When I was a good deal younger than I am today, I would stumble bleary-eyed upon my father in the kitchen on Sunday mornings preparing that day’s roast lunch and, as he did so, listening to “the wireless”. Invariably, his choice of radio station was Radio 4 …and on Sunday mornings, equally invariably, Radio 4 would broadcast Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America.
Letter from America ran from 1946 to 2004, and Alistair Cooke’s ‘take’ on American life, delivered in round, warm and comforting tones, was enthralling and entertaining. Most things stopped in the kitchen so we could listen to him without interruption. His tendency to digress as though in ordinary conversation was, at times, infuriating; but his ability to digress in a full circle, as it were, meant that the concluding minute or two would usually wrap up in a satisfying way an intellectual yet genial jaunt through whatever topic had caught his eye that week.
I can’t recommend those broadcasts highly enough for an object lesson in clarity of thought and diction, an ability to express an opinion without rancour, to entertain by telling a tale well. And, praise be, the BBC has finally gotten around to making the entire 58 years’-worth of broadcasts available to anyone with an internet connection.
Can I therefore point you in the direction of the BBC’s new Letter from America archive? I particularly liked his remembrance of FDR and his analysis of Nixon’s response to Watergate. But all deserve listening to. And not just on Sundays.