Last Letter From America

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.

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Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

It was a long assignment considering Cooke’s program was only supposed to run for 13 weeks. I hope he gave his 2 weeks notice before his departure, as if we are to go by Cookean temporality, that qualifies him for another 5 years of radio service.

I used to hear Cooke and Sunday nights on RN before ‘Books and Writing’ and he always had an interesting angle that had been overlooked by most of the international press. He was always provocatively without trying to arm-wrestle with the facts. He will definitely be missed.

Stephen Hill
Stephen Hill
2022 years ago

It was a long assignment considering Cooke’s program was only supposed to run for 13 weeks. I hope he gave his 2 weeks notice before his departure, as if we are to go by Cookean temporality, that qualifies him for another 5 years of radio service.

I used to hear Cooke and Sunday nights on RN before ‘Books and Writing’ and he always had an interesting angle that had been overlooked by most of the international press. He was always provocatively without trying to arm-wrestle with the facts. He will definitely be missed.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

The man was a magician of the spoken word, who helped to define intimacy in radio. He started even before the Goons!

observa
observa
2022 years ago

The art of the fire-side chat and up there with Alan Mcgilvray.

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

A man with a magical voice. It was a sheer pleasure to listen to him.

A man who put his three degrees splendidly to work.

Wallace
2022 years ago

I just loved him, as did many people, here in the US of A. For years he was the host of “Masterpiece Theater” on PBS TV, dramatizations of, mostly, British fiction.

He went over well because he was obviously well read but not the typical stuffy English authority. He was like a favorite Great Uncle who you could listen to all night.

trackback
2022 years ago

it seems he was there forever

As Geoff Honnor has told our world, Alistair Cooke has done his last broadcast. He heard the pulse of history over a long career. He’s been a thread through my entire life and his voice helps to define “civilisation” in…

trackback
2022 years ago

Kerry is the man

John Kerry has the field to himself and the hopes of the world on his shoulders. Can’t say I feel real confident, but here’s hoping (and out with that egg scraper Dave Ricardo). Update: How about Bill Clinton as Kezzer’s…

trackback
2022 years ago

Kerry is the man

John Kerry has the field to himself and the hopes of the world on his shoulders. Can’t say I feel real confident, but here’s hoping (and out with that egg scraper Dave Ricardo)….

trackback
2022 years ago

Kerry is the man

John Kerry has the field to himself and the hopes of the world on his shoulders. Can’t say I feel real confident, but here’s hoping (and out with that egg scraper Dave Ricardo)….

trackback
2022 years ago

Kerry is the man

John Kerry has the field to himself and the hopes of the world on his shoulders. Can’t say I feel real confident, but here’s hoping (and out with that egg scraper Dave Ricardo)….