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Alistair Cooke retires

Category : Radio 4; World Service; BBC News
Date : 02.03.2004
Printable version

Alistair Cooke, one of the world's greatest broadcasters, has decided to retire from writing Radio 4's Letter From America, on doctor's advice, at the age of 95.


He says: "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."


The letters began in 1946 and have been broadcast since.

Over the 58 years, Alistair Cooke has written his letter every Thursday on his typewriter in the flat overlooking Central Park in New York.


In around 3,000 letters he has only missed a handful of broadcasts.


The letters have a world-wide audience as they broadcast on BBC World Service as well as domestic radio.


Alistair Cooke summed up his own feelings about Letter from America in 1990: "No pleasure in work well done, in a lifetime of journalism, can compare with the evidence that comes in from the mail that you have done a talk that touched the hearts and minds of a bus driver in Dorset, a judge in Canberra, a student in Bombay, a housewife in Yorkshire, a space scientist in Sri Lanka, a high school teacher in Beijing or a nurse in Libya."


Mark Byford, Acting BBC Director-General and until recently Director of the World Service said: "I had the privilege to speak to Alistair personally this week.


"It was typical of his own professionalism and love of the BBC that he wanted to explain why Letter From America was coming to a close.


"Alistair Cooke has been one of the greatest broadcasters ever, full of insight and wisdom.


"He has brought enormous pleasure to millions of listeners both in the United Kingdom and around the world.


"We all thank him for his unparalleled contribution."


Jenny Abramsky, Director, BBC Radio and Music had her own memories.


"All my life Alistair Cooke has been my guide to understanding the United States of America and the momentous events that have shaped that country.


"I can still remember listening at university to his letter when Robert Kennedy was shot. His description of the small pantry passage way in San Francisco brought home the horror of Kennedy's death in a personal human way that marked all his letters.


"His letters have stimulated and entertained millions of listeners to BBC Radio.


"It is a unique legacy that has touched and influenced us all. We are very sorry he has decided to retire but are grateful for all the years he has devoted to the BBC."


Helen Boaden, Controller, Radio 4, added her tribute: "Many of us have grown up with Alistair's Letter From America.


"Over the years, they've been a reliable backdrop to our lives, giving us wisdom and insight into the great and small events that have shaped the modern world.


"The letters have been informative, wry and witty. Sometimes sad. Always intelligent - and delivered in that wonderful voice which epitomises the best in broadcasting.


"Alistair has served his listeners well for over 50 years. They and we are very sad that he has decided to retire and we are all hugely grateful for his contribution."


Nigel Chapman, Acting Director of BBC World Service, said: "With his unique, acute perceptions of the country he made his home, Alistair Cooke made an enormous contribution to our understanding of America.


"He had the rare ability to produce 'must- hear' radio for more than five decades.


"He delighted audiences all over the world with programmes that were a jewel in the crown of the World Service.


"I know listeners will miss his wry and perceptive obserations on the life and politics of the world's most powerful nation."

In honour of the enormous contribution Alistair Cooke has made to the BBC and its listeners for the past 58 years, Radio 4 and the World Service will be broadcasting a selection from the archives over the next few months in A Celebration Of Alistair Cooke's Letter From America.


Notes to Editors


Letter From America is the world's longest running speech radio programme.


It began in March 1946 and stemmed from a Sunday evening talk Cooke gave during the Second World War, American Commentary.


After the war he was asked by the BBC to continue giving a weekly talk - not so much political, but about anything and everything American.


There have been 2,869 Letters.


Alistair Cooke is married with two children.


Alistair Cooke biography



Category : Radio 4
BBC News

World Service
Date : 02.03.2004
Printable version


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