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Frost Report, The (1966-67)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Frost Report, The (1966-67)
BBC, 10/3/1966-29/6/1967
26 x 25 mins plus two specials, black & white
Producer James Gilbert
Writers includeMarty Feldman
 John Cleese
 Graham Chapman
 Michael Palin
 Terry Jones
 Frank Muir
 Denis Norden
 Eric Idle

Cast: David Frost; John Cleese; Ronnie Barker; Ronnie Corbett; Sheila Steafel; Nicky Henson

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Irreverent comedy show using sketches, monologues and songs to shine a light on the issues of the day.

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David Frost has made a name for himself as a heavyweight broadcaster, journalist and political interviewer, but he started his TV career further from the mainstream, satirising the conservative establishment of which he is now a member.

Frost's TV career was launched by That Was The Week That Was (BBC, 1962-63), a sketch-based show that mercilessly lampooned politicians and society's foibles, especially those surrounding class and culture. In many respects, The Frost Report (BBC, 1966-67) was its natural successor, inheriting some of the former show's writers and a lot of its style - a mix of topical monologues, short routines and comic songs.

The Frost Report's notoriety was partly due to its seemingly boundless irreverence, although its success probably owes more to sharp writing than a desire to prick at pomposity. Old school veterans Frank Muir and Denis Norden worked alongside promising newcomers John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones (who collectively went on to create Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74)) and Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie (two thirds of The Goodies (BBC, 1970-80)). Marty Feldman, Barry Cryer, Neil Shand, Keith Waterhouse, Barry Took and Frost himself also contributed material. The Frost Report clearly wasn't starved of writing talent.

There was an equally effective team in front of the camera. Joining Frost were Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett (later The Two Ronnies (BBC, 1971-86)), Sheila Steafel and Nicky Henson, whose best efforts were broadcast live in front of a studio audience. Fortunately, the material was generally strong enough to withstand this risky scenario.

The programme produced one genuinely timeless sketch, ingeniously satirising the British class system. Upper-class John Cleese (6ft 5in), wearing a bowler hat and suit, looks down on middle-class Ronnie Barker (5ft 8in) in his trilby, who in turn looks down on working-class Ronnie Corbett (5ft 1in) in his overalls, but up at Cleese. Its twinning of height and social position, combined with a minimal script, created a classic TV moment.

The Frost Report appears somewhat innocuous by today's standards, but this is partly due to its legacy. It helped establish satire as staple of TV comedy and programmes such as Not the 9 O'Clock News (BBC, 1979-82) clearly draw heavily on it.

A specially edited edition of The Frost Report, Frost Over England (tx. 26/3/1967), was compiled from the first 13 programmes and won the 1967 Golden Rose at the Montreux Festival.

Anthony Clark

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Video Clips
1. Vicars and Teachers (1:59)
2. TV News (0:52)
3. Upper-middle-lower class (1:36)
4. The Hokey Cokey (0:58)
5. Weath and Hilson (1:24)
Complete episode: 'Frost Over England' (31:15)
Kick Up the Eighties, A (1981, 1984)
Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)
That Was the Week That Was (1962-63)
Barker, Ronnie (1929-2005)
Cleese, John (1939-)
Corbett, Ronnie (1930-)
Cryer, Barry (1935-)
Feldman, Marty (1934-1982)
Frost, Sir David (1939-2013)
TV Satire
The Roots of Monty Python