Alistair Cooke was a radio legend, entertaining millions of British listeners in his weekly "Letter from America." This production features five specially selected letters from American election years, based on the BBC Radio series "Cooke's Elections." Here are five Letters about previous presidents and their elections over the past sixty years, in which Cooke - one of the world's most famous letter writers and radio's greatest observer - reflects on American life and politics.
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Alistair Cooke enjoyed an extraordinary career in print, radio, and television. Born in Salford, England, in 1908 and educated at Cambridge, Yale, and Harvard, he was the BBC’s film critic from 1934 to 1937. He then returned to America and became a U.S. citizen in 1941. Cooke was The Guardian’s Chief American Correspondent for twenty-five years and was the host of groundbreaking cultural programs on American television and of the BBC series America, which was a huge hit and led to the international best-selling book Alistair Cooke’s America. Cooke was made an honorary KBE in 1973 for his outstanding contribution to Anglo-American understanding, and received many other awards, including the Peabody Award, the Dimbleby Award, four Emmy Awards, and the Benjamin Franklin Award. He had a passion for films, jazz, and golf, and was a talented pianist.
Alistair Cooke was, however, best known at home and abroad for his weekly BBC broadcast Letter from America, which reported on fifty-eight years of American life, was heard in more than five continents, and totaled 2,869 broadcasts before his retirement in February 2004. He wrote most of the scripts for Letter from America on an ancient Royal typewriter in his New York apartment overlooking Central Park, where he raised his family and lived with his wife, Jane White, until his death on March 30, 2004.
Erudite, dry, calm, utterly confident. Such was the voice that millions of Americans were familiar with when Alistair Cooke (1908–2004) hosted PBS's Masterpiece Theatre. What those millions might not have known was that Cooke broadcast a weekly radio essay, Letter from America, on the BBC. These pieces showcased Cooke's hard-eyed impressions of the American scene, its players and victims, its edges and contours, its movers, shakers and fools. In this tightly edited collection of those essays, Cooke's voice is present throughout, his mid-Atlantic inflection indelibly stamped. A journalist by trade, an aristocrat by aspiration, Cooke lived and reported from New York, covering the U.S.'s rise to global superpower. Some of the early essays have a fish-out-of-water tone, and the writing is at times claustrophobic, hemmed in by language better suited to a London gentlemen's club than the rough and tumble of bursting-at-the-seams postwar New York. As the years pass, the writing becomes looser, more New World than Old. Cooke's politics turn more conservative; he idolizes Reagan and looks dimly at the unkempt Democrats. He frets about the future of America, never more so than in the wake of 9/11. Still, throughout, Cooke feeds on the unfettered optimism of his adopted country. Never glib, snide or contrived, Cooke captures the expanding soul of a nation and people. Photos.
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