David Frost will be remembered as a 'giant' of television

Sir David Frost talking to former South African president Nelson Mandela on the set of BBC's Breakfast with Frost. Credit: BBC/PA

Friends and admirers of Sir David Frost hailed his "extraordinary" life after "one of the giants of television" suddenly died from a heart attack aged 74.

Sir David's family said they had been left "devastated" by his death last night on the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship, where he was giving a speech.

Known for his incisive interviews - above all with disgraced US president Richard Nixon - he spent more than 50 years as a television star.

As soon as the news broke, there was an outpouring of tributes for a man who began his career as a satirist and went on to interview virtually every US president and British prime minister during his working life.

Fellow chat show host Sir Michael Parkinson said he had spoken to his friend of 40 years for the last time just a few days ago and they had arranged to meet in the coming week.

Actor and comedian Stephen Fry, who spoke to Sir David on Friday, said he had sounded well and was "excited about a house move, full of plans".

David Cameron described him as "an extraordinary man - with charm, wit, talent, intelligence and warmth in equal measure" who had "made a huge impact on television and politics".

John Cleese, whose career Sir David helped to launch, said: "Life is going to feel rather diminished by the loss of his welcoming, cheery and optimistic voice."

Peter Fincham, director of television at ITV, described him as the "epitome of old school charm" and "one of the giants of television", while playwright Peter Morgan, who wrote the film Frost/Nixon, described him as a "pioneer".

Those who knew him well pointed to his cherished role as a loving husband to wife Lady Carina Fitzalan-Howard and father to their three sons.

Sir David's award-winning interview style was considered non-aggressive, affable and effusive - but he had a talent for extracting intriguing information and revealing reactions from his subjects.

Sir David Frost interviewing Sir John Major on BBC's Breakfast with Frost. Credit: BBC/PA

During his series of five interviews with Nixon in 1977, the notoriously slippery former president known as "Tricky Dicky" dramatically admitted that he had "let down the country".

Playwright Peter Morgan, who wrote Frost/Nixon, said he was "a legendary broadcasting figure", "a pioneer" who "combined being a satirist and someone who one satirised".

The play was later made into a film and its director Ron Howard added that Sir David helped prove "to the American television industry that there could be a fourth network because he had the nerve to do this outrageous, ridiculous thing of bundling these local stations together and still create a mega television event and it worked".

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair with Sir David Frost on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost.

Mr Howard said: "He was fascinated about the world and I think he shared that fascination with his audiences.

"Sir David's appeal to American audiences saw him become one of the Concorde's most assiduous users, and he claimed to have been on the supersonic plane "somewhere between 300 and 500 times".

Other historic moments in his career included a tense interview with Margaret Thatcher over the sinking of the Argentine warship the Belgrano during the Falklands conflict in which he suddenly introduced the word "bonkers".

Paul McCartney of The Beatles talking to Television Presenter David Frost at the Savoy Hotel. Credit: PA Wire

He was also the last person to interview Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran.

Outside world affairs, his roster included such greats as Orson Welles, Tennessee Williams, Noel Coward, Peter Ustinov, Woody Allen, Muhammad Ali, the Beatles, Clint Eastwood, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sir John Gielgud, Norman Mailer, Warren Beatty and many more.

Born on April 7, 1939, the son of a Methodist preacher, at Tenterden, Kent, he was educated at Gillingham Grammar School, Wellingborough Grammar School and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

David Frost interviewing Enoch Powell on LWT. Credit: PA Wire

His big break came when he co-created and hosted satirical show That Was The Week Was in the early 1960s.

Another of his early programmes, The Frost Report, effectively launched John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett on their subsequent glittering careers.

In more recent times, he had hosted Breakfast with Frost on Sunday mornings (1993-2005) and panel game show Through The Keyhole (1987-2008).

He was currently working for Al Jazeera English and had recently interviewed Chilean novelist Isabel Allende and F1 driver Lewis Hamilton.