Alas, our students now are too young to remember Alistair Cooke’s hosting of “Masterpiece Theater” on PBS, and of course, back then the BBC America service — if it existed — was available only to shortwave fanatics or people who traveled a lot to the British Isles.
Perhaps more than anyone else other than Winston Churchill, and maybe the Beatles, Alistair Cooke tied England and America together tightly in the 20th century. BBC’s other writers are good to brilliant, but even their obituary for Cooke (March 30, 2004) doesn’t quite do him justice:
For more than half a century, Alistair Cooke’s weekly broadcasts of Letter from America for BBC radio monitored the pulse of life in the United States and relayed its strengths and weaknesses to 50 countries.
His retirement from the show earlier this month after 58 years, due to ill health, brought a flood of tributes for his huge contributing to broadcasting.
Perhaps for Cooke, from Cooke’s broadcasts, we could develop a new variation of the Advanced Placement document-based question: Broadcast-based questions. Heaven knows his Letter From America provided profound material on American history:
- Cooke’s comments on the first U.S. manned orbital space flight, by John Glenn (later senator from Ohio) – February 1962
- Cooke’s account of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, which he witnessed – June 1968
- Cooke on Watergate and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon – August 1974
- AP English? Cooke on Shaw’s observation that the US and the UK are “two nations divided by a common language” – a 1998 Letter on differences in language in the two nations