Friday, 2 November 2012

Britain is once again a country for the voice of an old American correspondent called Alistair Cooke and his 'Letter from America'

Alistair Cooke Broadcasting on BBC'Alistair Cooke reading his 'Letter from America' with his personal views of politics and culture from the USA was there every sunday morning on BBC Radio, starting the year before I was born in 1946, I heard him read through my youth, early manhood and middle age until his death in 2004.

Now, old men like me will be able to download any of 920 episodes from the BBC archives, launched to mark the station's 90th year.

What you possibly didn't know about Alistair, that he :

* was born in 6 years before the outbreak of the First World War in 1908 in Salford, Lancashire, his mother's family of Irish Protestant origin, his father a lay methodist preacher and metalsmith by trade.

* was educated at Blackpool  Grammar School (right) and won a scholarship to study for a degree in English at Jesus College, Cambridge University, where he was the editor of 'Granta' magazine and set up the 'Mummers', the first mixed sex theatre group, from which he notably rejected a young James Mason, telling him to stick to architecture.

* changed his name from 'Alfred' when he was 22 in 1930 and went to Yale and Harvard Universities in the USA to study on a 'Commonwealth Fellowship',  met Ruth Emerson, a great-grandniece of Ralph Waldo Emerson at 25 and married her in 1934.

* shot 'All at Sea', an 11-minute home movie in 1933 on a yacht cruise with his friend, silent film star, Charlie Chaplin (right0 and his 'Modern Times' co-star Paulette Goddard.

* returned to Britain where he sought and gained the job of BBC film critic and also sat on a 'committee for correct pronunciation' where the fact that it was led by the playwright George Bernard Shaw ( left ) with his strong Irish accent caused him some amusement

* was also London correspondent for NBC and each week recorded a 15-minute talk for American listeners on 'life in Britain', under the series title of 'London Letter.' and in 1936, reported on the King Edward VIII Abdication Crisis and calculated that in ten days he spoke 400,000 words on the subject.

*  moved to the USA in 1937 and swore the Oath of Allegiance on 1 December 1941, six days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and American entry into the Second World War, during which he broadcast a weekly 'American Commentary' its effects in the States on BBC Radio."

* broadcast the first 'American Letter'  in 1946, which promised to give listeners in Britain some of the 'intimate background to American life, pictures of regions and places, and profiles of important American personalities', in a series initially commissioned for 13 instalments.

* saw his 'Letter' finally came to an end 58 years and 2,869 instalments later, in 2004,  picking up its new name, 'Letter from America' in 1950 and an enormous audience in Britain, the Commonwealth  and throughout the world via the BBC World Service.

* took up golf in his mid-fifties, developing a pronounced fascination with the game and devoted many of his 'Letters'  to the topic, speaking once of the thrill of learning 'how much more awesome was the world of golf than the world of politics' and became close friends with many of the leading golfers, including Jack Nicklaus.

* in 1968, was only yards away from Robert Kennedy when he was assassinated and witnessed the events which  followed described in his 'letter' and also one about George Romney, Mitt Romney's father and Governor of Michigan, who led a national poll for President in 1968 but went on to lose the Republican nomination.

* in 1971, he became the host of the Masterpiece Theatre showcase of quality British tv and remained its host for 22 years and became the subject of many parodies, including 'Alistair Cookie' in Sesame Street :

* in 1973 broadcast a 13-part tv series about the USA and its history, 'America', in Britain and the States and was invited to address the Joint Houses of the United States Congress as part of its Bicentennial Celebrations and from Britain was awarded an honorary knighthood or his "outstanding contribution to Anglo-American mutual understanding " and was reportedly happy to accept because in the words of Thomas Jefferson, it did not involve "the very great vanity of a title."

* said that 'America'  was the work of which he was most proud, the result and expression of his long love of the USA and when once asked :  how long it took him to make the series, replied : "I do not want to be coy, but it took 40 years."

Alistair talking about his friends Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Chaplin


No comments:

Post a Comment