The Paul Harvey of the UK, Alistair Cooke, 95 (he was 50 when I was born – he was freaking 35 when Roger Daltrey was born – he joined the BBC as a film critic the year after my father was born), has retired from his Letter From America radio show after 58 years (it began in 1946):
- The show is the world’s longest-running speech radio programme.
Cooke, who was absent from the show last week due to illness, will not record any new shows but Radio 4 will air archive shows for several weeks.
The BBC said Cooke had decided to sign off following advice from doctors
Cooke said: “I can no longer continue my Letter From America.
“Throughout 58 years I have had much enjoyment in doing these talks and hope that some of it has passed over to the listeners, to all of whom I now say thank you for your loyalty and goodbye.”
Since Letter From America began, Cooke has presented 2,869 shows, making up more than 717 hours of broadcasting time. This does not include other radio shows he has fronted.
….Cooke has also taken part in a wide range of television programmes but is perhaps best known for the BBC’s Alistair Cooke’s America, which was aired around the world.
His ground-breaking cultural television show Omnibus changed the face of American television in the 1950s.
Tapes of the programme were placed in every public library in the US and a stream of successful books culminating in the title America, which sold two million copies.
Mark Byford, acting BBC director general and former World Service director, thanked Cooke for his “unparalleled contribution”.
He said: “Alistair Cooke has been one of the greatest broadcasters ever, full of insight and wisdom.
….Jenny Abramsky, director of BBC radio and music, said Cooke’s letters were a “unique legacy” which had “stimulated and entertained millions”.
“I can still remember listening at university to his letter when Robert Kennedy was shot.
“His description of the small pantry passageway in San Francisco brought home the horror of Kennedy’s death in a personal human way that marked all his letters.
“We are very sorry he has decided to retire but are grateful for all the years he has devoted to the BBC.”
In 1973, Cooke was awarded an honorary knighthood and in 1974 he addressed the United States Congress on its 200th anniversary.
….Cooke was born in Salford, England in 1908. He now lives with his second wife Jane White in New York. [BBC]
The Letters From America site has all kinds of interesting features including a full bio, a collection of recent and historic episodes of the show, Cooke’s thoughts on the show and more.
I loved his America TV series and book – who didn’t?