Alistair Cooke's Letters From America available on R4 website

Alistair Cooke in front of Broadcasting House Alistair Cooke's Letters From America conveyed his unrivalled knowledge of the country he grew to love

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Alistair Cooke's legendary snapshots of American life will now be available digitally at the click of a button, as Radio 4 increases access to its massive audio archive.

Starting November 1, timed to coincide with the US presidential election, BBC Radio will release over 900 of Cooke's Letters From America originally broadcast between 1946 and 2004. They will be available to download from the Radio 4 website.

The letters cover some of America's most defining moments, including Bobby Kennedy's assassination and the story of how Mitt Romney's father failed in his presidential bid in 1968 despite leading in the national polls.

Radio 4 controller Gwyneth Williams said that Cooke's 'very name invokes the art of writing for radio'.

'I am proud that Radio 4 can now use the treasure of our rich archive to bring this period of American history to life through its most celebrated chronicler.'

Hollywood beckons

Born in Blackpool in 1908, Cooke's fascination with America began in the early 1930s when he studied at Yale and Harvard as a Commonwealth Scholar. His love of cinema led him to spend a summer in Hollywood, where he befriended Charlie Chaplin, and soon after he convinced the BBC to take him on as its film critic.

His first American Letter, as it was originally called, was broadcast on 24 March 1946. The series finally came to an end 58 years - and 2,869 instalments - later in March 2004.

The archive is being launched as part of BBC Radio's 90th anniversary in November.

The 920 episodes of this collection represent the entire archive held by the BBC and adds to more than 16,000 hours of audio already available on the Radio 4 website.

In his footsteps

To accompany the release of the Cooke archive, Radio 4 and BBC World Service will broadcast In Alastair Cooke's Footsteps, a four-part series in which Alvin Hall travels across America to find out whether Cooke's letters are still relevant today. He touches on subjects such as desegregation, jazz, isolationism and immigration.

BBC Four will also rebroadcast The Unseen Alistair Cooke, first shown in 2008, to mark the centenary of Cooke's birth.

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