Letter from America
Letter from America was a weekly 15-minute radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

 series on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4 is a British domestic radio station, operated and owned by the BBC, that broadcasts a wide variety of spoken-word programmes, including news, drama, comedy, science and history. It replaced the BBC Home Service in 1967. The station controller is currently Gwyneth Williams, and the...

, previously called the Home Service
BBC Home Service
The BBC Home Service was a British national radio station which broadcast from 1939 until 1967.-Development:Between the 1920s and the outbreak of The Second World War, the BBC had developed two nationwide radio services, the BBC National Programme and the BBC Regional Programme...

, which ran for 2,869 shows 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
BBC World Service
The BBC World Service is the world's largest international broadcaster, broadcasting in 27 languages to many parts of the world via analogue and digital shortwave, internet streaming and podcasting, satellite, FM and MW relays...



It was presented by Alistair Cooke
Alistair Cooke
Alfred Alistair Cooke KBE was a British/American journalist, television personality and broadcaster. Outside his journalistic output, which included Letter from America and Alistair Cooke's America, he was well known in the United States as the host of PBS Masterpiece Theater from 1971 to 1992...

, who each week spoke 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
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

. 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 British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 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
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 in 1939. The first American Letter was broadcast on March 24, 1946; the change of title to Letter from America came in 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
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 countries, but throughout the world by the BBC World Service.

The end of an era

On March 2, 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 March 30, 2004, at his home in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...


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 Norwich in an electronic archive.

Five years later, BBC Radio 4 premiered Americana
Americana (radio series)
Americana was a British radio programme broadcast on BBC Radio 4 from spring 2009 to autumn 2011. It offered a "mix of discussion, interviews and features, with a focus on the voices of ordinary Americans" and was touted as the "successor for the late Alistair Cooke's Letter from...

, touted as the successor for to Letter from America."

External links

  • Letter From America from BBC News
    BBC News
    BBC News is the department of the British Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the gathering and broadcasting of news and current affairs. The department is the world's largest broadcast news organisation and generates about 120 hours of radio and television output each day, as well as online...

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