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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Alistair Cooke's Letter from America Archive Released Online

The BBC has put an archive of Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America on the internet, bringing the longest running talk show of its kind to a new generation of listeners. 


Cooke is credited with teaching the British to love, or at least to appreciate, America

By Alex Spillius

Cooke broadcast his first of 2,869 “letters” in 1946 and missed only three weeks before retiring in 2004, a month before his death at the age of 95. He missed only three of the 15-minute weekly broadcasts over those 58 years. 

Regarded as one of the greatest broadcasters ever, his range was extraordinary: art, politics, sport, social and cultural upheaval, little was beyond his sharp eye, elegant prose and profoundly reassuring tone.

It was commissioned after he proposed to the BBC "a weekly personal letter to a Briton by a fireside about American life and people and places in the American news".

Cooke is credited with teaching the British to love, or at least to appreciate, America, at a time when there was a tendency to regard it with disdain or suspicion.

Though his affection for his adopted home, whose citizenship he took in 1941, was evident, he was not afraid to criticise it, but never with the inherent snobbery that is so common in his homeland, to this day. 

The journalist Alexander Chancellor, writing on the BBC website, said: “He never wanted the British to think that everything was much better in his adopted country. He wanted instead to bring the two countries closer together in understanding and affection.” 

The show was listened to across the globe via the BBC's World Service. It was heard in the UK on BBC Radio 4. 

Born in Salford in 1908, Cooke lived with his second wife Jane White in New York. 

In 1973, he received an honorary knighthood for his contribution to Anglo-American understanding, and a year later addressed the United States Congress on its 200th anniversary. 

The archive, with audio and transcripts of more than 900 broadcasts, is online at bbc.co.uk/letterfromamerica.

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