Birth Date: November 20, 1908
Birth Place: Salford, Greater Manchester, England, UK
Date of Death: March 30, 2004 / Age: 95
Location of Death: New York, New York, USA
Biography: Alistair Cooke (November 20, 1908 – March 30, 2004) was a journalist and broadcaster. Born in England, he became a naturalized American citizen, and lived in New York City with his family for most of his adult life.
Born in Salford, Greater Manchester, England, as Alfred Cooke, he legally added the name "Alistair" at age 22. He was educated at Blackpool Grammar School and was awarded a scholarship to study at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he gained a first-class honours degree in English. As a graduate student, he went to Yale University and Harvard University in the United States for two years on a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship.
In 1935, back in England, Cooke became a film critic for the BBC and London correspondent for NBC. Each week, he recorded a 15-minute talk for American listeners on life in Britain, under the series title of London Letter.
Cooke returned to America in 1937, this time for good: he became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1941.
Shortly after emigrating, Cooke suggested to the BBC the idea of doing the London Letter in reverse: a 15-minute talk for British listeners on life in America. A prototype, Mainly About Manhattan, was broadcast intermittently from 1938, but the idea was shelved with the outbreak of World War II in 1939. The first American Letter was broadcast on March 24, 1946; initially confirmed for only 13 instalments, the series finally came to an end 58 years and 2,869 instalments later in March 2004. Along the way, it picked up a new name (changing from American Letter to Letter From America in 1950) and an enormous audience, being broadcast not only in Britain and in many other Commonwealth countries, but throughout the world by the BBC World Service. In 1991, Alistair Cooke received a special BAFTA silver award for his contribution to Anglo American relations.
In 1947, Cooke became a foreign correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, for which he wrote until 1972. (It was, incidentally, the first time he had been employed as a staff reporter; all his previous work had been freelance.) He has also served as foreign correspondent for The Times.
In 1968, he was yards away from Robert F. Kennedy when he was assassinated, and was a witness to the events that followed.
In 1971, Cooke became the presenter of the new Masterpiece Theatre, PBS's showcase of quality British television. He remained presenter for another 22 years, retiring from the role in 1992. He was a well-known figure in this role, and was the subject of many parodies, including "Alistair Cookie" in Sesame Street’s "Monsterpiece Theater" and, arguably, Leonard Pinth-Garnell in Saturday Night Live’s "Bad Conceptual Theater" etc.
In 1973 Alistair Cooke was awarded an honorary knighthood (KBE). However, he could not be called "Sir Alistair" since he had relinquished his British citizenship.
Alistair Cooke's America, a 13-part television series about the United States and its history, was first broadcast in both Britain and the US in 1973, and was followed by a book of the same title. It was a great success in both countries, and resulted in Cooke being invited to address the joint Houses of the United States Congress as part of Congress's bicentennial celebrations. Alistair Cooke said that, of all his work, Alistair Cooke's America was what he was most proud of; it is the result and expression of his long love of America. (Cooke was once asked how long it took him to make the series. "I do not want to be coy," he replied, "but it took 40 years.")
On March 2, 2004, following advice from his doctors, Cooke announced his retirement from Letter From America - after 58 years, the longest-running speech radio show in the world.
Cooke died at midnight on March 30, 2004 at his home in New York City of congestive heart failure. He had been ill with heart disease for some time.