Veteran Broadcaster Alistair Cooke Dies at 95
LONDON (Reuters) – Legendary broadcaster Alistair Cooke, best known for his long-running radio series “Letter from America,” has died at the age of 95.
A spokesman for the BBC said Tuesday that Cooke, who was credited with improving transatlantic understanding for more than half a century, died at his home in New York.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair paid warm tribute to Cooke. “He was really one of the greatest broadcasters of all time,” he said.
“I was a big fan. I thought they were extraordinary essays. They brought an enormous amount of insight and understanding to world. We shall feel his loss very, very keenly indeed.”
Cooke retired from the BBC in March after 58 years of Letter from America.
He said he had decided to quit the show — the world’s longest-running speech radio program — due to ill-health and on advice from his doctors.
In a statement when he left, Cooke said he had thoroughly enjoyed his 58 years on the airwaves and hoped some of the enjoyment had passed over to the listeners “to all of whom I now say thank you for your loyalty and goodbye.”
Cooke — a Briton who became an American citizen in 1941 — first went to the United States in 1932 to study drama at Yale University on a Commonwealth Fund fellowship.
He was best known to many Americans for his show “Omnibus,” which changed the face of U.S. television in the 1950s and for presenting “Masterpiece Theater” on public television.
He was even gently spoofed on the famous children’s show “Sesame Street” as “Alistair Cookie.”
Cooke joined the BBC in 1934 as a film critic and began reporting three years later.
Letter from America began in 1946, when Cooke was asked to give a weekly snapshot of life in America. During the following six decades, he provided listeners with insightful reports of the country’s cultural and political affairs.
As a result of the program’s huge success, he became known in America as the man who explained all things British, and in Britain as the man who explained all things American.
Born in Salford, northern England, in 1908, Cooke spent his last years living with his second wife in New York.
In presenting 2,869 shows, he had missed only three broadcasts. He wrote his letter every week on a typewriter in his flat overlooking New York City’s Central Park.
Acting director general of the BBC, Mark Byford, described Cooke as “the outstanding commentator of the 20th century.”

“Alistair Cooke was one of the greatest broadcasters ever in the history of the BBC,” he said in a statement.
“(His) insight, wisdom and unique ability to craft words enabled millions of listeners in the UK and around the world to understand the texture of the United States and its people.”