Sir David Frost, the journalist and broadcaster whose lengthy career covered everything from cutting-edge 60s satire to heavyweight interviews and celebrity gameshows, has died of a heart attack on a cruise ship, his family said.

The 74-year-old, whose programmes included That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report, was to have given a speech on board the Queen Elizabeth, which had set sail from Southampton on the south coast of England on a cruise to Lisbon.

Frost, who was knighted in 1993, helped to establish London Weekend Television and TV-am. He was famed for his political interviews, most notably with Richard Nixon in 1977, in which the U.S. president conceded some fault over Watergate for the first time.

A family statement said:

“Sir David Frost died of a heart attack last night [on Saturday night] aboard the Queen Elizabeth where he was giving a speech.

“His family are devastated and ask for privacy at this difficult time. A family funeral will be held in the near future and details of a memorial service will be announced in due course.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, who sent a tweet of condolence, released a statement, expressing his sympathies to Frost’s widow, Carina, and his wider family.

He said: “Sir David was an extraordinary man — with charm, wit, talent, intelligence and warmth in equal measure. 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.”

Lloyd Grossman, who worked with Frost on TV-am and then on the long-running ITV gameshow Through the Keyhole, called him irreplaceable. Grossman told Sky News: “He was almost the most variously talented journalist in British broadcasting history. His loss will be immense to all of us. He was also an incredibly generous broadcaster to work with.”

Other instant tributes stressed the same point, that Frost’s sometimes mocked and seemingly cosy interviewing style was in fact one of his strongest attributes.

Tony Blair’s former communications chief, Alastair Campbell, said in a tweet that the former Prime Minister “singled out David Frost as one of best interviewers because his sheer niceness could lull you into saying things you didn’t intend.”

Blair himself echoed the point: “He had an extraordinary ability to draw out the interviewee, knew exactly where the real story lay and how to get at it, and was also a thoroughly kind and good-natured man. Being interviewed by him was always a pleasure, but also you knew that there would be multiple stories the next day arising from it.”

In a Guardian interview in 2008, Frost discussed his style: “I think there’s a danger when you adopt an immediately hostile position without having the goods, without having the smoking gun. I think that’s a real mistake. You shut people up instead of opening them up. You can ask just as tough a question in a softly spoken way.” Blair was among an unbroken line of British Prime Ministers, from Wilson to Cameron, interviewed by Frost. He interviewed every U.S. President, from Nixon to George W Bush.

After going from a grammar school to Cambridge University, Frost was active in student journalism and the Footlights theatrical revue. From there, he became a trainee at independent television before finding fame as the host of That Was The Week That Was, the pioneering TV political satire show. The programme ran on the BBC during 1962 and 1963, before being cancelled over worries that it could unduly influence an upcoming general election. Frost then hosted a U.S. version.

From then on, Frost was a regular TV figure on both sides of the Atlantic, with shows including The Frost Report and Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life. Frost’s distinctive delivery of his catchphrase, “Hello, good evening and welcome,” became instantly recognisable and much mocked.

In later years, Frost hosted the Frost on Sunday talkshow on ITV, before returning to the BBC in 1993 for the first time since the early 1960s for Breakfast with Frost, which ran until 2005.

For many years he also hosted Through the Keyhole, which by coincidence returned to ITV on Saturday night in a revamped format.

After Breakfast with Frost ended, the broadcaster made a surprise move to al—Jazeera, where he interviewed political figures. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

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