March 31, 2004


Alistair Cooke, who retired only weeks ago, has died at 95.

UPDATE. Mark Steyn posts a 1996 Cooke profile, and Scott Burgess remembers a favourite Cooke line:

Nothing dies harder among the intelligentsia, among writers especially, than the quiet notion that they have a superior understanding of the art of politics.

Posted by Tim Blair at March 31, 2004 12:52 AM

Back in 1988, when I was living in Berlin with very little money, one of my simple joys was listening to Alistair Cooke's Letter from America. Sitting in my cold apartment with a cup of hot coffee, I followed closely his commentary, always interesting and soothing in its own way.

Amazing how long he worked!

I, for one, will miss his thoughts and observations.


Posted by: Jeffrey -- New York at March 31, 2004 at 01:01 AM

Bummer. He was a good guy.

Posted by: Just Some Guy at March 31, 2004 at 01:45 AM

Never underestimate how much of America's perception of the British - urbane, educated, well-spoken - derive mainly from Alistair Cooke's presence on Masterpiece Theatre. He was a one-man cultural education program.

Too bad... though, frankly, making it to 95 ain't bad.

Posted by: Percy Dovetonsils at March 31, 2004 at 02:10 AM

In 1956, before doing my mandatory national service as an airborne trained killer, I took a job in England writing for a bi-weekly newspaper in the West Midlands. Wanting to learn how to do English crossword puzzles, I began buying the (then) Manchester Guardian and there, lo and behold, encountered the great man - Alistair Cooke.

The first thing I read of his was a long and absolutely accurate account of the U.S. presidential electoral process written for the English reader. It was a model of well-written, direct reporting and I became, instantly, a fan forever.

A perceptive and elequent man: he will be greatly missed. RIP, Alistair. Good night.

Posted by: Theodopoulos Pherecydes at March 31, 2004 at 03:12 AM

I meant "eloquent", of coarse.

Posted by: Theodopoulos Pherecydes at March 31, 2004 at 03:14 AM

Jeffrey - i had the same experience in the very same city starting in 1982. Ever since I found that the best reason to tune in on my shortwave and listen to the Beeb. Lately, it seems that Cook was the only reason.
I know it sounds like a gush, but it's as though I lost a friend of 20 years.
I'll miss his dignified way and his wonderful letters forever. What I will miss most will be the clear way which he looked at the world - unencumbered by passing nonsense.

Posted by: Joe at March 31, 2004 at 04:12 AM

I not listen to the Letter from America broadcasts, but I read his writings with great pleasure. His book Six Men is well worth reading. It portrays of six men whom Cooke encountered in his life. If I recall correctly, they included Bertrand Russell, the Duke of Windsor, Charlie Chaplin, and H. L. Mencken - such was the range of Cooke's circle of acquaintances. Cooke's description of H. L. Mencken covering the Progressive Party convention of 1948 is priceless, especially how Mencken coaxed Henry Wallace to admit that he had written fan letters to Madame Blavatsky in his youth. Cooke was a fine writer and a gentleman in the truest sense of the word; the world is poorer without him.

Posted by: Brown Line at March 31, 2004 at 04:40 AM

A world without Cookie is a poorer world. Thanks mate, you done real good.

Posted by: jafa at March 31, 2004 at 04:51 AM

A truly great broadcaster who painted the pictures with words. Always amazed me that he lived in the States for all those decades and never aquired the hint of an American accent. And that voice! Sounded like Jack Daniels with a good Havana!

Posted by: Kate at March 31, 2004 at 06:54 AM

Not much I can add to the above. He'll be missed. Bummer.

Posted by: Keith at March 31, 2004 at 08:01 AM

And Peter Ustinov too - at school - showed enormous originality, which had to be curbed at all cost.

Posted by: Louis at March 31, 2004 at 08:02 AM

It's a real shame. His letters revealed a lot about America, cutting through all too common stereotypes.

Like some of the best bloggers, ordinary life in a different culture suddenly became more comprehensible and relevant.

The BBC especially needed his voice to stand up to the prevailing anti-american bias found in most of its stories.

Posted by: Woko at March 31, 2004 at 09:29 AM

Ironic, considering Cooke was a card carrying member of the intelligentsia.

Posted by: Miranda Divide at March 31, 2004 at 11:05 AM

Thanks for the customary dose of compassion and grace, Miranda.

Posted by: Sortelli at March 31, 2004 at 11:42 AM

RIP Mr Cooke. Sorely missed.

Posted by: James Hamilton at March 31, 2004 at 11:58 AM

The intelligentsia have cards now? They think of everything!

Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 31, 2004 at 01:51 PM

Alistair Cooke's Letter From America was the first blog.
The Internet didn't exist in 1948, so he had to do it by radio. But what is LFA but a series of weekly blog posts, sometimes political, sometimes personal, sometimes on Golf or Tennis?

Sadly Missed.

Posted by: Alan E Brain at March 31, 2004 at 03:16 PM

Don't worry Miranda, just think forward to the day when you die alone...unloved.


Posted by: Quentin George at March 31, 2004 at 06:57 PM

Miranda, you are a fine example of the swine who believe they can make up for their own utter lack of character by mouthing platitudes.

Crawl back to your bitchy little friends, and don't worry what they say about you behind your back.

Posted by: John Nowak at April 1, 2004 at 01:22 AM