[FOUNTAIN]Alistair Cooke built a bridge for U.S., U.K.“Not every American is a cowboy.” All his life, Alistair Cooke had endeavored to make the British understand this idea. It was also the hidden theme of his BBC radio report, “Letter from America,” which he hosted for 58 years.
After his 2,869th show, Mr. Cooke retired at the end of February at age 95, setting a record for the longest stint as a radio host. On March 30, only a month after his retirement, he died. He might have predicted his fate when he said he would die the day he stopped writing the letter. A naturalized American citizen, Mr. Cooke made New York his home. His fame stems not from the quantity of his work but the quality. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain called him “one of the greatest broadcasters of all time” and Michael Howard, the leader of the Conservative Party, said, “His letters educated us all about the history, culture and people of our greatest ally.” Yet, William Farish, the U.S. ambassador in London, said that Mr. Cooke has had an “extraordinary” impact on the American understanding of Britons.” Mr. Cooke is considered to have played the role of a bridge over the Atlantic, standing between the United States and Britain and helping citizens of both understand each other better.
Born as the son of an iron-fitter in Manchester, England, he received an elite education funded by a scholarship. Upon graduating from Jesus College, Cambridge, he received a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship and studied at Yale and Harvard. While in the Untied States during the New Deal, he came to revere President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He returned to England and worked at the BBC, but in 1937, he moved to the United States again and settled. From 1945, he worked as the New York correspondent for a British newspaper, The Guardian. His show, “Letter from America” began on the BBC in 1946.
On both sides of the Atlantic, Mr. Cooke established himself as a journalist and broadcaster with insights on both the culture and current affairs. In 1973, he was made an honorary knight by Queen Elizabeth II, who was herself a big fan of the show.
The secret of his longevity was the friendliness and trust he had with his audience. The British share the same Anglo Saxon root with the Americans, but they have grown very different. The Britons know very well that they always have to understand the Americans across the Atlantic.
by Oh Byung-sang
The writer is the London correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.