Alistair Cooke

Alistair Cooke

95 (passed away Mar. 30th, 2004)
Nov. 20th, 1908
Born in
Salford, Lancashire, England, UK

Alistair Cooke's Main TV Roles

Show Character(s)
Omnibus TV Show

Main Movie Roles

Guest TV Roles

[none found]


British-born American journalist and broadcaster. Cooke was born in Salford, Manchester: his father was an iron-fitter and Methodist lay-preacher. He grew up in Blackpool where his parents ran a guest house. Here he first came into contact with Americans, in the form of GIs on their way to fight in World War One. He won a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he studied English. A fellowship from the Commonwealth Fund subsequently enabled him to study theatre at Yale and Harvard for two years. In 1934 he got his first broadcasting job, as a film critic for the BBC, but soon returned to the States and in 1941 became a US citizen. For a time he worked as a freelance journalist for The Times, reporting from New York. Then in 1945 he joined The Guardian as its US correspondent, a position he held until 1972. His first job was to cover the creation of the United Nations. In March 1946 he began a radio programme for the BBC called "American Letter". This was a series of 15-minute broadcasts in which he tried to give an impression of life in America. Cooke was warned by the producer that this would last no longer than 26 weeks: in the event, as "Letter from America", it lasted for 58 years, becoming the world's longest-running speech radio programme. Cooke made in total 2869 broadcasts, mostly from his 15th-floor flat on Fifth Avenue overlooking Central Park. Memorable broadcasts included his eyewitness account of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. He also broadcast on American TV, presenting "Omnibus" in the 1950s and from 1971 to 1993 presenting British programmes to American viewers for PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" series. A much-respected figure on both sides of the Atlantic, he was granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973, and addressed Congress as part of the bicentennial celebrations. At the age of 95, having been forced to miss a broadcast due to his increasing ill-health, Cooke decided to end "Letter from America" (having in the past made 16 broadcasts from a hospital bed). The last programme was transmitted on 2nd March 2004 and he died less than a month later.

  • Shortly after his death it was discovered that some of his bones had been removed before his body was passed to his family for cremation. Police investigating an illegal trade in bones, used for transplants and sold for thousands of dollars, found that his body was one of many which had been desecrated in the mortuary. His ashes were scattered in New York's Central Park.
  • A naturalised US citizen, he was awarded an honorary knighthood in 1973.
  • Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume 7, 2003-2005, pages 95-97. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007.
  • His "Letter from America" began its thirteen week run on 24 March 1946. It ended after 2869 letters in March 2004, weeks before Cooke's death.
  • A memorial service was held for him at London's Westminster Abbey on 15th October 2004.
  • Father of 'Susan Cooke Kittredge' (qv) from his marriage to Jane White Hawkes.
  • Became a U.S. Citizen in 1941.
  • He was spoofed on Sesame Street by Cookie Monster who was Alistair Cookie.

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