Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America” has been running on the BBC, the ABC and a host of other English-speaking public broadcasting systems, for much longer than I’ve been alive. It all began in 1946 and no fewer than 2,869 Letters have gone to air since.
But this week, aged 95, the doyen of journalists finally gave it away. I’ve listened to him – and read him – everywhere, seemingly for as long as I can remember. Here, in the UK, on the high seas, in the States, even in Africa. His easy conversational style, considered analysis and eternal respect for the ability of his audience to weigh, consider and form their own judgments have increasingly made him a rarity in modern media culture. But he carried on regardless: tapping his column out on a typewriter in his apartment 15 floors above Central Park.
Until I read this excellent piece in the Guardian I was unaware that he’d practically invented the genre in which he was the acknowledged master.
The Guardian puts it thus:- “He got the inspiration for the talks from the various, mostly French, exiles who talked to the resistance in Europe at the invitation of the BBC in New York. Cooke would sit in the control room, hoping to learn from how they spoke.
“What I learned is that they were dreadful broadcasters. They wrote essays, or lectures, or sermons and they read them aloud. And I suddenly realised there was a new profession ahead. Which is writing for talking. Putting it on the page in the syntactical break-up and normal confusion that is normal talk,” he told the RTS.”
Indeed there was a ” new profession ahead,” And he was one of it’s brightest adornments. I, for one, will miss him.