It has been jocularly rumored in Britain that David Paradine Frost, now 38, aims to be Prime Minister by his 50th birthday. "Not so," swears Producer-Director Ned Sherrin, who gave Frost his first big job on TV. "David would quite like to be Prime Minister. And the Queen. And the Archbishop of Canterbury. But being only one would limit him a bit." Indeed. It might even be argued that if all three offices could be made into one, with David as all-purpose Augustus, Britannia would in short order rule the air waves and carve out a whole new empire based on entertainment, the late 20th century equivalent of territorial conquest.
David Frost, the deferential, attentive, calculating, smily, terribly appreciative interviewer and talk-show "host" is an imposing entertainer-imperator. His far-flung enterprises range from packaging TV shows to film production and pop concerts, from book publishing to an investment company.
He is worth at least $5 million—which makes him considerably richer than most of the mighty or the flighty he interviews. Though he refers to his corporate conglomerate as "my cottage industry," Paradine,* Ltd. (the name, not incidentally, almost rhymes with paradigm) grosses an estimated $20 million a year. In addition to the $1 million he expects to garner from his Nixon interviews, he hopes to get a few farthings from his glossy Cinderella movie musical, The Slipper and the Rose; an eight-part TV series, Crossroads of Civilization, which is being shot on a $2.5 million budget in Iran; and Nessie, a $7.5 million sci-fi extravaganza on the Loch Ness monster, to be filmed later this year.
If in his cathode-ray persona Frost seems a modest chap, he sometimes seems—in Churchillian parlance—to have much to be modest about. He is not an intellectual, a scholar or a wit, a raconteur or a connoisseur, a trained reporter, a facile writer or even a modest warbler. However, even his fiercest foes concede that Frost is an artful, intelligent questioner whose disarming manner often coaxes confidences from a subject who might simply dry up under more abrasive handling. On The David Frost Show, which ran for three years in the U.S. (it went off the air in mid-1972), the host occasionally elicited startling admissions, like Ted Sorensen's statement that Senator Ted Kennedy, his longtime friend and associate, could not in the aftermath of Chappaquiddick run for President.
Both the manner and the matter of Frost have made him the target of intense criticism—and plain envy —among British journalists, some of whom complain that he turned television interviews into a form of show biz. Some years ago, during a brief lull in Frost's career, acerb Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge predicted that Frost would sink without a trace. Instead, harrumphed The Mug later, "he rose without a trace."