The BBC Story

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The world’s longest running speech radio programme, Letter From America, presented by the inimitable Alistair Cooke, began on 24 March 1946. Although the initial agreement was for a 13-week series, Cooke’s natural style proved such a success that the programme ran for 58 years and only ended with his death in 2004.

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Letter From America

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was commissioned by Lindsay Wellington, the controller of the Home Service, as a return to Cooke’s prewar work on American Half Hour. “I had to offer”, wrote Cooke in the Radio Times, “a direct impression of anything of America that took my fancy. Not a diatribe, not a composed essay, but the first impression of an accident, a person, a landscape on the nervous emulsion of A Cooke.”

In fact, the programme covered 11 presidencies, and events such as the death of Bobby Kennedy and the 11 September terrorist attacks in 2001.

Cooke remained popular on both sides of the Atlantic and it was said on his death that with Letter From America he did more than any other individual to maintain the ‘special relationship’ between the US and Britain.

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For more great moments, see www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc