Alistair Cooke, Veteran Broadcaster, Dies at 95

posted 2004-03-30 10:37:51 by stevemay

LONDON, England -- Veteran broadcaster Alistair Cooke has died at age 95, less than a month after recording his last "Letter from America."

A spokesman for the BBC said Tuesday that Cooke, who was credited with improving trans-Atlantic understanding for more than half a century, died at midnight at his home in New York.

The English-born broadcaster retired earlier in March after 58 years following advice from doctors. He was famous throughout the world for his weekly broadcast on BBC World Service and in Britain on Radio 4.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has led tributes to Cooke, telling the BBC: "I was a big fan. I thought they were extraordinary essays and they brought an enormous amount of insight and understanding to the world.

"He was really one of the greatest broadcasters of all time, and we shall feel his loss very, very keenly indeed.

"He was a remarkable man who was broadcasting the 'Letter from America' right up to a few weeks ago. He will be deeply, deeply missed."

Cooke, who had missed only three broadcasts in about 3,000 programs, thanked his listeners for their loyalty after announcing his retirement.

"I can no longer continue my 'Letter from America,'" Cooke said.

"Throughout 58 years I have had much enjoyment in doing these talks and hope that some of it has passed over to the listeners, to all of whom I now say thank you for your loyalty and goodbye."

Millions of listeners across the world tuned in for Cooke's weekly observations of life in America since his show began in 1946.

Cooke was perhaps best known for "Alistair Cooke's America," a BBC series aired around the world, and as host of the PBS series "Masterpiece Theatre" in the United States for 22 years.

Born Alfred Cooke in 1908 and raised in a boarding house in Blackpool, England, he changed his name to Alistair after graduating from Cambridge University with an honors degree in English.

He joined the BBC in 1934 as a film critic.

"Letter from America" -- said to be the world's longest-running radio speech program -- was originally intended to last only 13 weeks.