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Broadcaster Alistair Cooke Dies at 95

The British legend's radio program 'Letter From America' ran for 58 years.

March 30, 2004|From Reuters

LONDON — Legendary British 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 had died in the last 24 hours, but no further details were immediately available.

Many Americans knew him best as the host of "Masterpiece Theater," which aired on U.S. public television for 22 years starting in 1971.

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 time on the airwaves and hoped that 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 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 the United States.

Over 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 explains all things British, and in Britain as the man who explains all things American.

In presenting 2,869 shows, he missed only three broadcasts. He wrote his letter every week on a typewriter in his apartment overlooking New York's Central Park.

In a 1997 speech to television executives, Cooke said: "I discovered very early on that broadcasting is the control of suspense. No matter what you're talking about -- gardening, economic, murder -- you're telling a story. If you say a dull sentence, people have a right to switch off."

Born in Salford, northern England, in 1908, Cooke spent his last years living with his second wife in New York.

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A full obituary will appear in Wednesday's editions.

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