As David Jason accurately describes in his autobiography, the idea for A Touch of Frost was sparked over lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane. My colleague, Richard Bates, and I had planned to ask him what he would like to do next, whether there was a character that he had always wanted to play? The question came up over coffee and, as David himself admits, it took him completely by surprise – clearly, no-one had ever asked him that before. Like most actors, he had always been cast in parts that others thought he was suited to. For the first time he was being treated like a star.
The answer came quickly. “Now that you ask, I’ve always wanted to play a cop, a sort of Columbo character, dishevelled, chaotic, but passionate about what he does. A good cop, though.” We said we would see what we could come up with and get back to him. The rest is well-known.
When the first episode was transmitted, it pulled in audience of over seventeen million, virtually wiping out the BBC and the other channels on the night. Whereas we had made Darling Buds by dividing each story into two one-hour episodes, this time we had managed to persuade ITV to let us script each episode as two hours, so, to all intents and purposes, each series comprised a series of feature films made for television. This ‘extended’ format also enabled us to run more than one storyline in an episode – thus providing a more accurate insight into police life – as well as delving into Frost’s personal and domestic situation. Combined with the fact that our stories were just as often ‘why-dunnits’ as ‘who-dunnits’, this is what made ‘Frost’ different to its predecessors. Still, a good television format should be like the clothes of a well-dressed man, unnoticeable. All this was established at the outset and, other than an occasional reminder to a new writer, seldom referred to again.
When we were looking for a theme tune and incidental music for the series, it occurred to me that we might have to look no further than a friend of mine, Barbara Thompson. Barbara, a brilliant saxophone player better known for her work as a jazz musician, had just released an album of the most evocative saxophone compositions recorded in a church. It was haunting and mysterious – just what we wanted – and it was a track from that album that became the theme tune for our series.
Frost was a great personal triumph for David and, as the series progressed, it attracted the best writers and directors in the country. It also launched the careers of many aspiring young actors in supporting roles, amongst them Damian Lewis.
‘A Touch of Frost’ ran from 1992 to 2010 and could easily have continued for a further season or two. In the end, David became embarrassed that he was too old for the part, announcing at a press conference as early as 2008 that “he didn’t want to become the oldest detective in television history”, pointing out that in real life he would have already retired six years ago!