Host (1971-1992) on Masterpiece Theatre
11/20/1908, Salford, UK
Alfred Cooke was born in Salford, in Lancashire (UK) on 20th November 1908. Having been educated at Jesus College, Cambridge he went to the United States on a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to study at Harvard and Yale. In 1934, Cooke started working at the BBC in London where he became a film critic. He was also London correspondent for NBC and started recording weekly 15-minute radio reports for American listens about British life - these were the London Letters. Cooke made a permanent move to the United States in 1937, swearing the Oath of Allegiance on 1st December 1941. Shortly thereafter, Cooke pitched the idea of a London Letter in reverse. He was taken up on the offer and Mainly about Manhattan was broadcast intermittently from 1938. During the war, Cooke broadcast weekly updates on America on the BBC. When the war was over, the BBC's offices in New York requested that Cooke start broadcasting an American Letter series, which he had previously suggested. He agreed and the first of these was broadcast on 24th March 1946. It was only supposed to run for 13 episodes but it wasn't until March 2004, when Cooke's doctors advised him to step down, that the series came to an end. It ran in total for 58 years and 2,869 instalments, changing its title along the way to Letter from America - the longest-running series in history to be presented by a single person. In 1947 Cooke was also hired as a staff writer for the Manchester Guardian, he retained the position until 1972. In 1971 Cooke became the presenter of PBS' Masterpiece Theater for which he became very well known over his 22 year run - inspiring parodies like Alistair Cookie in Sesame Street's Monsterpiece Theater. In 1972 Cooke's 13-part series, America, was simultaneously broadcast in the USA and UK to great critical acclaim. The series led to Cooke being invited to address a joint session of the United States Congress during its 200th anniversary celebrations. Cooke died in his apartment in Manhattan, where he had lived for 50 years, in March 2004, just a few weeks after broadcasting his last Letter from America.moreless
- Trivia & Quotes
Cooke lived in a rent controlled apartment in Manhattan for more than 50 years.
Cooke: In America the race is on between its decadence and its vitality, and it has lots of both.
He presented his Letter from America series on BBC radio for 58 years and 2,869 instalments between 1946 and 2004, making it the longest-running series in history to be presented by a single person.
When Cooke was asked how long it took him to make America, his critically acclaimed documentary series, he replied: "I do not want to be coy, but it took 40 years."
He was parodied in Sesame Street’s "Monsterpiece Theater" as "Alistair Cookie."