Frost warning; so the message is pull your socks up


Satire with David Frost on BBC-1? Milton Shulman isn’t a fan

Syndicated to UK newspapers on 19 March 1966

THE DRIFT of Ned Sherrin to the cinema will mean the loss to the BBC of one of the greatest talent-spotters in the business.

As producer of TW3, Not So Much and BBC3, he dumped a cornucopia of fresh faces on to the small screen and, more significantly, invested most of them with an aura of talent.

David Frost, Lance Percival, Roy Hudd, Millicent Martin, Roy Kinnear, Patrick Campbell, Harvey Orkin, John Bird, Eleanor Bron are only some or those who owe their TV reputations to the chances given them by Sherrin.

But it cannot yet be said that many of them on their own have soared into the more rarified atmosphere of personal stardom.

Millicent Martin’s breezy, chirpy personality came across successfully in her song and dance series, Mainly Millicent. But both Roy Kinnear and Roy Hudd have still been unable to find the producers and script-writers capable of exploiting the promise they first showed. Their efforts have ranged from the routine to the dismal.


For the past few weeks two more graduates of the satire school have been seen in their own programmes the Frost Report and The Lance Percival Show – and instead of the expected cynical bite all we have so far experienced is an ingratiating, toothless mumble.

Since David Frost has been almost as intensely publicised as Woburn Abbey and since he was TV satire’s first front-man and in that sense the Louis XIII to Sherrin’s Cardinal Richelieu, he has been uniquely identified with the irreverence, scepticism and daring of TW3 and Not So Much.

Technically Frost now displays before the cameras the assurance, authority and command of a brilliant toast-master. Gripping us with a fierce glare that might do justice to a show called The Son of Ancient Mariner, he barks out his aphorisms and comments as if he was trying to hypnotise the autocue machine.

Just when we are about to quail before this baleful stare, he comes to his punch-line which is accompanied by his face snapping into a frozen grin which., in turn, is our signal to laugh.

Old jokes

In the last three editions of The Frost Report, it has been, more often than not, only this facial seismograph that has given us any true indication that a joke has been told.

Each show has tackled such general themes as Authority, Holidays or Sin and instead of giving us any fresh comic insight or amusing observation about our attitudes to these topics, Frost, with the help of about 15 writers, has been content to string together a number of old jokes and quick revue blackouts which intellectually might have been the basis for a film called Carry On Satire.

Some of the contrived excuses used to introduce familiar gags would make a compere on the Palladium Show weep with envy. Thus following up an item on Guernsey, Frost told us that a mermaid has just been caught off the island. Its statistics were 36-22-and 7s 6d a pound.

Nor has David Frost any particular reticence about repeating himself – surely the worst offence any
comedian can commit. He told us, for instance, about a holiday advertisement for “sunny Vietnam.”

“Come to Saigon.” it urged. “You will find no fighting in the city – only in the outskirts.” It sounded funnier when I first heard him tell it on Not So Much.

The programme on Sin – aha, this will be something, we thought – not only concentrated on Sex to the exclusion of almost every other vice, but treated it so hygienically and respectfully that it might have been the week’s Good Cause.

Occasionally, of course, some items do succeed – the law of averages sees to that – but unless future Frost Reports sharpen up their bite and their purpose, the scourging menace that once terrified politicians, vicars and Mrs. Mary Whitehead will end up with an endearing spot on The Black and White Minstrel Show.

– Milton Shulman

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