Letter from America: the Reagan years (1981-1988)

Letter from America: the Reagan years (1981-1988)

Ronald Reagan’s presidency, from Reagonomics and the invasion of Grenada in his first term, to the Iran-contra scandal and reconciliation with Soviet leader Mihail Gorbachev in his second in his second. A fascinating social, cultural and political history of American life, through the words of British-American journalist and broadcaster, Alistair Cooke (1908 – 2004).

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All episodes (92)

  • LFA: Yasser Arafat's speech at the UN, 1988

    Fri, 2 Dec 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Yasser Arafat's speech at the UN, the denial of his visa by US secretary of state George Schultz, and the view that Palestinians are moving towards reconciliation with Israel.

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  • LFA: The 1988 presidential election

    Fri, 11 Nov 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    An overview of the ballot paper in the 1988 presidential elections, George Bush's "inevitable" victory, and the issues that proved most important for voting Americans.

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  • LFA: George H W Bush vs Michael Dukakis

    Fri, 4 Nov 88

    Duration:
    28 mins

    A review of George H W Bush and Michael Dukakis' presidential campaigns, key values and demographics, and predicted performances before the 1988 elections.

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  • LFA: The Bess Myerson trial begins

    Fri, 28 Oct 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The 1988 trial of Bess Myerson, the former Miss America and head of consumer affairs to New York City, accused of tax fraud and bribing a judge.

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  • LFA: Baseball and politics in 1988

    Fri, 21 Oct 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    With the 1988 presidential race and World Series drawing to a close, Alistair Cooke looks at the baseball metaphors used by George H W Bush and Michael Dukakis in their campaigns.

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  • LFA: 1988 televised debates, and Thatcher in 1979

    Fri, 7 Oct 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The polished nature of the Bush vs Dukakis debates, the 'American-style' of Margaret Thatcher's public relations in 1979, and Jimmy Carter's negative review of the 1988 campaign.

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  • LFA: Hurricane Gilbert

    Fri, 23 Sep 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The impact of Hurricane Gilbert on Jamaica and Central America, and the 1938 hurricane that destroyed a large part of the forests of New England, as discussed by Alistair Cooke.

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  • LFA: The Democratic outsider

    Fri, 16 Sep 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Jimmy Carter's rise to prominence of in 1976, and Michael Dukakis' struggle to establish a new and attractive identity for himself ahead of the 1988 presidential election.

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  • LFA: The heat wave continues, summer 1988

    Fri, 2 Sep 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Land in the Midwest is damaged by hot weather and forest fires. Sixty major fires still rage across the US while the hot temperatures are causing the greenhouse effect.

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  • LFA: Dan Quayle for vice president

    Fri, 26 Aug 88

    Duration:
    28 mins

    Alistair Cooke reflects on why George H W Bush may have chosen Dan Quayle as vice-presidential candidate, and the constitutional powers of the vice president's role.

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  • LFA: President Reagan’s final Republican Convention

    Fri, 19 Aug 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    President Reagan gives his farewell address at the Republican convention in Kansas. A heat wave, drought and forest fires continue to cause problems across the US.

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  • LFA: Ed Koch, Mayor of New York

    Fri, 12 Aug 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    A look at the problems faced by New York's mayor Ed Koch, his weekly interrogation by the public on TV and his attempts to fight drug use and keep New York's beaches clean.

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  • LFA: Day care and recreation

    Fri, 5 Aug 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    As the 1988 election looms closer, day care becomes a prime issue. Alistair Cooke reflects on the unexpected success of the newspaper USA Today, founded in 1982.

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  • LFA: America's polluted waters

    Fri, 29 Jul 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Alistair Cooke reports on the polluted state of America's waters, coastline and lakes, its effect on the wildlife and the reactions of the public.

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  • LFA: Democratic National Convention, 1988

    Fri, 22 Jul 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Michael Dukakis is nominated as the Democrat presidential candidate, but divisions within the party are exposed at the 1988 Democratic convention.

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  • LFA: Indict and remand

    Fri, 15 Jul 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Alistair Cooke reflects on protection rackets in 1930s Manhattan, the meaning of indict and remand, and the purpose and history of the US Grand Jury.

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  • LFA: Iran Air Flight 655

    Fri, 8 Jul 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    An Iranian airliner carrying 290 civilians is shot down by US missiles over the Persian Gulf, killing all on board.

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  • LFA: The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door

    Fri, 17 Jun 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Cooke recalls the moment when the segregationist George Wallace, Governor of Alabama, attempted to prevent a black student enrolling at the University of Alabama in 1963.

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  • LFA: Lame duck President Reagan

    Fri, 20 May 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Considered a lame duck since his farewell State of the Union address in January 1988, Cooke muses on the real power of President Reagan who stands down in November 1988.

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  • LFA: The forgotten William Le Queux

    Fri, 13 May 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    On hearing of the death of double agent Kim Philby (1912 -1988), Cooke reflects on the influence of forgotten Edwardian spy writer William Le Queux (1864-1927).

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  • LFA: Irving Berlin turns 100

    Fri, 6 May 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    As songwriter Irving Berlin turns 100 Alistair Cooke considers why his extraordinary life and unlikely longevity should make us wary of those claiming to have the secret of health.

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  • LFA: George H W Bush nominated

    Fri, 29 Apr 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Alistair looks at the background of George H W Bush, the new Republican presidential candidate, and who he might face in the upcoming presidential elections.

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  • LFA: Stanton Delaplane (1907-1988)

    Fri, 22 Apr 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    A tribute to the travel writer and Pulitzer prize-winning columnist renowned for his scoop on the 'ding dong daddy of the D-car line' about a bigamist cable car conductor.

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  • LFA: California public health laws

    Fri, 18 Mar 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Alistair Cooke is in California, where farmers and manufacturers are facing a drought and tougher rules on illegal immigrants and public health.

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  • LFA: 1988 presidential primaries

    Fri, 11 Mar 88

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The 1988 presidential primaries are underway, the Democrats are ambivalent about their contenders, and California aims to curb developers in Orange County.

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  • LFA: Black Monday remembered

    Fri, 4 Mar 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    On the anniversary of the day Roosevelt closed every bank in America, Alistair Cooke remembers Black Monday, the huge stock market crash of 19th October 1987.

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  • LFA: Caucus system

    Fri, 12 Feb 88

    Duration:
    15 mins

    What is the caucus system of nominating candidates for public office, and why does everyone believe the lowly Iowa caucus is so important?

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  • LFA: The Democrat Convention of 1924

    Wed, 23 Dec 87

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Divisions within the Democrats both current and at Madison Square Garden in 1924, Anthony Kennedy's appointment to the Supreme Court; and Woody Allen's new son Satchel.

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  • LFA: Gorby mania

    Sun, 13 Dec 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The INF treaty signing – not so much an historical event as a television event; ‘Gorby’ mania in the US and Europe.

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  • LFA: INF Treaty

    Fri, 4 Dec 87

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Washington summit for the US and Soviet leaders to sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty treaty limiting medium-range nuclear armaments.

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  • LFA: Thanksgiving 1987

    Fri, 27 Nov 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Thanksgiving Day past and present, a summing-up of current political situation, and the riots of Cuban prisoners threatened with deportation back to Cuba, discussed.

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  • LFA: Iran-Contra reports

    Fri, 20 Nov 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The reports from the investigating committee into the Iran-Contras scandal are finally to be made public, and the new breed of journalist spawned by Watergate.

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  • LFA: Black Monday

    Fri, 13 Nov 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Black Monday, and the need for radical federal deficit cuts.

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  • LFA: Black Monday 1987, Black Tuesday 1929

    Fri, 23 Oct 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    What caused the global stock market to crash on 19th October 1987, how are ordinary people affected, and how does it compare with the Wall Street Crash of October 1929?

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  • LFA: Oliver North’s diminished popularity

    Fri, 2 Oct 87

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Three months after admitting his role in the Iran-Contra affair, Alistair Cooke reflects on Colonel Oliver North's brief moment as a popular hero to a minority in the US.

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  • LFA: Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination

    Fri, 18 Sep 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    President Reagan's nomination of conservative Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, the highest power in the US, has alarmed liberals and heartened far-right Republicans.

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  • LFA: The meaning of Labor Day

    Fri, 4 Sep 87

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Alistair Cooke looks at the origins of Labor Day established in 1894, the diminishing role of trades unions and a cultural change in employment incentives and benefits in the US.

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  • LFA: Oliver North’s role in Iran-Contra

    Fri, 10 Jul 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Colonel Oliver North gives evidence before the congressional select committee about his role in the sale of arms to Iran, the profits of which funded the Contras in Nicaragua.

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  • LFA: 2000th Edition

    Thu, 18 Jun 87

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Health scares, ozone damage and the Americans' fear of dying are reflected on by Alistair Cooke in the 2000th edition of the programme.

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  • LFA: The return of Richard Nixon

    Mon, 18 May 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The re-emergence of Richard Nixon into public life after the Watergate scandal.

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  • LFA: Surveillance and espionage in the Cold War

    Fri, 3 Apr 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The case of US marine Clayton Lonetree accused of espionage in Moscow reminds Cooke of how electronic surveillance was feared at the founding of the UN in 1945.

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  • LFA: Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal

    Fri, 6 Mar 87

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Has President Reagan redeemed himself in the eyes of the public after taking responsibility for the arms for hostages deal made with Iran?

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  • LFA: The Iran-Contra scandal revealed

    Fri, 21 Nov 86

    Duration:
    14 mins

    America reacts to revelations of a US arms for hostages deal with Iran. Arbitrageur Ivan Boesky admits insider trading on Wall Street and is fined $100 million.

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  • LFA: Reykjavik Summit, October 1986

    Fri, 17 Oct 86

    Duration:
    14 mins

    President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev's disarmament summit in Reykjavik ends in failure after Reagan's refusal to abandon the Strategic Defence Initiative.

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  • LFA: Averell Harriman (1891-1986)

    Fri, 1 Aug 86

    Duration:
    15 mins

    A tribute to politician and diplomat Averell Harriman, former US Ambassador, Governor of New York and a leading official in the Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy administrations.

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  • LFA: Independence Day celebrations, 1986

    Fri, 4 Jul 86

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Alistair Cooke looks at how Americans now celebrate Independence Day; and the current debates on immigration policy at the time of the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty.

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  • LFA: Chernobyl nuclear disaster

    Fri, 23 May 86

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Alistair Cooke on the political aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, differences in its reporting, and what lessons Gorbachev and Reagan can learn from the disaster.

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  • LFA: Bombing of Libya

    Fri, 25 Apr 86

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Alistair Cooke on the aftermath of the US air raid on Libya of 15th April 1986, and the demands of pianist Vladimir Horowitz during his first visit to the USSR.

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  • LFA: TV violence

    Sun, 13 Apr 86

    Duration:
    14 mins

    When religion clashes with real-life fixtures, which wins? Does watching violent television or film lead to real acts of violence?

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  • LFA: The US budget

    Sun, 9 Feb 86

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Which hand holds the US purse strings, is it the president’s, or that of Congress?

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  • LFA: Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger disaster

    Fri, 31 Jan 86

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Alistair Cooke reflects on the life and death of Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian astronaut who was killed in the space shuttle Challenger disaster on 28th January 1986.

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  • LFA: 1985 Mexico City Earthquake

    Fri, 27 Sep 85

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The aftermath of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico, the Canadian concern over the sulphur emissions from power plants in the American Mid-West, and the threat of hurricane Gloria.

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  • LFA: On the 40th anniversary of the United Nations

    Fri, 20 Sep 85

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The 40th anniversary of the United Nations, the history of the organisation, and the security arrangements for the 1985 meeting of the Security Council in New York.

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  • LFA: Hurricane Elena and the legal drinking age

    Fri, 6 Sep 85

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Hurricane Elena's path of destruction along the Florida coast, and the proposed raise in the legal drinking age from 18 or 19 to 21 in all but fifteen states.

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  • LFA: Kevin Curren and Flushing Meadows

    Fri, 30 Aug 85

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The defeat of Kevin Curren by Boris Becker at the 1985 Wimbledon tennis tournament, and the controversy surrounding the new home of the US tennis championship at Flushing Meadows.

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  • LFA: General Douglas MacArthur and the Japanese surrender

    Fri, 16 Aug 85

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The 40th anniversary of the surrender of the Japanese at the end of the Second World War, the devastating hurricane in Galveston, Texas, and a profile of General Douglas MacArthur.

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  • LFA: Francis Perkins and the US deficit

    Fri, 2 Aug 85

    Duration:
    14 mins

    A profile of Francis Perkins, the first woman cabinet officer in America, and columnist William Safire's grim evaluation of President Reagan's plan for the mounting US deficit.

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  • The strong dollar and Lindsay Wellington

    Fri, 18 Jan 85

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The falling value of the British pound in comparison to the US dollar, and the death of Lindsay Wellington, the former head of the BBC in North America.

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  • LFA: George Gallup (1901-1984)

    Fri, 9 Nov 84

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The achievements of George Gallup, inventor of the Gallup poll, a method of measuring public opinion, and responsible for revolutionary change in the democratic process.

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  • LFA: Bodyguards and personal security

    Fri, 2 Nov 84

    Duration:
    15 mins

    In the aftermath of Indira Gandhi's assassination, Cooke looks at the increased personal security for public figures over the years and the role of bodyguards.

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  • LFA: Old Man Reagan

    Fri, 12 Oct 84

    Duration:
    14 mins

    1984 Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale questions President Reagan's age suitability in a televised election debate.

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  • LFA: Gangsters in Chicago

    Fri, 5 Oct 84

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Alistair Cooke looks at mafia involvement in alcohol during prohibition, cattle during World War II and in the heroin trade, as an international ring of gangsters is arrested.

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  • LFA: Alfred Knopf (1892-1984)

    Fri, 31 Aug 84

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The life of Alfred Knopf, publisher of, among others, Thomas Mann and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and according to Cooke "simply the best publisher of the twentieth century".

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  • LFA: Reporting party conventions

    Fri, 20 Jul 84

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The dramatic 1940 Republican Convention where outsider Wendell Wilkie beat the favourite, and the advantages to reporters of live television coverage of conventions.

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  • LFA: Jesse Jackson in Cuba

    Fri, 29 Jun 84

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The Reverend Jesse Jackson meets Fidel Castro in Cuba and negotiates the release of 22 US prisoners from Cuban jails, much to the embarrassment of the Reagan administration.

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  • LFA: Holiday in San Francisco

    Fri, 30 Mar 84

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Cooke visits San Francisco, where he spent his honeymoon during the Alcatraz mutiny of 1946, and the destination of a recent visit by French President Mitterrand.

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  • LFA: Americanisms

    Fri, 24 Feb 84

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Alistair Cooke examines the Indian roots of some American vocabulary and the variations between some American words and their English usage.

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  • LFA: 1984 and the nuclear threat

    Sun, 1 Jan 84

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Opinion polls reveal the American public's fears over inflation, unemployment, the corporate and governmental use of new technology and an imminent nuclear war with the USSR.

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  • LFA: NORAID and the Harrods bombing

    Fri, 23 Dec 83

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The American contributions to NORAID, a fund set up to fund arms and provide financial assistance to IRA members in jail, and the aftermath of the Harrods bombing.

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  • LFA: The Day After

    Fri, 25 Nov 83

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The Day After, a television movie depicting the effect of a nuclear attack on Kansas City, and the anticipation of and reaction to the first screening of it in November 1983.

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  • LFA: Martin Luther King Day

    Fri, 11 Nov 83

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Rosa Parks' refusal to recognise segregation, the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, and the passing of a bill to recognise Martin Luther King Jnr. Day as a national holiday.

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  • LFA: Barbara McClintock

    Fri, 21 Oct 83

    Duration:
    14 mins

    A profile of Nobel Prize winning scientist Barbara McClintock, and her biological and biochemical research that lead to an advanced understanding of the behaviour of genes.

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  • LFA: Andrei Gromyko and the United Nations

    Fri, 7 Oct 83

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The end of a boycott against Aeroflot after the shooting down of Korean flight 007, the absence of Andrei Gromyko at the UN, and the plan to install US missiles in West Germany.

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  • LFA: Korean Airlines flight 007

    Fri, 9 Sep 83

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The shooting down of Korean Airlines flight 007 by the Russian military, the escalating Soviet presence in Scandinavia, and questions over the ability of Uri Andropov to command.

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  • LFA: The arrest of Dave Winfield

    Fri, 12 Aug 83

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The difficulty in legislating against home video taping, the arrest of New York yankee Dave Winfield for killing a seagull, and the marital aspirations of American women in 1983.

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  • LFA: Intervention in Central America

    Fri, 29 Jul 83

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Public opposition to an increased military presence in El Salvador and Nicaragua, the manoeuvres of American troops in Honduras, and the US desire for peace at any price.

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  • LFA: President Reagan's social programmes

    Fri, 22 Jul 83

    Duration:
    15 mins

    A switch from Democrat to Republican in the southern states, the gender gap in the support of President Reagan, and the rise in government spending on social programs.

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  • LFA: Margaret Thatcher and the 'special relationship'

    Fri, 10 Jun 83

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Margaret Thatcher's dedication to the 'special relationship' between Britain and America, and journalist James "Scotty" Reston's correct prediction on Thatcher's re-election.

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  • LFA: Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul II

    Fri, 11 Mar 83

    Duration:
    15 mins

    Press coverage of Queen Elizabeth's sightseeing tour of California is dwarfed by that of Pope John Paul II's visit to Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

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  • LFA: Financial crisis of 1933

    Fri, 4 Mar 83

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The 50th anniversary of the financial crisis of 1933 that caused President Roosevelt to demand that all of the banks across the United States close their doors.

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  • LFA: The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930

    Fri, 17 Dec 82

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which forced foreign automobile manufacturers to build their models for export to America in America, with American parts and labour.

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  • LFA: National Football League strike 1982

    Fri, 8 Oct 82

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The complex rules and tactics of American football, and how a pay dispute led to the 1982 strike by the players of the National Football League, as discussed by Alistair Cooke.

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  • LFA: The Falklands, the BBC, and censorship

    Fri, 14 May 82

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The continuation of the Falklands war, confusion over the BBC's status as a publicly owned corporation, and easing of the censorship on military reporting since the Vietnam War.

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  • LFA: The invasion of the Falkland Islands

    Fri, 9 Apr 82

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands, the escalating nuclear arms race between America and Russia, and the re-emergence of the battleship as a weapon of war.

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  • LFA: St. Patrick's Day 1982

    Fri, 19 Mar 82

    Duration:
    14 mins

    Saint Patrick's Day 1982, Mayor Ed Koch's ability to appeal to the various facets of New York society, and Ronald Reagan's clarification of his views on Northern Ireland.

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  • LFA: President Truman and Dr Arthur Barsky

    Fri, 12 Feb 82

    Duration:
    14 mins

    President Truman's morning walks around Washington, a recollection of the World's Fair in Brussels in 1958, and the death of pioneering plastic surgeon Doctor Arthur Barsky.

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  • LFA: Franklin D Roosevelt and the New Deal

    Fri, 29 Jan 82

    Duration:
    15 mins

    The 100th anniversary of the birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the origin of the New Deal, and FDR's political turnaround on the size of the welfare state.

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  • LFA: President Reagan and the Middle East

    Fri, 1 Jan 82

    Duration:
    14 mins

    President Reagan's Middle Eastern concerns, the view of Poland as a Russian satellite nation, and an assessment of what news is vital to everyone but not important to some.

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  • LFA: Death of Anwar Sadat (1918-1981)

    Fri, 9 Oct 81

    Duration:
    14 mins

    President Sadat of Egypt is killed in a year in which assassination attempts have been made on political figures including Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth II.

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  • LFA: Baseball strike, 1981

    Fri, 7 Aug 81

    Duration:
    14 mins

    The 1981 Major League Baseball strike comes to an end, while a strike by air traffic controllers threatens to continue.

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  • LFA: Assassination attempt on Reagan

    Fri, 3 Apr 81

    Duration:
    14 mins

    President Reagan survives an assassination attempt by John Hinckley on 30th March 1981, leading to a debate on the stricter control of handguns.

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  • LFA: President Reagan’s inauguration

    Thu, 22 Jan 81

    Duration:
    14 mins

    As the new President Reagan's inauguration takes place, the Iran hostage crisis comes to an end with the release of 52 US hostages in Iran, after 444 days in captivity.

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It's a phenomenon which seems to have come from nowhere, but in fact computer-based social networks have been around for decades. In this three-part series the BBC's technology correspondent Rory

Wed, 9 Feb 11

28 minutes

UK Confidential

  • Factual
  • Factual > Politics

As previously secret government files are released to the public, former government ministers reveal the truth behind the headlines. With presenters Martha Kearney & Sue McGregor.

Fri, 10 Jan 14

52 minutes

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