Alistair Cooke
[ Issue 16 ]

Emily Bronto is definitely one of Alistair Cooke’s many fans

Bikwil celebrates Alistair Cooke

Alistair Cooke

In Issue 16's Web Line Tony Rogers examines a Web site relating to Anglo-American broadcaster Alistair Cooke.

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Web Line — Tony Rogers


In my Transatlantic Messages in the fourth issue of Bikwil (November 1997), I see I was considering the hopeful prospect that a year from then we would see the celebration of the ninetieth birthday of veteran BBC commentator Alistair Cooke.

Happy, indeed, are they whose wishes come true, and for once I can be counted among their number. For Cooke, pacemaker and all, is now in his tenth decade and in fact is still going strong with his Letter from America, the longest-running radio show in history. (On the weekend of his 90th birthday week — 20-22 November 1998 — Cooke delivered his two thousand-five-hundred-and- ninety-seventh Letter.)

I have mentioned before in this column my regular visits to ABC Radio National’s web site. A call in there recently revealed a new link — click on Letter from America and you get taken to the BBC’s site. And guess what? The latter provides transcripts of the 20 most recent broadcasts of Cooke’s programme.

More relevant here is the amount of space (under the heading Ninety Years Young) the Beeb have been giving to the birthday of this doyen of foreign correspondents.

Topics covered are:

How it all began

What makes him tick

Classic letter 1968 (Cooke was actually there, on the other side of those swinging pantry doors, when Robert Kennedy was assassinated, and his programme, Bad Night in Los Angeles, is reproduced in full)

Alistair Cooke Q&A.

Particularly poignant are the scores of heartfelt messages from ordinary listeners around the globe — Botswana, Chile, France, Glasgow, Illinois, New Zealand, Nottingham, Oregon, Singapore, South Australia . . .

There is even an audio-visual tribute you can hear and watch.

And what does Cooke talk about in that historic programme no. 2597? He calls it Indelible Memories on This Special Occasion, and he begins by responding to the invitation to reminisce about some “particular talks that stayed in the memory” with these words:

… the talks that are most easily recalled by me are ones that surprised me by the numbers of people who felt moved to respond . . . Perhaps it’s a good idea . . . to retell the gist of one or two . . . since the swishing of that scythe at my back suggests that maybe while there’s any memory left I should tap it.

He then proceeds to recall and summarise The Summer Bachelor (1950) and Alcatraz (1959), and concludes with the story that produced “far and away, the largest mail, from all sorts of people of every class and country”. None other than A Baby Is Missing (1950).

Nor by chance is it that these three Letters are all on that double BBC cassette set I referred to in Bikwil No. 4.

Which reminds me.

Firstly: the ABC Shops now have available a second BBC cassette compilation of Cooke’s Letters. It covers the 1970s. These 16 talks include:

The Charm of China (1972)

Earl Warren (1974)

The Benefits of Clergy (1975)

Please Die before Noon (1978).

Secondly: a biography of Alistair Cooke has been written by Nick Clarke of BBC Radio 4. With any luck, it should have appeared by the time you are reading this. (And, like Don Bradman, Cooke will have had his 91st birthday.)

If you haven’t yet experienced Alistair Cooke, I trust that in this and the earlier column I have given you a taste of what you’ve been missing. Seek him out. You will not be disappointed.

Radio National, Sydney:

11.45 am Tuesdays,

1.45 and 7.10 pm Sundays.

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