Letter from America
Letter from America was a weekly 15-minute radio series broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and its predecessor, the Home Service. It ran for 2,869 broadcasts from 24 March 1946 to 20 February 2004, making it the longest-running speech radio programme in history. The programme was also broadcast for many years on the BBC World Service. Throughout its history, it was presented by Alistair Cooke.
Each week, Cooke would speak of a topical issue in the USA, often tying together different strands of observation and anecdote. He frequently ended his letters on a humorous or poignant note.
Letter from America had its origin in London Letter, a 15-minute talk for American listeners on life in Britain that Cooke recorded during the 1930s while working as London correspondent for NBC. London Letter came to an end when Cooke emigrated to America in 1937, but it was not long before he suggested to the BBC the idea of continuing the idea in reverse. A prototype, Mainly About Manhattan, was broadcast intermittently from 1938, but the idea was shelved with the outbreak of World War II in 1939. The first American Letter was broadcast on 24 March 1946; the change of title to Letter from America came on 24 February 1950. Initially confirmed for only 13 instalments, the series lasted nearly 58 years and gathered an enormous audience, being broadcast not only in Britain and in many other Commonwealth countries, but throughout the world by the BBC World Service.
The end of an era
On 2 March 2004, at the age of 95, following advice from his doctors, Cooke announced his retirement from Letter from America; he died less than a month later, on 30 March 2004, at his home in New York City. Five years later, BBC Radio 4 premiered Americana, touted as the successor to Letter from America.
A compilation of the program's transcripts was published in 2004. Nearly 3,000 scripts are to be made available to the public by the University of East Anglia in an electronic archive. In 2012, the BBC made over 900 episodes freely available online in full. In March 2014, the BBC announced it had recovered over 650 lost editions of the programme, recorded by two listeners, Roy Whittaker in Cornwall and David Henderson in Warwickshire.
- BBC News 31 October 2012: Alistair Cooke – Letter from America: Bringing two nations together Retrieved 2012-11-03
- Clarke, Nick (2000). Alistair Cooke: A Biography. Arcade Publishing. p. 247.
- "Radio legend Cooke dies aged 95". BBC News. 30 March 2004. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
- "BBC finds replacement for Letter from America". Daily Telegraph. 18 April 2009. Retrieved 1 November 2012.
- University of East Anglia, 20 November 2008: Letters from America heading to East Anglia Retrieved 2012-11-03
- Letter from America rediscovered, bbc.co.uk, 28 March 2014