
D.F: When I interviewed the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Bhutto, we went up to Murree, on the way to Islamabad, a high point in Pakistan and we stopped at a bridge, and down below there was a lorry below containing about 25 Pakistani soldiers that had crashed over the bridge - all dead, just to see them there was very sad.

C.D: At university you edited GRANTA (a literary magazine) - did you or do you ever write fiction?
D.F: Most of my books have been current affairs or humour, apart from a couple of short stories I wrote in Cambridge, I have never tried to write fiction, no. I’d like to try, I’ll get you to give me some lessons!

C.D: Are your writing anything at the moment?
D.F: I’m supposed to be writing the second volume of my memoirs. My first volume only went to the nineteen sixties and that came out in 1993. So I’m a bit slow getting out my second volume. My publishers are knocking on my door. I haven’t started yet.

C.D: What are your future plans?
D.F: I have a monthly Frost interview series coming out monthly on the BBC starting in November, and another series of through the keyhole, and then a new international show starting next year and also specials in America.

C.D: Finally any words on Ronnie Barker who died today?
D.F: He brightened the nation’s life and he certainly brightened mine. He was a superb sketch actor and a more serious actor too, but he was also of course a great writer. he wrote some of the best sketches ever written. He loved words - for instance the famous Dr Spooner who used to gets words wrong - he was fascinated by that and he wrote a series of sketches which were absolutely terrific. Things to do with words fascinated him - a brilliant writer and performer.


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