Masterpiece Funeral (Alistair Cooke, 1908-2004)

(1010 WINS) (NEW YORK) (London) – Alistair Cooke, the broadcaster who epitomized highbrow television as host of Masterpiece Theater'' and whose Letter from America’’ was a radio fixture in Britain for 58 years, has died. He was 95. Letter from America,'' which was carried on the BBC World Service and on Radio Four in Britain, started in 1946, and was originally scheduled to run 13 weeks. The BBC announced Cooke's retirement on March Second. Born Alfred Cooke in Salford in northern England in 1908, he earned an honors degree in English from Cambridge University. In 1932 he came to the United States to study at Yale University. He was host of the Omnibus’’ television program in the United States from 1952 to 1961, and presented ``Masterpiece Theater’’ on the PBS network from 1971 to 1992. He received four Emmy awards, three George Foster Peabody awards for broadcasting, and he was made an honorary Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire. It was an honorary award because Cooke, the consummate Englishman, had become a U-S citizen in 1941.

Such a huge loss, especially in the same week as Peter Ustinov.

I read that Cooke’s biographer was worried about him when he was forced to retire 3 weeks ago, because he felt without his work he would fade fast.

His passing leaves a hole in the world.

And another goes to the great broadcasting house in the sky. He had a good innings and gave great pleasure to many. RIP Sir Alastair.

He always struck me as someone you’d like to sit next to on a park bench. What a wonderful contribution he’s made to civility.


to us [UK] he sounded entirely American. There wasn’t a trace of England left in his voice at all. It was some years before I realised he was English

That’s funny, because to me he sounded like The Perfect BBC Brit. How our ears are attuned!

Best. Headline. Ever.

Dopers of a Certain Age may remember ** Alistair Cooke’s America**. Wonderful, fascinating history of the US; I still have the companion book.

I listened to his weekly “Letter from America” on BBC World Service every once in a while, and they were always a pleasure. He never talked down to his listeners, and even though you knew he was rambling on and on for the 13 minutes alloted to him, he still managed to sound wonderfully interesting.

You can read them here: BBC Radio 4 - Letter from America by Alistair Cooke

Get comfortable, because once you start reading them, you won’t be going anywhere! :slight_smile:

Alistair Cooke’s America I have never understood why this series in not on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD. or just being rerun somewhere.

Laserdisc? Wow…do people even have them anymore?

I always felt oddly “comforted” when I listened to Alistar Cooke. He had a way of speaking that made almost any topic seem to be of urgent importance and of great interest.

How sad. I loved hearing his voice. :frowning:

I remember him on the Omnibus program, brought to you by “Al-you-min-ee-um Limited” by way of a Crosley 9 inch set. I remember something about a TV camera following him through an examination at the Mayo Clinic where he explained to the radiologist that the scars on his lungs were from TB contracted as a child from raw milk.

He seemed like the kindest man you could ever hope to meet, quiet, erudite, urbane with an understated but lively sense of humor. We would all be lucky if people we never met could think as well of us as we seem to think of this man we only ever met at the remove imposed by broadcast medium. My childhood is rapidly slipping away. First Dave Garoway, now Alastair Cooke. It’s sad.

DMark - I agree about his voice. Guh. :frowning:

I first learned of Alastair Cooke through Sesame Street; there was Alastair Cookie, host of Monsterpiece Theatre. I wonder if he’d be pleased that that was the first thing I thougt of when I heard he’d died. :slight_smile:

When I got back from overseas in the late 70s, he was one of my first interviews and I knew little or nothing about him, I had been away for quite some time and all the press booklet dealt with was Masterpiece theater, I think, so I was expecting a snooty Brit (yes, yes I know now he was an American, and yes, yes, I know he wasn’t snooty).

Anyway, it was a terrible interview not because of my prejudice, but because when I explained that he was one of my first interviews since I hit the states, he mentioned that his first was H.L. Menken. I was fascinated. A real living human being that had met H.L. Menken. We spent the entire interview talking about Menken. It was fascinating and I got major chewed out by my editor when I got back to the paper.


I think he would. From an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Alistair Cooke, the urbane former host of “Masterpiece Theatre” who died Tuesday at age 95, liked to joke about how he would be remembered.

His immortality, he chuckled, would come not from his brief, cogent introductions to public-television classics such as “Upstairs, Downstairs,” but from the “Sesame Street” knock-off character Alistair Cookie, host of “Monsterpiece Theater.”

He recounted a story of a little girl coming up to him in an airport, and asking if he was the real Alistair Cookie.

“Fifty years from now,” he said, "when the names of all current television stars will have been forgotten, there will be some old lady saying, ‘I once met Alistair Cookie . . .’ "

By all means listen to the Radio 4 Tribute on the page tsarina linked to. Around 40-45 minutes into it they talk about Alistair Cookie and play a brief clip of “Monsterpiece Theater”.