Those who were concerned by the announcement that interviewer extraordinaire Sir David Frost has joined al-Jazeera International's new 24-hour English-language news and current affairs channel to be launched next spring, can rest easy. He is not moving to Qatar, where al-Jazeera is based. In Israel this week to address the Israel Britain and Commonwealth Association at a gala dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton to mark the 88th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, Sir David told The Jerusalem Post that he would continue to broadcast from London "with the same cross-section of people as I interviewed for the BBC."
From his point of view, al-Jazeera is simply an international television station that will afford him even greater exposure than he's had in more than four decades of broadcasting. Friendly, easy-going and charmingly polite in the way that is so intrinsically British, Sir David holds his interlocutor's hand as he speaks and looks her straight in the eye. Considering his fame and the number of world dignitaries he has interviewed, he could be excused for being somewhat standoffish. But he isn't. He's delightfully approachable and accepts compliments with almost humble appreciation. It could be a clever technique - but it may also be a measure of the man. Wickedly witty beyond belief, Sir David proved to be a dose of good medicine as he had the audience chortling with laughter at his anecdotes - most of which gave him the opportunity to do a little shameless name-dropping. Standing at the rostrum with a red poppy in his buttonhole, Sir David who had been welcomed by outgoing IBCA chairman Harold Hart, noted the difference between the warm Tel Aviv welcome and that at the Dorchester Hotel in London where the toast-master, clad in scarlet livery, was supposed to tap the gavel and say, "Pray silence for Sir David Frost." He may have been a little nervous, conceded Sir David. What he allegedly said was: "Pray for the silence of Sir David Frost." On another occasion the prize-winning broadcaster had been asked: "Would you like to speak now, Sir David, or let them enjoy themselves?"
Everyone makes mistakes, said Sir David, and the media no less than anyone else. He instanced a BBC radio broadcast in which the announcer purportedly said, "At the unorganized conference today - I'm sorry - At the UN conference today.'
Another BBC radio faux pas was the announcement: "And now a record for Mrs. Sylvia Davis, who is 111. I'm sorry, a record for Mrs. Sylvia Davis who is ill."
This was the general tenor of Sir David's remarks. Other examples of the mangling of the English language concerned a trade union leader who declared: "Certain allegations have been made about me. I intend to find out who the alligator is."
Or an example from another source: "Open up that Pandora's box, and there's no telling what Trojan horse we will find."
There was also a light-hearted story about Dennis Thatcher, the husband of England's Iron Lady, who had never made a speech in public. However, when George Bush Sr. awarded her the Congressional Medal of Freedom and afterwards hosted a dinner in her honor for 80 people, he introduced her, and she in turn introduced Barbara Bush who introduced Dennis Thatcher. All the Brits present wondered what he would say. He rose to the occasion magnificently and declared: "As Julius Caesar said when he entered Cleopatra's tent: 'I haven't come here to talk.'"
But there were also some serious moments. Referring to Yitzhak Rabin - who was among six Israeli prime ministers he had interviewed - Sir David spoke of people who could make a difference. "When Yitzhak Rabin was taken from us, we lost one man who could have made a difference," he said.
The son of a Methodist Minister, Sir David recalled having interviewed Moshe Dayan after the Six Day War. "Did you feel Jehova was on your side?" he had asked Dayan. To which Dayan, without missing a beat, had replied: "I would hope we were on the side of Jehova."
Extremely friendly with the late Lord Marcus Sieff, whom he regarded as his honorary father, Sir David related how excited Lord Sieff had been after the signing of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, when for the first time he was able to travel from Israel to Egypt without having to go via London. Sir David had accompanied him on this occasion and they had met with President Anwar Sadat, who told Lord Sieff that he wanted him to meet a friend of his. Then taking him into the next room, he revealed that his friend was none other than Shimon Peres.
Perhaps the most significant story told by Sir David was one that was told to him by former US President Bill Clinton about Nelson Mandela. Clinton had called Mandela two hours after his release from prison. "Don't you hate the people who put you there and kept you there?" Clinton had asked.
"No I don't hate them," replied Mandela, "because if I did, they would still be controlling me."