27th March 2013

Alistair Cooke recordings fill gap in archive

David Henderson and Roy Whittaker could never have imagined that their recordings of Alistair Cooke would one day bring them to the BBC in London.

Between them, the two men recorded 620 lost episodes of Letter From America, Cooke's radio programme that lasted an astonishing 58 years and included his thoughts on seminal moments in American history.

It's a valuable find for the BBC archive and a valuable contribution to posterity.

Listing to the programme was 'like an education', says David, who left school in 1964 at the age of 16.

The former Wiltshire dairy farmer is sitting at a table in New Broadcasting House, only a short distance from Alistair Cooke's typewriter, the very one he used to type the drafts of his 'letters'.

Outside the window you can see the entrance to the BBC's headquarters as it slopes away towards Langham Place. A knot of tourists are staring at the building.

'I was very interested in the United States, particularly the space programme,' continues David. 'Once you got used to listening to [Cooke], it was kind of a normal thing. It was therapeutic, really.'

The 65-year-old recorded programmes from the 1970s at a time when only one to five per year would be kept by the BBC.

It was the policy at the time to keep recordings of certain programmes for a short period of time and then discard all but the significant ones.

After an appeal from the BBC for people to search their collections, David and Roy came forward with a stash that was beyond what anyone at the Corporation could have hoped for. It provided a complete record of the programme through the 1970sand 80s.

Although Radio 4 archivists are yet to go through the entire haul, one recording has already been deemed to be historically important - a Letter from America from the day after Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States.

Continue reading the full article at the bbc.co.uk

Listing to the BBC Radio 4 Alistair Cooke archive

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