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Broadcaster Alistair Cooke dies at 95

March 29, 2004
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Legendary British broadcaster Alistair Cooke, whose programme Letter From America made him a household name on both sides of the pond, has died at the age of 95.

The radio icon’s death comes just weeks after he retired due to ill health after 58 years presenting his reflections on life in the United States. Describing Alistair as “one of the greatest broadcasters ever in the history of the BBC”, acting director general of the BBC, Mark Byford, went on to say: “(His) insight, wisdom and unique ability to craft words enabled millions in the UK and around the world to understand the texture of the United States and its people.”

Although born in Salford, near Manchester, in 1908, Alistair relocated to the States in 1937 when he became the BBC’s reporter on American affairs. The first episode of Letter From America, or American Letter as it was then known, was broadcast in 1946. It went on to become the world’s longest running speech radio programme, with Alistair commentating on everything from the Kennedy assassinations to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The broadcaster, who never knew what his theme for the week was going to be until he actually sat down to write his script, took no notes during the preceding week. He relied on his memory to deliver his astute and incisive glimpse into the political and social life of the US.

In addition to his radio work, he also presented the TV show Alistair Cook’s America, worked on the ground-breaking 1950s series Omnibus and hosted Masterpiece Theatre in the States.

In 1973 Alistair was awarded an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth and was invited to address the United States Congress on its 200th anniversary.

“He was wry, wise and always insightful. We shall miss him very much,” said Radio 4 controller Helen Boaden.

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Photo: ©
Alistair's Letter From America ran for 58 years, making it the world's longest-running speech radio programmePhoto: © PA

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