Alistair Cooke, Television personality, Died at 95


Alistair Cooke died on the 30th of March 2004 at the age of 95; he was a British journalist, television personality and broadcaster. Born in Salford, Lancashire, England on the 20th of November 1908, the son of Mary Elizabeth (Byrne) and Samuel Cooke.

His father was a lay Methodist preacher and metal smith by trade; his mother’s family were of Irish Protestant origin. Originally named Alfred, he changed his name to Alistair when he was 22.

He was educated at Blackpool Grammar School, Blackpool and won a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he gained an honours degree in English. Cooke became engaged to Henrietta Riddle, the daughter of Henry Ainley.

While he was attending Yale University and Harvard University on a Commonwealth fund fellowship, she deserted him.

He met Ruth Emerson, a great-grandniece of Ralph Waldo Emerson, in 1933, and they married on the 24th of August 1934. Their son, John Byrne Cooke, was born on the 5th of October 1940 in New York City, New York.

Following a brief period as a scriptwriter in Hollywood, Cooke returned to England to become a film critic for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and later served as London correspondent for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) of the United States.

In 1937 he returned to the United States, settled in New York City, and became an American citizen in 1941. From the late 1930s, Cooke reported and commented on American affairs for BBC radio and several major British newspapers.

His weekly 15-minute program, Letter from America, broadcast from 1946 to 2004, was one of the longest-running series on radio.

The texts of many broadcasts were collected in One Man’s America (1952) and Talk About America (1968).

From 1956 to 1961 Cooke hosted and narrated the weekly television “magazine” Omnibus, which won numerous broadcasting awards.

In 13 instalments, filmed on location throughout the United States, Cooke surveyed some 500 years of American history in an eclectic and personal but highly coherent narrative.

Alistair Cooke’s America (1973), the book based on the award-winning program, was a best-seller in the United States.

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.