POSTEDMarch 27, 2004
Last week BBC commentator, 95-year-old Alistair Cooke, ended his weekly radio program and I, for one, will surely miss him.
Though you may have never heard it, each week nestled in the post 10 p.m. realm of Dallas’ public radio 90.1 KERA, Cooke doled out 10 minutes of heartfelt commentary, sometimes on politics, sometimes on culture, sometimes on the weather, from his apartment aloft the streets of New York City.
Cooke is the last of an epoch, the last of a certain breed of journalist. He represented the quintessential British gentleman in America – always quick with his please and thank yous and quick with wit in a way that only a Brit can.
I looked forward to the way he rumbled over the letters in the word “America,” letting each consonant slip from his almost century old mouth. I looked forward to things from his point of view.
Cooke’s review wasn’t a headline run-down or a political side-swipe. It was, quite literally, whatever popped into his mind for the day: a personal reflection on the new design for a train station, an observation of the Madness in March or a good old-fashioned war story.
In his 50 years behind the mic, Cooke helped to affect the way the BBC approached its broadcast by making it more real, more imbued with humanity, more about reading and telling a story.
For therein lies Cooke’s mastery: the timing of his address, the thoughtful velocity, that magic quality that made me sit back from my homework and just listen. Listening to his “Letter from America” was like sitting on your grandfather’s knee, listening to stories from a wiser era by a wiser people. It’s an intangible that Maureen Dowd or Thomas Friedman simply cannot compete with.
Last year, from the confines of my mosquito-net-covered bed in Central Uganda, far from electricity or traffic or running water, Cooke’s weekly address marked something of a milestone. It was a sort of reward for making it through another set of lessons, another week of moldy food and another week closer to going home.
I admit I took it largely for granted. For, in the same way I miss Uganda now that I am back in Dallas, so too will I miss the BBC politely informing me that “Alistair Cooke’s ‘Letter from America’ is coming up at 1640 GMT.”