Alistair Cooke

Alistair Cooke

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The trial will be haunted at every turn by the great political issue that bedevils the conscience and well-being of every responsible citizen of a democratic country. Has a democrat the right to be a communist and to keep his job and a good opinion of society?

Across the square in which Mr Hiss will be tried, the trial of 11 communist leaders goes on to try to establish for the first time a court test of whether a communist is ipso facto a man dedicated to overthrow by force the government of this country. In the public mind the two trials set up a riptide in the ocean of fear and distrust that washes across all American discussion of communism. It is the sense of this embroilment in a conflict of belief that is happening to lesser men now suspect in their fields of scholarship or government, and the degree of mystery that surrounds the personal relationship of two brilliant young men, that has made this trial fascinating to people uninterested in the legal issue and made it read so far like an unwritten novel by Arthur Koestler.

The supreme court of the United States handed down yesterday a decision on race relations as historic as anything since the famous case of Dred Scott versus Sanford, which was - among other things - one of the causes of the civil war. In its last decision of the spring term, the supreme court held that the segregation of Negro students in white universities, and of Negroes in railway dining-cars, is unconstitutional in that it denies Negroes the "equal protection of the law" due to all citizens of the United States and guaranteed to them in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which in 1868 proclaimed the citizenship of Negroes, by defining citizens as "all persons born or naturalised in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof ..."

Some states have already given notice that they will defy the court's ruling and seek a rhetorical and more acceptable interpretation of the 'separate but equal' doctrine. Governor Herman Talmadge of Georgia announced in Atlanta yesterday: "As long as I am your governor, Negroes will not be admitted to white schools." In the end, Talmadge and his like will lose. But between the opening of the floodgates of new test cases and the peaceable end of segregation, the old South might well make a final and bloody stand.

For thirty years or more the scandal sheets have printed articles on "The Tobacco Habit" as a mild variation on their standard high-voltage treatment of such shockers as prostitution, political graft, and the traffic in dope. Most of these pieces, furtively hinting at heart trouble and even tuberculosis, were about as medically convincing as the "Methodist" credo that smoking stunts the growth. The tobacco companies paid only sidelong heed to them, with bold hints that, on the contrary, a cigarette was a relaxant, a soothing syrup, and a social grace. The manufacturers were not much better than the Puritans in their respect for the known scientific facts about tobacco and have tended to meet every impromptu accusation with an equally flip defence. In the social history of our time, it may well be that the "Reader's Digest" will come to claim a decisive part in dating the fashion of cigarette smoking.

Although three separate reports were published here in 1949, suggesting a plausible relationship between smoking and cancer of the lung, they were folded away inside the pages of medical journals. But a year later the "Digest" ran an article with the resounding title "Cancer by the Carton." This started a lot of talk in America and a noticeable adjustment of cigarette advertising to remind the customer that the tobacco companies keep a 24-hour laboratory watch on every chemical intruder that might possibly sully his breath, tickle his throat or otherwise impair his health and comfort. A few of the tobacco companies had in truth been financing quiet research, but it was concerned with heavier matters than a sore throat or an acrid taste. And, since Americans went on buying cigarettes by leaping billions, the manufacturers maintained their code of contemptuous silence, which is almost as rigid as the taboo of a Victorian dinner-table on the mention of the female leg. Two years later the "British Medical Journal" published a weightier study and it began to look as if the cigarette manufacturers would never be shut of the nuisance.

Last November their long golden age - twenty years of continuously soaring sales - exploded in a bombshell prepared by Dr. Ernest Wynder of New York and Dr. Evarts Graham of St Louis. They reported that they had produced skin cancer in 44 per cent of the mice they had painted with tobacco tar condensed from cigarette smoke. This study was hardly as comprehensive as the British study of nearly fifteen hundred human lung-cancer patients, but it was piquant. It sprouted the joke that "It only goes to show: mice shouldn't smoke." But the newspapers sat up and took notice, in their heartless disinterested way, when the Institute of Industrial Medicine of this city, an incomparable branch of the New York-Bellevue Medical Center, examined all the tumours reported in the Wynder-Graham study and declared them to be malignant.

Last December 9 the papers carried the report of two speeches made by Dr. Wynder and Dr. Ochner, Chief of Surgery at Tulane University School of Medicine, before a meeting of New York dentists.

Dr. Wynder quoted thirteen American and foreign studies, to conclude that "the prolonged and heavy use of cigarettes increases up to twenty times the risk of developing cancer of the lung." Dr. Ochner was bolder still. He foresaw that the male population of the United States might be decimated within fifty years by this type of cancer if cigarette-smoking increases at its present rate. Within an hour of the opening of the Stock Exchange that day big blocks of tobacco stocks were up for sale. One stock, which opened at 65 3/4, dropped to 62. Others lost between two and three points. By the first of this year the horrid truth was out that the sale of cigarettes in the first ten months of 1953 was off 2.1 per cent. It seems a negligible fraction in the face of the triumphant record that in the past twenty years cigarette sales have gone up from 100,000 millions to over 400,000 millions. But nothing gets to feel so normal as unrelieved luxury, and a desperate tobacco executive reflected that if every American smoker used "one cigarette less a day, our sales would drop by 5 per cent," which is to say three million packs a day, or an annual loss of $255.5 millions.

All of Cuba to-day was under the precarious control of Fidel Castro, the 31-year-old rebel whom the Batista Government pictured to its graceless end as a ragamuffin hiding in the scrub hills of Oriente Province.

Castro to-day chose his birthplace, Santiago de Cuba, as provisional capital until such time as he could safely install in the Presidential palace at Havana the man he has proclaimed provisional President. He is Manuel Urrutia Lleo, a 58-year-old judge unknown to fame until, after 31 years on the bench, he faced last year 150 youths charged with inciting to revolt. He set them free on the brave principle that the Batista Government had left Cubans no other means to defend their constitutional rights. He became a revolutionary hero and today he has his reward. His first act was to declare a general strike so as to curb the rioting and to demonstrate, through the patrols of the revolutionary militia, that Castro is indeed the Government in fact.

The Batista Government and most of its lackeys are already in the United States or in one of several Caribbean havens. A plane load of 92 of them landed at Idlewild last night and a Cuban merchant ship sailed for the Dominican Republic, where Batista is safe in the embrace of his former ward and enemy, the dictator Trujillo.

The last act of Batista's abortive junta was to tell the Government troops to lay down their arms. They appear to have done so, but Castro broadcast to-day an order to his forces everywhere to go armed and fire on sight at all looters, agitators, and pockets of resistance.

Most Cubans, and certainly the onlooking dictators of Nicaragua, Paraguay, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, find it hard to believe that Batista's domain could be conquered by an angry, though wealthy young man, whose first putsch against the island on December 1, 1956, left him with only twelve of the original force of 93 men.

Castro may doubt it too, but he is taking no chances. The mob, which yesterday tooted and rejoiced through the streets, betrayed him in an outbreak of pillage and rioting. This morning the streets of Havana were reported to be empty, except for the Castro patrols, cruising in the cars that were chasing them only two days ago.

But by midday a radio dispatch said that the city was taking on again "a dangerously lively air." Units of rebel militia were ordered to the Manzana de Gomez block of buildings, where groups of followers of Senator Rolando Masferrer, a leading Batista supporter, were hiding. Fighting went on for two hours, watched by crowds of spectators.

To-day in Ciudad Trujillo, Batista admitted the absurdity of his rout by an amateur but said that the first men sent to wipe out the rebels were "soldiers of the rural guard who were not prepared for guerrilla warfare. When the rebels extended their operations and met the army in open battle they were well armed and their weapons were superior to ours."

The last excuse is doubted by Latin American experts and business men who say that up to the end Batista was receiving planes and arms from Big Powers. What doomed him, they agree, was the treachery of his own leaders, widespread desertions in the Army, and the final dash for safety of men bound to him only by bribery.

Late this afternoon one of Castro's lieutenants took over the Havana remnants of this faithless army and passed the cue to Castro to begin his triumphal entry into the capital city. If he subdues it without much bloodshed he must quickly repair the heavy damage to the railroads, highways, and sugar farms in three provinces, set the economy flowing again, and keep the people quiet until he can arrange free elections.

Then he must answer the question that confronts all resting heroes who have raised their flags in the capital and put the tyrants to flight: how free dare the elections be? Castro has advertised an elaborate and drastic Socialist programme. He proposes to nationalise all utilities; to give their working land to tenant farmers, who make up 85 per cent of the farming population; to distribute to the employees of every business in Cuba 30 per cent of the profits; to confiscate all the property of "corrupt" (i.e. former) Government officials; to modernise the island's industries and begin a huge rural housing and electrification project.

In a country where Army officers on the winning side instantly inherit palaces, where there is little experience of parliamentary government, and where the idea of a loyal Opposition is tantamount to treason, Castro may, like others before him, come to demand a rubber stamp and permit only token opposition.

At the moment, though, all is joy and glory. The liberals among the South Americans in the United Nations are toasting the great day and calculating the present arithmetic of tyranny in Latin America. The present score seems to be, as one man put it, "four down and four to go."

President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was shot during a motorcade drive through downtown Dallas this afternoon. He died in the emergency room of the Parkland Memorial Hospital 32 minutes after the attack. He was 46 years old. He is the third President to be assassinated in office since Abraham Lincoln and the first since President McKinley in 1901.

In the late afternoon the Dallas police took into custody a former Marine, one Lee H. Oswald, aged 24, who is alleged to have shot a policeman outside a theatre. He is said to have remarked only, "It is all over now." He is the chairman of a group called the "Fair Play for Cuba Committee," and is married to a Russian girl. He is described at the moment as "a prime suspect."

The new President is the Vice-President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a 55-year-old native Texan, who took the oath of office in Dallas at five minutes to four at the hands of a woman judge and later arrived in Washington with the body of the dead President.

This is being written in the numbed interval between the first shock and the harried attempt to reconstruct a sequence of fact from an hour of tumult. However, this is the first assassination of a world figure that took place in the age of television, and every network and station in the country took up the plotting of the appalling story. It begins to form a grisly pattern, contradicted by a grisly preface: the projection on television screens of a happy crowd and a grinning President only a few seconds before the gunshots.

The President was almost at the end of his two-day tour of Texas. He was to make a lunch speech in the Dallas Trade Mart building and his motor procession had about another mile to go. He had had the warmest welcome of his trip from a great crowd at the airport. The cries and pleas for a personal touch were so engaging that Mrs Kennedy took the lead and walked from the ramp of the presidential plane to a fence that held the crowd in. She was followed quickly by the President, and they both seized hands and forearms and smiled gladly at the people.

The Secret Service and the police were relieved to get them into their car, where Mrs Kennedy sat between the President and John B. Connally, the Governor of Texas. The Dallas police had instituted the most stringent security precautions in the city's history: they wanted no repetition of the small but disgraceful brawl that humiliated Adlai Stevenson in their city when he attended a United Nations rally on October 24.

The motorcade was going along slowly but smoothly three muffled shots, which the crowd first mistook for fireworks, cracked through the cheers. One hit the shoulder blade and the wrist of Governor Connally who was taken with the President to the hospital, where his condition is serious.

The other brought blood trickling from the back of the sitting President's head. His right arm flopped from a high wave of greeting and he collapsed into the arms of Mrs Kennedy, who fell unharmed. She was heard to cry "Oh, No" and sat there all the way cradling his head in her lap. As some people bayed and screamed and others fell to the ground, and hid their faces, the secret service escort broke into two groups, one speeding the President's car to the hospital: and another joined a part of the heavy police escort in wheeling off in pursuit of a man fleeing across some railroad tracks. Nothing came of this lead.

The President was taken to the emergency room of the Parkland Hospital and Governor Connally was taken into the surgery. Mrs Kennedy went in with the living President and less than an hour later came out with the dead man in a bronze coffin, which arrived shortly after two priests had administered the last rites of the Roman Catholic Church.

The body was escorted by Generals Clifton and McHugh, the President's chief military and air force aides, to the Dallas Airport and flown thence to Washington.

Within an hour of the President's death, the Secret Service had found a sniper's nest inside the building from which the first witnesses swore the bullets had been fired. It is a warehouse for a school text book firm, known as the Texas School Depository, on the corner of Elm and Houston Streets.

In an upper room, whose open window commanded the route of the Presidential motorcade, the Servicemen found the remains of a fried chicken and a foreign-made rifle with a telescopic sight. Alongside it lay three empty cartridges.

An hour or so before midnight, it was already clear that a wake was setting in at the Beverley Hilton Hotel, where the youngsters for McCarthy roamed in great numbers in and around the grand ballroom.

The percentage gap between McCarthy's lead over Kennedy was shrinking every quarter hour or so, as the returns form Los Angeles County began to overtake McCarthy's anticipated strength in Northern California. It was a young and doughty crowd, gamely but hopelessly trying to keep its spirit up.

In this country, at any rate, only the very pure in heart love a loser. And it seemed a good idea to move on to the victory boy at the Ambassador. Wilshire Boulevard is one of the longest of the long straight avenues that bisect the huge east-west spread of this city, and at such a time it seemed as long as a Roman road. The hotel's driveway was a miniature freeway in a traffic jam, and the human traffic inside the foyer was almost worse.

But at last, through the strutting cops and guards and the elated crowd and the din of whistles and cheers, it was possible to reach the north ballroom, a bone-white glare of light seen at the far end of the lobby.

Security is a fighting word at the Kennedy headquarters anywhere, and not without reason. You had to have a special Kennedy press card to acquire the privilege of being suffocated in the ballroom, and no other credentials for a reporter would do. I had only a general press card, a McCarthy badge, a driver's licence, and such other absurdities. So I turned back and thought of fighting the way back home.

But just alongside the guarded entrance to the north ballroom was another door, around which a pack of ecstatic faces, black and white, was jostling for some kind of privilege view. There was a guard there, too, and a Kennedy man who recognised me, caught in the general wash, squeezed me through into an almost empty room. It was like being beached by a tidal wave.

The place was no longer than about 40 feet. It was a small private dining room, fitted out as a press room. There was a long trestle table against one wall loaded with typewriters and telephones and standing by were a few middle-aged lady operators taking a breather.

In one corner was a booming television set switching between the rumblings of defeat at the McCarthy hotel and the clamour of victory in the adjacent ballroom. A fat girl wearing a Kennedy straw hat sucked a coke through a straw. There were15 or 20 of us at most, exchanging campaign reminiscences and making the usual hindsight cracks at the Kennedys.

Kennedy's press secretary had promised that once the Senator had saluted his army he would go down from the ballroom stage and come to see us through the kitchen that separated our retreat from the ballroom.

It was just after midnight. A surge of cheers and a great swivelling of lights heralded him, and soon he was upon the rostrum with his eager, button-eyed wife and Jessie Unruh, his massive campaign manager. It took minutes to get the feedback boom out of the mikes but at last there was a kind of subdued uproar and he said he first wanted to express "my high regard to Don Drysdale for his six great shut-outs." (Drysdale is a base pitcher whose Tuesday night feat of holding his sixth successive opposing teams to no runs has made him legend.)

It was the right, the wry Kennedy note. He thanked a list of helpers by name. He thanked "all those loyal Mexican Americans" and "all my friends in the black community." Then he stiffened his gestures and style and said it only went to show that "all those promises and all those party caucuses have indicated that the people of the United States want a change."

He congratulated McCarthy on fighting his principles . He hoped that now there might be "a debate between the Vice-President and perhaps myself." He flashed his teeth again in his chuckling, rabbity smile and ended, "My thanks to all of you - and now it's on to Chicago and let's win there."

A delirium of cheers and lights and tears and a rising throb of "We want Bobby! We want Bobby! We want Bobby!"

He tumbled down from the rostrum with his aides and bodyguards about him. He would be with us in 20 seconds, half a minute at most. We watched the swinging doors of the kitchen. Over the gabble of the television there was suddenly from the direction of the kitchen a crackle of sharp sounds. Like a balloon popping.

An exploded flash bulb maybe, more like a man banging a tray several times against a wall. A half-dozen or so of us trotted to the kitchen door and at the moment time and life collapsed. Kennedy and his aides had been coming on through the pantry. It was now seen to be not a kitchen but a regular serving pantry with great long tables and racks of plates against the wall.

He was smiling and shaking hands with a waiter, then a chef in a high white hat. Lots of Negroes, naturally, and they were glowing with pride, for he was their man. Then those sounds from somewhere, from a press of people on or near a steam table. And before you could synchronise you sight and thought, Kennedy was a prone bundle on the greasy floor, and two or three others had gone down with him. There was an explosion of shouts and screams and the high moaning cries of mini-skirted girls.

The doors of the pantry swung back and forth and we would peek in on the obscene disorder and reel back again to sit down, then to glare in a stupefied way at the nearest friend, to steady one boozy woman with black-rimmed eyes who was pounding a table and screaming, "Goddamned stinking country!" The fat girl was babbling faintly like a baby, like someone in a motor accident.

Out in the chaos of the ballroom, Kennedy's brother-in-law was begging for doctors. And back in the pantry they were howling for doctors: It was hard to see who had been badly hit. One face was streaming with blood. It was that of Paul Schrade, a high union official, and it came out that he got off lightly.

A woman had a purple bruise on her forehead. Another man was down. Kennedy was looking up like a stunned choirboy from an open shirt and a limp huddle of limbs. Somehow, in the dependable fashion of the faith, a priest had appeared.

We were shoved back and the cameraman were darting and screaming and flashing their bulbs. We fell back again from the howling pantry into the haven of the pressroom.

Suddenly, the doors opened again and six or eight and police had a curly black head and blue-jeaned body in their grip. He was a swarthy, thick-featured unshaven little man with a tiny rump and a head fallen over, as if he had been clubbed or had fainted perhaps.

He was lifted out into the big lobby and was soon off in some mysterious place "in custody." On the television Huntley and Brinkley were going on in their urbane way about the "trends" in Los Angeles and the fading McCarthy lead in Northern California.

A large woman went over and beat the screen, as if to batter these home-screen experts out of their self-possession. We had to take her and say, "Steady" and "Don't do that." And suddenly the screen went berserk, like a home movie projector on the blink. And the blurred, whirling scene we had watched in the flesh came wobbling in as a movie.

Then all the "facts" were fired or intoned from the screen. Roosevelt Grier, a 300lb coloured football player and a Kennedy man, had grabbed the man with the gun and overwhelmed him. A Kennedy bodyguard had taken the gun, a .22 calibre. The maniac had fired straight at Kennedy and sprayed the other bullets around the narrow pantry.

Kennedy was now at the receiving hospital and soon transferred to the Good Samaritan. Three neurologists were on their way. He had been hit in the hip, perhaps, but surely in the shoulder and "the mastoid area." There was the first sinister note about a bullet in the brain.

In the timelessness of nausea and dumb disbelief we stood and sat and stood again and sighed at each other and went into the pantry again and looked at the rack of plates and the smears of blood on the floor and the furious guards and the jumping-jack photographers.

It was too much to take in. The only thing to do was to touch the shoulder of the Kennedy man who had let you in and get out on to the street and drive home to the top of the silent Santa Monica Hills, where pandemonium is rebroadcast in tranquillity and where a little unshaven guy amuck in a pantry is slowly brought into focus as a bleak and shoddy villain of history.

There has been nothing in the memory of living Americans like the massacre of My Lai. They cannot stay for ever in the pit of horror. They must climb out of it and find an indecent scape-goat or some bearable explanation that can restore their self-respect. For the nightly TV interviews with ordinary people show how pitifully the people feel that their youth is on trial.

Now, from Saigon, comes a brave bit of analysis from William F Buckley, the brilliant conservative columnist who for once does not feel obliged to snatch a rightwing argument and give it maximum plausibility.

He faces the progressively grim alternatives by asking how many people were guilty, because an aberration must have limits. "Jack the Ripper was not a corporation, so that we can think of him as aberrant," which we cannot do about "the Nazis under Hitler or the communists under Stalin". But if 10, 20, 50 men "concerted in the act of genocide", then we must ask why "a cross-section of young America found itself capable of utterly barbaric behaviour".

The "preferable" explanation is that "the guilty company relapsed into a kind of catatonic frenzy". The second, "the horrifying" alternative, is that "America in AD 1969 has bred young Americans who can insouciantly murder grandmothers and little children."

25 Top Alistair Cooke Quotes

In the best of times, our days are numbered anyway. So it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly that it put off enjoying those things for which we were designed in the first place: the opportunity to do good work, to enjoy friends, to fall in love, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby.

New York is the biggest collection of villages in the world.

Curiosity&hellipendows the people who have it with a generosity in argument and a serenity in cheerful willingness to let life take the form it will.

The best compliment to a child or a friend is the feeling you give him that he has been set free to make his own inquiries, to come to conclusions that are right for him, whether or not they coincide with your own.

I believe Hollywood is the most effective and disastrous propaganda factory there has ever been in the history of human beings.

All Presidents start out to run a crusade but after a couple of years they find they are running something less heroic and much more intractable: namely the presidency. The people are well cured by then of election fever, during which they think they are choosing Moses. In the third year, they look on the man as a sinner and a bumble and begin to poke around for rumors of another Messiah.

Every sport pretends to be literature. . .

A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn't feel like it.

If computers take over, it will serve us right.

Every sport pretends to a literature, but people don't believe it of any other sport but their own.

It has been an unchallengeable American doctrine that cranberry sauce, a pink goo with overtones of sugared tomatoes, is a delectable necessity of the Thanksgiving board and that turkey is uneatable without it.

People, when they first come to America, whether as travelers or settlers, become aware of a new and agreeable feeling: that the whole country is their oyster.

Curiosity is free-wheeling intelligence.

Liberty is the luxury of self-discipline, that those nations historically who have failed to discipline themselves have had discipline imposed by others.

Hollywood grew to be the most flourishing factory of popular mythology since the Greeks.

The day of judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.

Texas does not, like any other region, simply have indigenous dishes. It proclaims them. It congratulates you, on your arrival, at having escaped from the slop pails of the other 49 states.

As always, the British especially shudder at the latest American vulgarity, and then they embrace it with enthusiasm two years later

I prefer radio to TV because the pictures are better.

The best thing about Eisenhower's Presidency was his Jeffersonian conviction that there should be as little government and as much golf as possible.

They have been playing golf for 800 years and nobody has satisfactorily said why.

Curiosity endows the people who have it with a generosity in argument and a serenity in their own mode of life which springs from their cheerful willingness to let life take the form it will.

To watch an American on a beach or crowding into a subway, or buying a theater ticket, or sitting at home with his radio on, tells you something about one aspect of the American character: the capacity to withstand a great deal of outside interference, so to speak a willing acceptance of frenzy which though it's never self-conscious, amounts o a willingness to let other people have and assert their own lively, and even offensive, character. They are a tough race in this.

It is a wonderful tribute to the game or to the dottiness of the people who play it that for some people somewhere there is no such thing as an insurmountable obstacle, an unplayable course, the wrong time of the day or year.

But afterall it's not the winning that matters, is it? Or is it? It'sto coinawordtheamenitiesthatcount: thesmell of the dandelions, the puff of the pipe, the click of the bat, the rain on the neck, the chill down the spine, the slow, exquisite coming on of sunset and dinner and rheumatism.

Watch a preview for the documentary.

Alistair Cooke was known to millions as the graceful, amazingly well-read host of Masterpiece Theatre for 22 years. But this very public side of a very outgoing man was just the tip of the iceberg to a fascinating career extending back to the Jazz Age.

The Unseen Alistair Cooke includes footage from 150 reels of film shot by Cooke from the 1930s on, recording his encounters with American scenes and celebrities. Discovered after his death, the treasure trove includes a short feature of his friends Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in an exuberant playlet filmed aboard Chaplin’s yacht.

Outside of the United States, Cooke is best known as the insightful correspondent on the worldwide BBC radio broadcast, Letter from America, which aired weekly from 1946 until a month before Cooke’s death. Anecdotal and slyly witty, the series had the feel of an old friend reporting the incidents and observations of an eventful life.

Alistair Cooke - History

Writer/Narrator: Alistair Cooke.
Producer: Michael Gill.
Associate Producer: Ann Turner.
Historical Advisor: Sir Denis Brogan.
Music: William Davies.

I n 1972, a program called Masterpiece Theatre on PBS was just beginning to make an impression on American audiences. Begun in 1971, the series of English costume dramas (at least at first) was hosted by journalist Alistair Cooke, who also wrote and performed the long-running "Letter from America" feature on BBC radio (which ended just weeks before Cooke's death in 2004). Cooke had been living in the United States since the 1930s and had a unique perspective on American history which was explored in this 13-part series, produced by the BBC and first telecast on NBC television in the fall of 1972 and sponsored with limited commercial interruption by Xerox, the first of a series of programming produced to celebrate the Bicentennial.

America was an immediate critical success. The series won a George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in television programming and almost immediately was repeated on PBS stations in two formats: the original hour format and a half-hour format.

Ironically, in the United States the series was only released on video to educational institutions, mostly libraries. There were no public sales, which, for my own part, I thought was a shame. I obtained my own copies by duping library copies, but would have bought the series had it been sold. The series is finally available on DVD, however, only in Regionق. It is available from the BBC Shop,, and several other vendors (do a Google search on +cooke +america +dvd). (BBC Shop and vendors like only ship to the U.K. and Europe.)

Although the last part is sadly out of date, this series cries for a release to DVD in Regionف. It presents history in an informative and absorbing manner, and Cooke's own commentary is quite entertaining and many times enlightening. He makes the personalities of the past come alive and his history is more that of the people that lived it than rote dates and facts. Perhaps some historian, or someone like Russell Baker, who replaced Cooke as host of Masterpiece Theatre, could be called upon to do some type of introduction to the final part?

What follows is a summary of the episodes following the summaries I have occasionally noted items of interest, or injected a personal note, as this is one of my favorite television series of all time.

         O pening with a panorama of the American countryside and the faces of the Native American population that later crossed the presumptive land bridge from what is now known as Siberia to the present state of Alaska, Cooke's introduction segues into the "discovery" of America. While touching on other claims, he concentrates on Christopher Columbus' voyage to find a easier route to the Maluccas (the Spice Islands), including a profile of the mariner himself and a tour of a reproduction of the Santa Maria.
        Cooke next discusses the outrages perpetrated on the native population by Spanish fortune-hunters looking for mythic cities of gold (contrasting this briefly with the arrival of the French, who treated the natives with more care). The history of the rock fortress of Acoma is detailed up to the present day, including its final siege by the Spanish 59 years after Coronado's first exploration.
        Spanish legacies such as the ranch culture and the cultivation of corn are examined before continuing on to the French voyaguers and the beaver trade. LaSalle's epic expedition from Canada to the mouth of the Mississippi is chronicled, and the following establishment of waystations and towns along the rivers, where the Missouri town of St. Genevieve, Missouri, is profiled. The Catholic influence of both the French and Spanish is touched on, showing a Spanish-built church now attended almost solely by the Papago tribe.
        Cooke finishes his tour of Spanish and French America in New Orleans, touching on the one French influence that almost every American knows, "the only French God in the American pantheon," the Marquis de Lafayette.

Acoma Indian Reservation, New Mexico
Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico
El Morro, New Mexico
Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
San Xavier del Back Mission, Arizona
Belloia Ranch, Arizona
Falcon Valley Ranch, Arizona
St. Genevieve, Missouri
San Juan Bautista, California
New Orleans, Louisiana
Jamestown, Virginia
New York City
Quebec Province, Canada
Barcelona, Spain

(Note: The title of this episode is often mistakenly cited as "Home Away from Home.")

         C ooke's opening narration segues from a windswept beach to the London of James I and the Hall of the Middle Temple, where he details the first expeditions (Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake) to go to America and the colony finally named after the king, "Jamestown." The colonists' inexperience leads to death and bad relations with the native occupants until Captain John Smith takes charge.
        Tobacco proves the salvation of the colony (modern tobacco production is shown). Explorers and opportunists are replaced by settlers and service, and slowly, representative government (the House of Burgesses) within the colony is born. Williamsburg, Virginia, and its contribution to American liberty is then explored.
        The establishment of plantations on the coast came next, and typical lifestyles at Shirley Plantation and Middleton Plantation are examined, touching upon the first importation of slaves into the system.
        Cooke then segues to the settlements of the North, where the first foments of the American emerged, and concentrates on both the Plymouth colony, originally supposed to be only a hundred miles or so north of the Virginia colonies, and the Puritan settlement, both founded by religious dissenters. John Winthrop, the quintessential Puritan, is profiled, and misconceptions about the Puritans are examined as their migration to America begins.
        Religion's hold on the Massachusetts settlements are examined next, including strict laws of conduct, dislike of dissenters (the Quakers being most persecuted), and finally the horror of the Salem Witch Trials.
        Finally, the middle colonies' contribution to the upcoming revolution is examined as Cooke talks in depth about one of his favorite American heroes, Benjamin Franklin. A thanksgiving celebration closes the episode.

Colonial National Park, Jamestown, Virginia
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Shirley Plantation, Charles City, Virginia
Swanson Farm, Disputanta, Virginia
Adam Thoroughgood House, Norfolk, Virginia
Charles Towne Landing, Charlestown, South Carolina
Drayton Hall and Miles Brewton's House, South Carolina
Middletown Place and Stableyards, South Carolina
Cape Cod National Seashore
Rebecca Nurse House, Danvers, Massachusetts
Heritage Foundation, Deerfield, Massachusetts
Old Ship Church, Hingham, Massachusetts
John Whipple House, Ipswich, Massachusetts
Provincetown Fishermen's Cooperative, Massachusetts
Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts
Parson Capen House, Topsfield, Massachusetts
Intervale Farm, Westhampton, Massachusetts
Old Newgate Gaol, Connecticut
The Brick Meeting House, Calvert, Maryland
Newcastle, Delaware
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Middle Temple Hall, London
Tower of London
Groton and Lavenham, Suffolk, England

         S eguing from a line of tourists at the National Archives, Cooke outlines the signers of the Declaration and how unlikely the idea of revolution, the sentiments in the Declaration, and even the signers as revolutionaries were.
        The seeds of the Revolution are laid when the French colonies to the west try to expand eastward. Thus the French and Indian War was born, George Washington sees his first action, and Fort Ticonderoga, visited by Cooke, is built. When the war is over, the British expect the colonies to pay expenses and for troops to patrol the frontier revenue taxes and economic hard times, plus dreams of the frontier, "unite the colonies in righteous indignation," fanned by troops of soldiers and General Gage as colonial governor of Massachusetts.
        Cooke discusses the fact and fiction of Boston Massacre and its consequences, including the Boston Tea Party, with a visit to Old South Meeting House. An explanation of the Committees of Correspondence brings us to Williamsburg, Virginia for a tour of the town, the Governor's Palace, and the Raleigh Tavern, where Virginia's revolutionary meetings were held and extrovert Patrick Henry becomes the trumpeter of the Revolution when the Port of Boston is closed by the British.
        The Revolution breaks out in earnest with the battles at Lexington and Concord, and the American army is a scruffy conglomeration of working class men against trained British troops. The colonists main advantage: trained marksmen of the frontier used to hunting for survival with the "rifled" firearms, exhibited by Cooke, created by German craftsmen in Pennsylvania. Guerilla warfare also demoralizes the British.
        The appointment of a Southerner, George Washington, profiled next from his home in Mount Vernon, as commander of the army brings the Southern colonies into the fight. Washington's stanchness holds the starving and struggling army together until French and Polish support comes. Eventually the Revolution is won.

National Archives, Washington, DC
Fort Ticonderoga, New York
Old South Meeting House, Boston, Massachusetts
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Minute Man National Park, Concord
National Rifle Association, Washington, DC
Mount Vernon, Virginia
Valley Forge State Park, Pennsylvania
National Capital Parks, Washington, DC

         T he treaty ending the American Revolution leaves a bitter taste in British mouths especially when France and Spain also demand pounds of flesh. Loyalists are treated shamefully, chivvied into exile in England, the West Indies, or Canada while the patriots celebrate.
        But the "united states" soon separate into individual colonies, quarrelling, and the Articles of Confederation are overridden with a need for a national Constitution. Cooke visits Philadelphia's Independence Hall, which hosted the Constitutional convention with unlikely participants: wealthy educationed landowners and professionals, men against total democracy.
        No past government structure suited them, so they set out to invent their own, first determining what they did not want. Today's political campaigns echo the precepts they set down over 200 years ago.
        Debates boiled down to proponents of a strong central government (led by Alexander Hamilton) versus a limited central government with most powers given to the state governments (led by George Mason of Virginia). The moderates in the group, led by James Madison, advocated a balance between both representations. This was adapted.
        Cooke then speaks about the third addition to the Government that balanced the laws of the land against the desires of the people in a visit to the Supreme Court, the totally new invention of the Constitutional Convention. From France, Thomas Jefferson continually urges a Bill of Rights, and the original ten are added within four years. Jefferson's home life in Monticello is profiled, along with his Renaissance interest in all things and his belief in the yeoman farmers of the American nation.
        It would be farmers who crossed the mountains into fresh fertile land who expanded the United States and changed the original conception of the republic, but unlettered folk a far cry from educated men like Jefferson at Monticello.

Department of State, Washington, DC
Independence National Historial Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
State House, Boston, Massachusetts
The Capitol, Washington, DC
Monticello, Virginia
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

         T he ghost town of Bodie, California, opens an episode about the West, both as a place in the American experience and as a concept of freedom and new chances. The first frontier was the west side of the Appalachians, where Cooke visits a cave used as a home base by Daniel Boone others explored the area after the American Revolution, following the discovery of a gap through the mountains by an English doctor who named the route after the Duke of Cumberland. So many explorers disappeared forever into the wilderness that "gone west" became synonymous for death.
        One of the explorers' needs was salt, something Boone was renown for being able to find. Cooke shows us one area, a brine lake that attracted prehistoric mammals. Here and in similar sites the rough-and-ready settlers made homes. Part of the original Louisiana Purchase, this land consisted of one third of the present United States, a purchase made (at 4 cents an acre) by Thomas Jefferson without Congressional permission, after Napoleon lost Santo Domingo and wanted no more North American involvments. The vast territory was explored and chartered by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, helped by an Indian woman named Sacajawea.
        Once the land was "free" and explored, the settlers now wanted the Indian inhabitants to leave so that they could farm the fertile lands. Cooke chronicles the Government's response to banishing the Southern tribes to the West, the infamous "Trail of Tears," despite Supreme Court ruling.
        Further exploration west was prompted by trapping of beaver, due to a fashion craze for men's beaver hats, with buyers, trappers, and Indians forming little pockets of society and heirarchy. The rendezvous was born. Then gold was discovered in California and optimists came by every route, sea and land.
        Cooke then narrates the long and arduous journey that most pioneers took, across the plains, showing us what they took—food, work impliments, perhaps a few personal possessions— and how they traveled. Early parts of the 2,000 mile route were fertile, but first the mountains and then the cruel desert was reached. Animals and people starved, the travelers went insane or died of despair. If they escaped dehydration, there was the last hurdle of the Sierra Nevada. But when most of them reached California, the claims were gone.
        Others did not go so far, but instead settled the interior states, people like the parents of Abraham Lincoln, whose own pioneer spirit was put to the test when the Union fell apart.

The Cabildo, New Orleans, Louisiana
Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky
Lincoln Boyhood Home, Dale, Indiana
New Salem, Illinois
St. Joseph, Missouri
Bodie, California
and the states of California, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming

         T he episode opens with a rousing service at an African-American church after which Cooke summarizes the problems that still exist for African-American people in the United States, ones that harkened to the early days of slavery which Thomas Jefferson feared would eventually "ring a firebell in the night." Slaves were not allowed anything but the consolation of religion. A tour of plantation slave cabins concludes with photos illustrating their lives and hardships.
        Cooke then demonstrates Eli Whitney's cotton gin. With this new invention, cotton could be processed so easily that the need for field workers, i.e. slaves, trebled plus sugar processing expanded after the discovery of how to granulate sugar. All that was needed was transportation to market the invention of the steamboat solved the final problem. Plantations and slavery flourished.
        In the meantime, Whitney returned north to found factories that used his mass production method. Eventually the North became an industrial haven, the South an agricultural one. New states entered the union, slave and free, according to the Missouri Compromise, which set a boundary for slavery. Cooke introduces us to the issues in the Senate chamber, where even the silver tongue of Henry Clay could not keep the compromise working, and the Underground Railroad defied it. The Dred Scott decision was the last straw.
        Cooke then continues with the opening of the Civil War: Fort Sumter was fired upon and the population became divided, sometimes family against family. His summary includes the strengths on each side: the North her industries and men, along with the great medical strides that were made in the battlefields, the South her larger granary, a brave, heroic population, and better generals, including Robert E. Lee, who ironically did not believe in slavery, and whose home, which Cooke visits, later became Arlington National Cemetery.
        His opponent, more than any other Northern general, was Abraham Lincoln, who Cooke profiles in depth. Gettysburg was the turning point of the war. Two years later the South and the plantation system lay in ruins. Reconstruction left bitterness, and in some, hatred of any person with black skin.

Custis-Lee Mansion, Arlington
Shiloh National Military Park, Tennessee
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
The White House, Washington, DC
The Capitol, Washington, DC
Boone Hall Plantation, South Carolina
Natchez, Mississippi
Okeefenokee Swamp Park, Georgia

         T he first Westerners crossed the continent to reach the Pacific shore. However, some of the first people to settle in the interior of the country were the Mormons (the Church of Latter-Day Saints), who were persecuted in the East for their religious beliefs. Salt Lake City, Brigham Young, and the history of the church and settlement are profiled by Cooke, from the city's founding to the present day.
        Next Cooke touches on improvements of the railroad and locomotive that spurred the next wave of settlement. The transcontinental railway, built by Southerners and Irish in the east, mainly the Chinese in the west, struggled against nature and weather and finally joined in Promontory Point, Utah, May㺊, 1869. "The annexation of the United States" was heard around the country via another recent invention, the telegraph. Railroad branch lines sprang up and became centers for new industries, such as the next city profiled by Cooke, Abilene, Kansas, which became a railhead for cattle distribution. The legend of the cowboy—and the gunslingers—had begun.
        Mining boomtowns appeared and disappeared, but then permanent residents were encouraged. Some foreigners even came to the West for a lark, like the settlers of Victoria, Kansas, founded by Englishmen. But most, mainly immigrants from Europe, struggled on the plains against the freakish weather, the wind, and loneliness. At the boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Cooke tells of the homesteaders who introduced the family to the prairies and the West, the civilizing force of mothers who finally "tamed" the wilderness with homes, furnishings, a horse and carriage, and churchgoing. These farmers came into conflict with the cattle herds, and the humble barbed wire fence beget range wars and ultimately turned the free-range cowboy into a rancher.
        The hour closes with Cooke's examination of the fate of the Native American population. In 1889, in the great land rush, the Indians lost their last big claim, Indian Territory, which became the state of Oklahoma. They had been pushed west, chivvied into reservations on arid lands, and made to be dependent on the government, with occasional uprisings such as the massacre of Custer's 7th cavalry. In 1890, the last Indian uprising took place and the cavalry took its revenge at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The Indians were subdued and the "Wild West" descended into myth.

Eisenhower Home, Abilene, Kansas
Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota
Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Cody, Wyoming
Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City
Southern Pacific Railroad, Sacramento, California
and the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming

         M ost Americans, comments Cooke, tend to remember Chicago from the Great Fire and the gangsters of the 1920s. He opens this episode in that city, which began as a fur-trading post dredging a sand bar in the port gave it a harbor, which, along with the railroad, turned Chicago into the biggest grain market and eventually stockyard and railroad center of the world.
        But the railroads and the prairie also changed the idea of the stalwart yeoman farmer making his own living. Machines appeared to make farming an industry by the end of the century, the small farmer became almost a relic. Cooke then gives us a tour of Thomas Edison's laboratory, to show us what the young people of the late 1800s craved: the new inventions of the day, not only those that were work related, but things like Edison's other creations: the phonograph, the electric light, the "Kinetograph" (the movies), etc. In that period, inventions came in droves: the telephone, the personal camera, the sewing machine.
        We are then taken to Pennsylvania for the next development: petroleum drilling began in this state after what was known as a native remedy for constipation also proved it could be refined for use as a lighting fluid (kerosene) and later as a lubricant and fuel. Until refineries proved profitable, even John D. Rockefeller did not believe in the future of oil—then his monopoly of oil refineries made him a millionaire and then the first billionaire in history. Others with the gift of moneymaking appeared: Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie, John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan, whose residences Cooke visits. Carnegie homself was a true American success story: from Scottish bobbin boy at thirteen to a billionaire in the steel industry by middle age.
        These men donated enormous amounts of money away to charity, but lived in a prolifigate manner—epitomized by the "summer cottages" in Newport, Rhode Island—while other Americans, many of them workers of the "money barons,'" lived on minimum wages in squalid conditions in slums while toiling in factories or mines. Worse, the farmers who fed the country were now in debt to the railroad magnates for shipping their grain and the providers of the machinery for their harvests. Cooke profiles their champion, William Jennings Bryan, who unsuccessfully ran for the presidency.

Commodity Exchange, Chicago
Santa Fe Stockyards, Chicago
Union Stockyard, Chicago
Homestead National Monument, Nebraska
Holsum Bread Factory, Chicago
Edison Institute, Michigan
Drakewell Memorial Park, Pennsylvania
Museum of the City of New York
Humble Oil and Refining Company, Louisiana
Skibo Castle, Scotland
U.S. Steel, Pennsylvania
Marble House, Rhode Island
William Jennings Bryan House, Nebraska

         I n this episode, Cooke traces the history of the immigrant in America, mostly during the latter half of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th, many seeking sanctuary from hard times in the homeland. The potato famine sent the Irish to America. Other European immigrants came due to political upheavals the Jews fled from pogroms. The legend still persisted that "America was paved with gold."
        The immigrants' journey inevitably began, as Cooke illustrates, in a rough train to a port city with as many possessions as they could carry. Bathed and fumigated, they sailed, cheek-by-jowl in steerage, to American port cities, most to New York where they endured one more ordeal: the examination at Ellis Island. Cooke traces this process in detail. Most of them feared deportation by disease. Those who passed, eight out of ten, were questioned, then given a landing card.
        Once they settled into their own ethnic neighborhood, they still had problems with coping with the new world. Some went to advice societies run by their own ethnic groups. The Jewish people had a newspaper that aided the immigrant, The Jewish Daily Forward, the last Yiddish newspaper in the United States. But immigrants got their greatest aid from the local politicians, who exchanged your vote for favors. Cooke tells us stories about these "ward bosses," like George Washington Plunkitt, some who worked 18 hours a day hustling votes by helping tenement dwellers find jobs, fight judges, and hustle landlords, and who reveled in what they called "honest graft."
        Cooke then steps into the theatre to show how burlesque became an escape for lonely immigrants, who were also entertained by the new "comic strips" and ethnic humorists. Cooke also shows us what they were escaping from: poverty jobs that paid little for long hours and dirty tenement homes that put more funds into the pockets of the rich like J.P. Morgan, collector of treasures such as original manuscripts. The business monopolies were finally brought down by Theodore Roosevelt, who was the first President to realize that American was no longer an agrarian society but a industrial nation ruled by the likes of Morgan and Andrew Carnegie.
        Cooke then speaks of assimilation. For the children of immigrants, schools became the place where they learned to be American, but these children soon became ashamed of their parents' accents and ethnic manners. Therefore adults began going to school to learn English and become American citizens.

di Bella Brothers Foods
Department of Justice
East Midwood Jewish Centre
Eden Theatre
Gary Focks
Jewish Daily Forward
La Marquela
Manhattan Public School 150
Office of Fundamental Adult Education
Pierpont Morgan Library
Sagamore Hill National Historic Side, Oyster Bay
Statue of Liberty National Monument
Stevens Institute of Technology

         F ollowing World War I, the United States became a prosperous world power Cooke tells us that the business success of the 1920s was hand-in-hand with the precepts of John Winthrop, who believed that reverent hard-working people were rewarded with fiscal prosperity. The country had just emerged from "making the world safe for democracy" in the First World War, but while Woodrow Wilson attempted to further democracy in Europe, all the Allies wanted was reparations. Then, as a Bolshevik scare swept the country, Wilson fell into disfavor for consorting with Europe. Americans wanted no more to do with "the old world" and chummy Warren G. Harding was elected.
        Harding, briefly profiled, died in office after letting his chums rob millions from American coffers, and was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge, a taciturn Vermonter who later declared "the business of America is business." He believed in as little central government as possible and industries flourished in "the Coolidge prosperity." Cooke tells about the two boons to the beleaguered farmer in those prosperous times: the cheap Model T created by Henry Ford and the mail order catalog.
        Cooke then examines the frivolity of the 20s that have passed into history Americans went in for superlatives, in sports and in other events in 1927, Charles Lindbergh became a hero. Gentleman golfer Bobby Jones was another figure lionized as much for his integrity as for his skill. As society became freer, sex themes drenched the movies and plays, and morals were loosened by hip flasks filled with gin. Liquor was illegal due to Prohibition, instituted after the war, but it not only did not inhibit drinking, but brought the rise of mob bosses who were previously petty gangsters. As prosperity continued to boom, advertiser Bruce Barton wrote a bestseller and declared Jesus to be the very first advertising genius and the founder of modern business.
        Coolidge declined to run for office in 1928. Cooke talks about how his successor, Herbert Hoover, took the complete blame for the economic crash in 1929 that brought on the Great Depression, but that the trigger for this crash had been building during the Coolidge administration by people buying stocks on margin.
        The unemployment and hard times of the 1930s is then profiled. Factory workers and businessmen alike were out of work. "Hoovervilles" populated by the unemployed sprouted outside cities. Farmers starved and the Dust Bowl—with some frightening footage of the dust storms shown—consumed the wheat-growing areas. They were all "saved"—although some political analysts argue otherwise—by wellborn Franklin D. Roosevelt, disabled by polio. Cooke reviews his recovery programs and his NRA policies, which were considered socialistic by many most were eventually overruled by Supreme Court.

New York Stock Exchange
Winthrop Theological College, South Carolina
Warren Harding Home, Ohio
Calvin Coolidge Homestead, Vermont
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia
Gaslight Club, Chicago
Episcopal Church Centre, Chicago
Hyde Park, New York
Inland Steel, Chicago

         T he episode opens with scenes of war games being carried out on a U.S. aircraft carrier. Cooke then turns back the clock to tell us how the United States became an "arsenal of democracy." In the early years, we are told, from after the Revolution, the colonists distrusted standing armies and they were dismissed. Technically each colonist who owned a firearm was part of a militia, which would arise only if trouble occurred. Then the Marine Corps was formed to protect American shipping against pirates and privateers. Next the cavalry was formed to protect Western settlers. But except at wartime and even after World War I, the American Army was small.
        Cooke's narrative now turns to Europe, as Hitler begins marching across that continent. The United States sent weaponry and ammunition to Great Britain as the "Arsenal of Democracy," since President Roosevelt believed if England fell, Hitler would then set his sights on America. Isolationists fought against involvement in another war—until the Pacific fleet was blasted at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. World War II suddenly became "our war" and factories outproduced the enemy.
        Cooke then profiles Henry Kaiser, who changed the shipbuilding process and whose mass-produced, servicable if ugly "Liberty ships" helped deliver supplies and troops. In the Pacific, ships and troops inched along islands to press back the Japanese. Yet victory in the Pacific was born in Europe: Cooke talks about the leading physicists who had fled from Hitler's persecution, including Einstein, Teller, and Fermi, who worked on the Manhattan Project, the production of the atomic bomb. Cooke then tours the old Los Alamos site. The bombs tested here shattered Hiroshima and Nagasaki to prevent the loss of one million American lives it would have cost to invade Tokyo.
        Cooke now talks about the formation of the United Nations, originally founded with five major powers presiding it became clear when it opened that there were only two major powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The Soviets had exploded their own atomic bomb in 1953 and fear of spies was rampant. Treaties were eventually signed with other countries with the promise of defense, including use of the atomic bomb, which eventually led us into Vietnam.
        A tour of Strategic Air Command headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, showing how our country is defended—the "Minutemen" still exist—closes the program.

United Nations Building, New York
Fort Myers Stables, Washington, DC
Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, DC
U.S. Marine Corps Barracks, Washington, DC
Raleigh Tavern, Williamsburg, Virginia
Fort Eustis, Virginia
Charleston Submarine Base, South Carolina
Strategic Air Command Headquarters, Omaha, Nebraska
Sandia Atomic Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, New Mexico
Trinity Site Base Camp, White Sands, New Mexico
Dog Canyon, Hr. Alomogordo, New Mexico
Beale Air Force Base, Marysville, Calfironia
Vandenburg Air Force Base, Lompoc, California
U.S.S. Oriskany (aircraft carrier)

A listair Cooke came to America, after having graduated from Cambridge and being offered a fellowship at Yale, with conceptions formed from childhood. Upon exploring the country and getting to know the people here, these are the things that he most admired:

  • New York City
  • New Orleans/blues musicians (with profiles of Josie Arlington and Jellyroll Morton)
  • Autumn in Vermont (the most beautiful of the six New England states, according to Cooke)
  • The Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minnesota) and its history (after having driven cross-country in a $60 Ford from Chicago—attending the 1933 World's Fair—to the Pacific)
  • San Francisco (asides: the sea otter and the Emperor Norton)
  • Journalist H.L. Mencken
  • The canyons and landscapes of the Far West (Bryce and Zion Canyons)

New York City
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Fane, Vermont
Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
Point Lobos State Reserve, San Francisco, California
Harvard University, Massachusetts
Hingham Churchyard, Massachusetts
Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore, Maryland
Zion Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park

         C ooke tours Hoover Dam, "built before plastics and lavatory tile" to give Americans of the West "the more abundant life," and which made Las Vegas possible. Here he contrasts life of the 1970s against the dreams and ambitions of the original American settlers.
        Americans, declares Cooke, have a knack for creating businesses by creating a need for a luxury product. His example is Frederick Tudor, who founded the ice business in America and then abroad he creating a market for ice where there had been none before.
        After World War II, a dramatic change came. While cities grew and property values flourished, people left urban areas to live in the suburbs. Green farmland like the San Fernando Valley turned into housing projects automobiles spread smog over the cities.
        In the 1970s some younger people rejected the suburban lifestyle by moving to communes in the country or becoming involved in different religions or groups. Some of these harken back to groups like Robert Owen's New Harmony. Other people escaped to "gated" communities.
        Some of those who fled to gated suburbia unfortunately were escaping the cities to flee from minority groups, in the 1970s primarily African-Americans (also Puerto Ricans). In the past "separate but equal" facilities were offered for blacks and whites, but were not equal for those of color. In the 1950s the Supreme Court overturned this decision, but integration was slow in coming, inspiring the riots of the 1960s. Cooke admits that he does not know the answers for the problem that the only chance is that white persons must change their perspective.
        He believes that most of us still subconsciously think that westward the land is brighter—to that end Cooke visits Hawaii, where he sees hope in a more relaxed lifestyle and intermarriage within races, although the setbacks of the modern world have already reached the islands the native culture has been absorbed or diluted, and there is pollution and some urban sprawl.
        Cooke sums up in the end, comparing the United States to Ancient Rome, whether American culture is still in ascendency or in decline. His statements about society in the 1970s still hold true today.
        He closes with these quotes about what he has learned during half a lifetime of living in the United States:

"A Constitution is made for those of fundamentally differing opinions."…Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

"There is no free lunch"…Italian immigrant, asked what 20 years of life in America had taught him.

American Express Headquarters, Phoenix, Arizona
Elysium Institute, Topanga Canyon, California
Westlake Village, California
Moonfire Mountain, California
New Harmony, Indiana
Hoover Dam, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
Canaan, New Hampshire
Howard University, Washington, DC
and in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York
and on the islands of Oahu and Maui, Hawaii

A review of Alistair Cooke's “America: A Personal History of the United States”

" . these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved . "

- The American Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776)

The British writer George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have once told a joke about the relationship between Britain and America. "The United States and Great Britain," he said, "are two countries separated by a common language." We argue about how to spell words and how to pronounce them, I think, and the "common ground" between us can sometimes be a battleground. All kidding aside, though, there is something special about the relationship between our two countries and our shared English language could just be the most obvious manifestation of this extreme closeness. In ways that we sometimes take for granted, I think, we understand each other's humor and share each other's values. Our love of democracy and liberty, furthermore, is a characteristic that is somewhat rare in the world and though it is found abundantly in both countries, it is not often found elsewhere to the same degree.

The divide between the Americans and the British

Our culture is much the same, I think, and our view of the world is identical in many ways. But there are some differences between us that cause us both to misunderstand each other at times. It is somewhat unfortunate that my fellow Americans, for example, sometimes see the British as stuffy and unemotional (perhaps even snobbish), while the British sometimes see Americans as unsophisticated rubes who can be impetuous (and even obnoxious). I suspect that these differences have their origins in the fact that our histories diverged somewhat after the American Revolution, when the colonies declared that "all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved" (in the words of our Declaration of Independence). Thus, we have some significant differences between us, it is true but these differences are not insurmountable. Thus, the BBC made this series about the history of America in 1973. This series was hosted by the famed journalist Alistair Cooke. This series attempted to explain us Americans - and I am an American, as you may have guessed - to our valued brethren in Britain. Thus, it helped to bridge the occasional gap of misunderstanding that sometimes pops up between us. (Although the misunderstandings are still pretty minimal even without this, and we are still a common family that gets along well most of the time.)

Alistair Cooke was a British immigrant to the United States

Alistair Cooke was a radio journalist that later became a TV journalist (or "telly," if you hail from my British audience). He was born in England, you see, but emigrated to the United States in his late twenties, becoming a citizen at age 33 (six days before Pearl Harbor, incidentally). He was thus raised British, and learned about the United States more "on the fly" than any other way. (Which is true for many an immigrant, before and since.) Alistair Cooke passed away in 2004 at the age of 95, I should note here so he is no longer with us today. Nonetheless, Mr. Cooke's famous series is still relevant today, and debuted on public television when he was in his sixties. This was after he'd already been in this country for over thirty years. I think he understood this country very well for the most part, although he may have gotten a few things wrong that I will discuss later. But his British perspective on our history is nonetheless interesting, and his first episode was a "personal reflection" of sorts on his time in America. (The actual "history" that this series promises doesn't begin until the second episode, though. This is when he starts with Native American history, just prior to their first contact with the white man.)

The European colonists came from Spain and France as well as Britain

Although many Americans don't realize it today, the first European colonists in our homeland were not the British who eventually won, and they did not speak English as a native language, either. The first European colonists on this continent actually came from Spain, and came up from Mexico to what is now the Southwestern United States - or "the West," to those of us in the region today. (And I am from Arizona myself, if that means anything to anyone here.) Mr. Cooke's coverage of the Spanish colonies is among the best of the series, and his coverage of the French colonies is on a par with it in at least some ways. The French controlled a substantial part of what is now the American heartland, and it was not until the Louisiana Purchase that this region was transferred to the United States. In contrast to the peaceful nature of this purchase, though, the United States conquered the Spanish-speaking West in a terrible war with Mexico and joined the ranks of colonial nations that were scourging and oppressing the Native Americans. Mr. Cooke says in passing that "we know who won North America" (or words to that effect), but he wanted to spend an episode paying tribute to the people who were the "losers" of this struggle, in the sense that they lost political control - although they made a great contribution to American culture despite this. Thus, his second episode covers Spanish and French colonization in some detail and it is not until the third episode that he discusses the British colonization and its permanent presence. (Although that's not bad - the Spanish and French stuff is still pretty compelling, and makes for great television to boot.)

Comments on his coverage of the American Revolution

His coverage of the American Revolution is among the most interesting parts of this series. He is not always correct about this, and his British origins sometimes interfere with a fair depiction of the Americans, in the opinion of this Yank. For example, he argues that the Americans rightly owed (some amount of) money to British for its defense of the colonies, and doesn't mention that the only part that the Americans really objected to here was the fact that they were not represented in the body that was taxing them (the famous "no taxation without representation" slogan). Nonetheless, he does side with the colonists more often than you might expect, and he even seems to object to forced taxation from Parliament when the colonists were not represented in it. This has the tendency to make one wonder how he thought British should instead raise the revenue, which is an issue he does not go into here. (My apologies to any Britons that might be offended here, but you're not going to find too many Americans that would disagree with me about these things. We may have to accept that we may not see eye to eye on this particular subject.) His episode about the Constitution is also one of the best episodes, I think, and the British and Americans have some major areas of common ground here. Whatever our disagreements about the Revolution (and we do have some, I acknowledge), few would dispute the wisdom of the U. S. Bill of Rights and we acknowledge our debt to the British in this regard. John Locke and other British philosophers contributed much to the Constitution of my country, I acknowledge gratefully, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for their contributions.

Comments on his coverage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

His treatment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is among the less satisfactory parts of this series for me, because I am a Latter-Day Saint myself who disagrees with (some of) what he said. For example, he describes the administration of Brigham Young as an "iron rule" and a "virtual dictatorship," and I find this an unsatisfactory characterization of the church's leader. In fairness, I think his characterizations are more the result of ignorance than animosity, but he was wrong about a number of these things and he may have benefited from investigating them more thoroughly than he seems to have done here. As they say in Hollywood, though, "any publicity [for the church] is good publicity" (to add in a few words of my own) and the church may have actually benefited from this coverage despite these unflattering comments. As Brigham Young himself said, "you can never kick the church down, but only up" (a paraphrase there) and one can only hope that the coverage here will create more curiosity about the church than there would have been otherwise. (I invite any interested parties to go to, if they seek information about the church.)

Comments on the strengths of the series

Many parts of this series are much better than this. His treatment of the American immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is among the best I've seen (and he is an immigrant himself, as I noted earlier). His episode on the Civil War (and its roots in African American slavery) is as good a treatment as there can be in this short amount of time. I might have some minor quibbles about his coverage of the Great Depression - and a few other issues he discusses in this series - but I'm astonished that this series has as few goofs as it does. It's certainly possible that this series covered American history better than some Americans cover it, and his perception of what's important about this country is revealed in which topics he chooses to cover in his ten hours of the series. The American frontier, for example, is something that is quite different from Britain and its experience and the British fascination with Hollywood "Western" movies has long been a source of information for them about American culture - some of which is even accurate, I might add! And even on the topics where I disagree with him - like the American Revolution, for example - he gives an outside perspective that is sometimes needed, and that Americans would not be poorly served to learn about, even when they don't agree (or shouldn't agree). It is well that Britons and Americans can listen patiently to each other's perspectives most of the time, and even be the better for it - using our cultures' open-mindedness and curiosity about other ways of seeing the world.

Comments on the series closing

The series closing may merit some special commentary here, because it's one of the best that I've yet heard. He compares Americans to the Roman Empire in its decadent phases, and points out some similarities to the problems noted by Edward Gibbon in "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." (This is a famous work from 1776, which was written by an Englishman.) Despite these problems he notes, though, Alistair Cooke has optimism about the American future in his closing and his summation of where America is going in the future still rings true today, all these years later. Some of the problems have gotten worse (like the welfare state), while others of them have gotten better (like the opportunities for minorities). But the country still shows many of the signs of success that indicate a bright future and whatever my quibbles with him about the details of American history, his overall take on Americans rings true to me.

Conclusion: The pros outweigh the cons

So the pros of this series outweigh the cons for me, and this series would seem to stand the test of time. This may be the best television history of America that's ever been done so far, and its distinctive perspective on American history would seem to be worthwhile for Americans to listen to.

Footnote to this blog post:

The mother country recognized American independence with the following words: "His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, to be free sovereign and independent states, that he treats with them as such, and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof."

- The Treaty of Paris (1783), Article 1

Alistair Cooke’s Historic Letter From America (1946 – 2004) Now Online, Thanks to the BBC

Think of Masterpiece Theater and you might think of Downton Abbey, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, or even the Cookie Monster. But the man who really made the series famous was broadcaster Alistair Cooke, the series’ crisp, avuncular host. Seated in a leather chair, surrounded by bound volumes, Cooke introduced all of the great British programming brought to the States by WGBH—I, Claudius and Upstairs, Downstairs and The Six Wives of Henry VIII—and brought a cozy gravitas to American television.

Cooke died in 2004 and left a legacy as a broadcast essayist: Letter from America, a series of 15-minute radio pieces now collected into an extensive digital archive by BBC Radio 4. The essays aired weekly throughout the world for 58 years, beginning in 1946, sending Cooke’s slightly amused voice over the airwaves. He gave us his ex-pat take on everything from American holidays (including his personal involvement in making George Washington’s birthday a national holiday), to the ways American English varies from British English, to major events in American history.

Cooke captured America’s grief after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, but his eyewitness account of Bobby Kennedy’s death would become one of his most powerful reports. Cooke was in the lobby of the Ambassador Hotel when Kennedy was shot and used scratch paper to scribble down his impressions of the chaos.

He was brilliant at crafting character-driven stories about issues. His piece about John Lennon’s death (above) segued neatly into an exploration of gun violence in America. He reported on the suicide of actress Jean Seberg and used the obituary as an opportunity to discuss the excesses of FBI surveillance and witch-hunting.

Cooke wasn’t as good a writer as he was a reporter (view his original scripts in the Boston University archive) and he audibly sighs during some broadcasts, as if he is either tired or bored. But his point of view is priceless: an observant, charming outsider who fell in love with his adopted country, warts and all.

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Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Read more of her work at .

Alistair Cooke, Elegant Interpreter of America, Dies at 95

Alistair Cooke, the urbane and erudite British-born journalist who became a peerless observer of the American scene for more than 70 years, died at his home in Manhattan, the BBC said yesterday. He was 95.

A BBC spokesman said Mr. Cooke's daughter, Susan Cooke Kittredge, had contacted Mr. Cooke's biographer, a BBC reporter, Nick Clarke, to inform him of her father's death at midnight.

Mr. Cooke was widely known to American television audiences as the host of the pioneer cultural program ''Omnibus'' in the 1950's and later as the imperturbable and honey-voiced host of the long-running ''Masterpiece Theater'' on public television.

But his journalistic career went well beyond the television screen. A veteran foreign correspondent and a successful and prolific author, he was celebrated for his ''Letter From America,'' which the BBC broadcast weekly to more than 50 countries.

Begun in 1946, the series of 13-minute essays continued, with only an occasional break, for 58 years. This year, with Mr. Cooke in failing health, his doctors advised him to retire. His last letter, No. 2,869, an observation on the issues shaping the American presidential campaign, was broadcast on Feb. 20.

Mr. Cooke wrote his intentions for the program in a memo to the BBC in February 1946. ''It will be a weekly personal letter to a Briton by a fireside, I shall try to give a running commentary on topical aspects of American life, some of the intimate background to Washington policy, some profiles of important Americans. The stress will tend always to be on the springs of American life, whose bubbles are the headlines, rather than on the headlines themselves.''

The BBC liked the idea, and the first program went out on the network's Home Service on March 24 of that year. Writing in The Sunday Times of London on the 50th anniversary of that first broadcast, Paul Donovan said: 'ɺmazingly, almost nothing about the program has changed in half a century it still goes out on a Sunday, is still between 13 and 14 minutes long, is still composed on a manual typewriter and is still free, uniquely, from BBC editorial control.''

Mr. Cooke's weekly radio talks gained him a reputation as one of the most effective interpreters of the American way of life to the world. His observations were not only insightful but also gracefully written and often gently witty. Here he is on the defeat of the great middleweight boxer Sugar Ray Robinson at Madison Square Garden in 1962:

''When it was over, Sugar Ray flexed his calves for the last time and did a little hobbling dance over to embrace the victor, who was pink and sweaty and very happy, identifiable on the score card as Denny Moyer of Portland, Ore., but on closer inspection was that bearded figure with a scythe Sugar Ray had dreaded to meet.''

Mr. Cooke first gained a large American audience as the elegant host of ''Omnibus,'' the legendary magazine of the arts that appeared on all three major commercial networks over its lifetime, from 1952 to 1961. His long association with the public-television series ''Masterpiece Theater'' began in 1971. He was proud that he personally wrote the succinct and often highly informative introductions to those British-made television dramas.

John J. Oɼonnor, the chief television critic of The New York Times, once observed, ''The truly remarkable phenomenon for 'Masterpiece Theater' fans is how the memory of each of these productions is so firmly stamped with the personality of a single person: the soft-spoken fellow sitting with a book in his lap, looking up just long enough to tell us what it's all about.''

Mr. Oɼonnor, noting Mr. Cooke's urbanity and grace and his unique place in upscale television programming, summed up his career:

''Mr. Cooke became a distinctive television fixture, as immediately recognizable as Lucy Ricardo or Archie Bunker. The 'Masterpiece Theater' routine, with its armchair and, at midpoint, Mr. Cooke's swivel to a second studio camera, evolved into the irresistible stuff of parody. The sophisticated Mr. Cooke found himself fodder for 'Saturday Night Live.' Jackie Gleason turned him into Aristotle Cookie. 'Sesame Street' weighed in with Alistair Cookie (Monster). Harvey Korman came up with Alistair Quince, 'once more tippy-toeing into your living room.' ''

Mr. Cooke not only interpreted America to the world, but he also interpreted it to Americans. He supervised, helped write and then narrated 'ɺmerica,'' a 13-hour survey of American history that was presented on NBC. The series then became the basis for his best-selling book, 'ɺmerica: A Personal History of the United States.''

Provincial to Sophisticate

It was a tribute to Mr. Cooke's admiration for his adopted country that Congress chose him to give the keynote speech for its Bicentennial celebration in 1976.

For more than 50 years Mr. Cooke and his wife, the artist Jane White, divided their time between an apartment on Fifth Avenue, a summer home on the North Fork of Long Island and trips to London and San Francisco. An earlier marriage to Ruth Emerson ended in divorce.

Besides Ms. White, Mr. Cooke is survived by a son from his first marriage, John, in Wyoming a daughter from his second marriage, Ms. Kittredge, of Vermont a stepson, Stephen Hawkes, of California a stepdaughter, Frances, Lady Rumbold, of London 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Alistair Cooke was born Alfred Cooke in Salford, a suburb of Manchester, England, on Nov. 20, 1908. He legally added Alistair to his name as a college student, saying it had always been his nickname. His father was a metal craftsman and Methodist lay preacher who founded a mission in the Manchester slums. His mother came from an Irish family long settled in northern England.

The family moved to Blackpool, and it was there that Mr. Cooke's lifelong fascination with America and Americans began. A group of American soldiers was billeted in the Cooke home during World War I, and they were, he later recalled, ''inordinately kind and outgoing and quite devoid of the joylessness that, in my view, afflicted my own countrymen.''

He attended Blackpool Grammar School and won a scholarship to Cambridge University that was awarded to future teachers. At Jesus College, Cambridge, Mr. Cooke edited a literary magazine, put on plays and acted in them as a co-founder of the Cambridge Mummers, and pursued a rigorous social life. He was awarded a bachelor's degree summa cum laude in 1930 and an education diploma in 1931. It was at Cambridge that Alfred Cooke, with his pronounced accent of the north country and vague plans for a teacher's life, quietly disappeared. In his place appeared Alistair Cooke, campus dynamo and newly minted sophisticate, with the inflections of Mayfair and his eye on the main chance.

While still at Cambridge he began writing stage criticism and articles for Theater Arts Monthly, an American magazine. He was soon granted a Commonwealth Fund fellowship to study theater in the United States. He spent the 1932-33 academic year at the Yale School of Drama ''whipping down to New York to see all the plays and meeting literary types like Thornton Wilder and John Mason Brown.'' He also haunted the jazz clubs along 52nd Street in Manhattan where, as a talented pianist, he was occasionally allowed to sit in on jam sessions. He later recorded a jazz album for Columbia Records.

Mr. Cooke traveled extensively during his first summer in the United States. ''That trip was an absolute eye-opener for me,'' he said. 'ɾven then, even in the Depression, there was a tremendous energy and vitality to America. The landscape and the people were far more gripping and dramatic than anything I had ever seen. It truly changed me. You see, from then on my interest in the theater began to wane, and I began to take up what I felt was the real drama going on -- namely, America itself.''

The next year he was at Harvard, where a course in the history of the English language in America led him to H. L. Mencken, then winding up his career as the reigning American wit but still a respected authority on the American language. They corresponded, became friends and eventually colleagues.

It was that early exposure to Mencken, Mr. Cooke said, that eventually led him to newspaper work. He liked to quote Mencken's pungent observation that being a newspaper reporter was a chance to ''lay in all the worldly wisdom of a police lieutenant, a bartender, a shyster lawyer and a midwife.''

Under the terms of his Commonwealth Fund fellowship, Mr. Cooke was required to return to Britain for a time . In 1934, while still a graduate student in America, he read that the BBC had fired its film critic, Oliver Baldwin, the son of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. He raced back to London and got the job.

While reviewing films for the BBC, he took on an additional job with NBC, broadcasting a weekly ''London Letter'' back to the United States. He covered among other stories the abdication of Edward VIII and the Munich Pact. The program was a precursor to the ''Letter From America'' that he would begin a decade later and continue until just before his death. He even found time to write a critical biography, 'ɽouglas Fairbanks: The Making of a Screen Character,'' which was published in 1937 by the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 1937 after three years back in London, he returned to the United States for good, becoming a citizen in 1941. He settled in New York, where he continued to broadcast for the BBC and write freelance articles for various English newspapers and magazines. In 1945 The Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian) asked him to cover the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco.

In 1947 he became The Guardian's chief correspondent in the United States. He earned $500 a year and was told not to cable if a letter would serve. He stayed with the paper for another 26 years. One of his first Guardian assignments was reporting on the espionage investigation of the former State Department official Alger Hiss and the subsequent perjury trials that led to Mr. Hiss's conviction and imprisonment. Mr. Cooke turned his reporting into a best-selling book, 'ɺ Generation on Trial: U.S.A. vs. Alger Hiss'' (Knopf 1950). The New Yorker's reviewer, Richard Rovere, called it ''one of the most vivid and literate descriptions of an American political event that has ever been written.''

''Letter From America'' began in 1946 as a 13-week experiment. ''With the recent ending of Lend-Lease, England was broke,'' Mr. Cooke remembered in 1999. 'ɻut they extended the program for another 13 weeks and then 13 weeks again. I didn't think it would last 5 years, let alone 53.''

In the introduction to his book 'ɺmerica,'' Mr. Cooke gave some idea of the range of his essays. ''I covered everything from the public lives of six presidents to the private life of a burlesque stripper from the black market in beef to the Black Panthers, from the Marshall Plan to Planned Parenthood.''

He might have added Monica Lewinsky, whose relationship with Bill Clinton he explored at length. Alluding to the president, he wrote: ''Moral authority, as old man Aristotle pointed out 2,000 years ago, resides in a leader because he's a better than average character. Moral authority does not mean sexual behavior it means the capacity for being trusted, to have the people believe the word of the leader in many things and be ready to follow him when he judges what is the right thing to do.''

Among his many friends, Mr. Cooke counted Charles Chaplin Duke Ellington, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and newsmen as disparate as James Reston, Murray Kempton and Westbrook Pegler. One of his best-selling books, ''Six Men,'' was a collection of lengthy profiles of Chaplin, Bogart, Adlai E. Stevenson, Mencken, Edward VIII and Bertrand Russell. Over the years Mr. Cooke published more than a dozen books, many of them collections of his ''Letters.''

In an interview with The New York Times earlier this month, Mr. Cooke reminisced about his long career, especially ''Letter From America,'' and the discipline he imposed on it.

''I would pick my topic on Monday and spend the day researching it,'' he said. ''On Tuesday Iɽ type two or two and a half pages, all my arthritis would allow me. Iɽ type the rest, another three pages, on Wednesday, 1,700 words total -- 13 minutes 30 seconds air time.

''Then Iɽ beat the hell out of it, getting rid of all the adverbs, all the adjectives, all the hackneyed words. Do you know what Mark Twain said about the perfect word? The difference between a perfect word and a near-perfect word is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.''

Alistair Cooke


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"May you live an interesting life." --Old Chinese curse. I have zero doubt Cooke worked for MI5 and 6. Nobody ever brings it up, but some right-wing Brits were not happy about America's "special relationship" with IRELAND. And these are the same MI5/6 hawks who apparently spied on and possibly tried to "nobble" Harold Wilson. Let me mention a couple of other things, first:

England is NOT a "democracy." They do NOT have the same freedoms of speech and press we have here. For all our faults, we usually get the truth about our own government out one way or the other. They pretend to, but they don't. Some really, really huge coverups: A. One of Winston Churchill's closest friends sold the Japs DETAILED information about how to attack Singapore by land, how to sink specific, individual Royal Navy ships, etc. B. The Duke of Windsor and his wife were straight up Nazis who conspired with Hitler to overthrow the Churchill government. They laundered MILLIONS (back when that was a lot of money) in British pounds and Nazi gold DURING THE WAR. The FBI repeatedly warned MI5, but nothing was done, and it was covered up for decades. C. Hell, during the American War of Independence, half the British cabinet were selling arms, ammunition, and other vital war supplies to the Patriots. D. Etc, etc, etc.

So, what? Well, for obvious reasons, the US government has always been friendlier with Ireland than with with England. Only direct pressure from America kept Ireland from allying with and cooperating with Nazi Germany. After the war, of course, America just basically took over as much of the old British Empire was we wanted, infuriating lots of members of the right-wing British establishment. And remember, in Britain, the government really IS a "deep state," with Parliament sloooooooowwwly making inroads over the centuries. So, when the Kennedy's so publicly embraced Ireland right when Britain was trying to crush Ireland once and for all, plenty of British establishment types were LIVID. And Alistair Cooke was one of them. He spied on FDR for MI5/6. Would the entire British government seriously contemplate the assassination of an American President? Don't be silly. Would certain people, deeply embedded in the British Deep State, like, say, oh, MI5/6, take a shot (har!) at doing to the Kennedy's what the OAS tried to do to de Gaulle? Why not? They apparently tried to do it to their own PM.

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Alistair Cooke American Journalist

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American Journalist Alistair Cooke was born Alfred Alistair Cooke on 20th November, 1908 in Salford, Lancashire, England, UK and passed away on 30th Mar 2004 New York City, New York, USA aged 95. He is most remembered for PBS Masterpiece Theater and BBC Radio 4's Letter from America. His zodiac sign is Scorpio.


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First Name Alistair
Last Name Cooke
Full Name at Birth Alfred Alistair Cooke
Alternative Name Alistair Cooke KBE, Alistair Cooke`s America, Alfred Cooke, Sir Alistair Cooke, “The Alistair Cooke Suite”, “Alistair Beagle”
Age 95 (age at death) years
Birthday 20th November, 1908
Birthplace Salford, Lancashire, England, UK
Died 30th March, 2004
Place of Death New York City, New York, USA
Cause of Death Lung And Bone Cancer
Buried New York's Central Park, New York City, USA
Build Slim
Eye Color Blue
Hair Color Brown - Dark
Distinctive Feature British (until 1941) American (from 1941), when he was 33 years old. His Times of London obituary called him a "proto-type mid-Atlantic man: perceived in Britain as the best sort of sophisticated American and in the United States as the very model of an English gentleman". Born Alfred Alistair Cooke, he used his middle name as his first name from 1930, when he was 22 years old. His father was a Methodist lay preacher and metalsmith of Northern English origin his mother's family were of Irish Protestant origin. Retired at age 95 from hosting ''Letter from America'', on BBC World Service, only because of failing health. Shortly after his death it was discovered that some of his bones had been removed before his body was passed to his family for cremation. Police investigating an illegal trade in bones, used for transplants and sold for thousands of dollars, found that his body was one of many which had been desecrated a New York mortuary. Best known for his lively and insightful interpretations of American history and culture. Had a brief period as a Hollywood scriptwriter. He was an excellent piano player. His elaborate ''Masterpiece Theatre'' introductions became legendary and were parodied by Saturday Night Live and Sesame Street amongst others.
Zodiac Sign Scorpio
Sexuality Straight
Ethnicity White
Nationality American
High School Blackpool Grammar School (Blackpool, Lancashire)
University Jesus College, Cambridge (2:1 BA degree, English,1930), Yale University (1932–33), Harvard University (1933–34)
Occupation Text British/American journalist, writer, television personality and radio broadcaster
Occupation Journalist
Claim to Fame PBS Masterpiece Theater and BBC Radio 4's Letter from America
Music Genre (Text) Biography, Film Criticism, American culture, Film Scriptwriting, American history, British culture
Year(s) Active 1946 - 2004 (radio host: ''Letter from America'' on BBC World Service), 1956 - 1961 (tv host: ''Omnibus'' on BBC TV), 1972 - 1973 (tv host: ''America'' on BBC TV / NBC), 1971 - 1992 (tv host: ''Masterpiece Theatre'' on PBS), 1952 - 1959 (tv host: ''Omnibus'' on all three major US commercial networks)
Instrument (text) Piano
Record Label PBS, BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service, NBC, The Times of London (newspaper), The Manchester Guardian (newspaper), Knopf (book publisher), Granta magazine
Pets Charlie Chaplin, William F. Buckley, Jr., Adlai Stevenson
Favorite People Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Robert Cameron, Bing Crosby, Groucho Marx, H. L. Mencken (Baltimore Sun journalist), Bobby Jones (golfer), Joe Louis (boxer)
Favorite Places Manhattan, New York, Plymouth Rock, Plymouth, Massachusetts, The Grand Canyon

Alistair Cooke KBE (20 November 1908 – 30 March 2004) was a British-born American writer whose work as a journalist, television personality and radio broadcaster was done primarily in the United States. Outside his journalistic output, which included Letter from America and America: A Personal History of the United States, he was well known in the United States as the host of PBS Masterpiece Theatre from 1971 to 1992. After holding the job for 22 years, and having worked in television for Cooke retired in 1992, although he continued to present Letter from America until shortly before his death. He was the father of author and folk singer John Byrne Cooke.

'Masterpiece Theatre' Host Alistair Cooke Dies at 95

Alistair Cooke, 95, the ultra-civilized, silver-haired British broadcaster best known to American audiences as the host of "Masterpiece Theatre," died March 30 at his home in New York. He had heart disease, an ailment that recently led him to leave his 58-year career hosting the weekly "Letter from America" radio series for the British Broadcasting Corp.

In many ways a traditional Englishman -- the rich, clipped voice the dry, WASPish wit the dapper, avuncular appearance -- Mr. Cooke had an insatiable appetite for American culture. He was not condescending in his radio reports and instead found fun ways to explain what he considered the "vitality" of American literature, politics and daily life.

His longevity and sterling public reputation brought him wide recognition in popular culture. He sometimes was lampooned, notably on "Sesame Street," where the Cookie Monster puppet became the erudite Alistair Cookie of "Monsterpiece Theatre."

To many, Mr. Cooke was an American institution.

"He has defined what public television was and is for so many people that it is difficult to imagine life without him," Christopher Sarson, the original executive producer of "Masterpiece Theatre," once said.

That series, for which Mr. Cooke acted as master of ceremonies from 1971 to 1992, was an English drama import that ran on public television. He wrote insightful and amusing introductions to the program's featured adaptations, notably "Upstairs Downstairs," "I, Claudius" and "The Jewel in the Crown."

For the latter show, he told audiences, "As empires go," the British empire was "a wink in the eye of history."

Because of his work on "Masterpiece Theatre," he received a 1975 Emmy Award for special classification of outstanding program. It was one of several top industry awards he received.

Mr. Cooke became a familiar fixture to American audiences in the 1950s as host of the network television program "Omnibus," a much-honored show that aired news documentaries and literary adaptations. He narrated the BBC-produced series "America: A Personal History of the United States" in 1972 and 1973. The program, a wise and witty exploration of American culture and history, won four Emmy Awards and provided the basis for his best-selling written account, "Alistair Cooke's America" (1973).

"Letter from America," his BBC radio program, was supposed to last 13 weeks when it debuted in 1946 to give English listeners a reprieve from wartime news. Instead, it continued almost until Mr. Cooke's death. He gave lively accounts of daily living.

Mr. Cooke once described his radio program this way: "Just about American children or the history of ice cream or why the maples go scarlet in the fall and the oaks go yellow. Anything, all the things, the byways and whatnot. . . . I love the business of playing over the air. To me, it's literature for blind men."

Alfred Alistair Cooke was born in Salford, near Manchester in northern England, where his father was a lay preacher who founded a mission that provided aid to slum districts. As a child, Mr. Cooke, who did not enjoy church attendance, was permitted to stay home and pore over the newspapers instead of the Bible. He once said his youthful ambition was to be some combination of Noel Coward and Eugene O'Neill.

At Cambridge University, he had two key influences: Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor of the "Oxford Book of English Verse," who told him the keys to clear writing and the historian D.W. Brogan, who dazzled him with brilliant political allusions that he melded with contemporary culture, such as references to Cole Porter lyrics.

Mr. Cooke went on to edit the campus literary journal and helped start a drama group. He graduated summa cum laude in 1930 and began contributing articles and reviews to the American theater publication Theatre Arts Monthly.

Not long after, he won a prestigious fellowship to study drama in the United States. He received an audience with Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, who was reported to have sized up the tall, handsome Mr. Cooke with the statement, "My God, my brother!"

He researched drama at Yale and Harvard universities but mostly enjoyed the experience outside the classroom, such as sitting in on the piano at jazz clubs.

Traveling across the country during the Depression, he decided that a career in theater was too narrow a focus. "I began to take up what I felt was the real drama going on -- namely America itself," he said decades later.

He went to Hollywood and impressed fellow Briton Charlie Chaplin with his good looks and bearing. They worked on an unproduced movie script about Napoleon. The project went nowhere, and Mr. Cooke's fellowship required he return to England to put his learning to use there.

Professionally, it was a fine time to return. The BBC film critic had been fired, and Mr. Cooke got the job. He also began his book-writing career, including a study about silent film era idol Douglas Fairbanks.

He returned to the United States in 1938 as a BBC commentator. He said it was far from an elite position. Pre-World War II America, he said, was viewed by many Europeans as "rather uncivilized and unexciting." He tried to reverse that notion with stories about Mark Twain, the American vernacular and popular music. He became a U.S. citizen in 1941.

In the mid-1940s, he began a nearly three-decade career as a top American correspondent for the Manchester Guardian (now called the Guardian), covering in those early days the formation of the United Nations and the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings.

The search for Communist subversion elevated the career of then-Rep. Richard M. Nixon (R-Calif.) and led to the downfall of many prominent government workers, including Alger Hiss, a ranking State Department official involved in a spying case. Mr. Cooke wrote "Generation on Trial: U.S.A. vs. Alger Hiss" (1950), which the journalist and political observer Richard Rovere called "one of the most vivid and literate descriptions of an American political event that has ever been written."

Mr. Cooke considered himself a journalist above all else, and despite some political friendships, notably with two-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai E. Stevenson, he had a strong sense of objectivity. He learned an early lesson on the danger of offering journalistic analysis when he all but declared the defeat of President Harry S. Truman in the 1948 race in a major story for the Guardian.

Meanwhile, Mr. Cooke's work on "Letter From America" brought him the Peabody Award for international reporting in 1952. That led to his job hosting "Omnibus" from 1952 to 1961 on a series of major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC.

During the 1950s, he also appeared on "An Evening With Alistair Cooke," an album that showcased his skills as a musician and entertainer made a study for the BBC on songwriter George Gershwin, a favorite of his and provided narration to "The Three Faces of Eve" (1957), the film for which Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award for playing a woman with multiple personalities.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Cooke remained England's preeminent chronicler of American life. He covered such sporting events as the rise of Muhammad Ali and the great tragedies of the time, including the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy.

He was energetic and constantly roving, which brought him great perspective but left his newsroom bosses exasperated. The Guardian wrote an editorial in 1968 about its chief correspondent, saying that the readers got the "best of him" -- "because his pieces will often contain a sentence or a phrase which will crystallize a torrent of acts or a cascade of opinion."

The paper noted: "Cooke is a nuisance. He telephones his copy at the last moment, so that everything else has to be dropped to get it into the paper. He says that he will be in Chicago and turns up in Los Angeles. He discards the agreed subject to write about something which has taken his fancy, news of the moment or not. But we think he's worth it, and we love him just the same."

One of his greatest accomplishments in broadcasting was the 13-installment "America" series, for which he traveled 100,000 miles reporting on such topics as the treatment of Native Americans, the influence of French and Spanish culture, the Constitution, the Civil War, the Jazz Age and the counterculture period. The series became a hit and a staple of library collections nationwide.

The series and the ensuing book version made him independently wealthy. He then went about his next project, "Masterpiece Theatre," which began after WGBH, a public television station in Boston, bought the rights to British television shows.

Mr. Cooke wrote several more books, including "Six Men" (1977), sketches about some of his closest associates over the years: the dyspeptic journalist H.L. Mencken, philosopher Bertrand Russell, Edward VIII, Stevenson and actors Chaplin and Humphrey Bogart.

Over time, Mr. Cooke was viewed less as a journalist and more as a historian. Lecturing to a women's club in Washington in 1973, he was reported to have surveyed American history from Pocahontas to Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman "in 40 seconds flat."

His marriage to Ruth Emerson Cooke ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife, Jane Hawkes Cooke, whom he married in 1946 a son from his first marriage a daughter from his second marriage and two stepchildren.

Broadcaster Alistair Cooke hosted the weekly "Letter from America" radio series for the British Broadcasting Corp. for 58 years.

Watch the video: Alistair Cooke on Bing Crosby and Groucho Marx. (June 2022).


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