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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
`Gued evening.' I can still hear the familiar and well-loved voice of Alistair Cooke starting his weekly `Letter from America' on BBC radio. The series came about through drift more than through design or policy, and it lasted for over 60 years. Alistair Cooke died in 2004, aged 95 and reportedly working on his next `talk' as he himself called his weekly broadcasts.

He was English of course, born in Manchester (or at least Salford) and Cambridge-educated. From an early date America became his home, and his deep love of his adopted country, combined of course with his outstanding journalistic gifts, gave his talks their distinctive flavour and accounted for their astonishing success with their British audience. They are letters from America, not letters to America, and I have no idea whether they were familiar in America, where Cooke was better known for his longer broadcasts and for his books. I myself developed a fascination for America and for Cooke's talks from an early age, and I was pleased to find that the selection of 8 broadcasts here, although including recent numbers from 2003 and 2001, covers a wide range of dates going back as far as 1951, when I was already hooked on Cooke. At that date Radio 4 was called the Home Service, and television, although in existence as an invention, was only beginning to penetrate our culture. You can hear Cooke on this topic in the first item on the second disc. I no doubt heard it myself, but `heard' and not `saw' would have been the verb, as my parents were implacably opposed to having such a thing distracting their school-aged family from their schoolwork.

None of the talks here is on any political topic, you may be relieved to hear. In the nature of the case, plenty of them were, but Cooke was far too skilful, professional and sensitive to obtrude his own political opinions in any way that would be objectionable. Similarly his passion for golf is something he regularly alludes to, but again he has more sense than to be any clubhouse bore on air. Often he would start on one topic and drift on to another or others, and that is what he does in his first letter here, which starts with the subject of how he actually introduced Leonard Bernstein, no less, to The Messiah. In another he starts by talking about Groucho Marx and finishes with a long and affectionate tribute to Bing Crosby. He talks about whatever he fancies, I'm sure he consulted no focus groups about what might interest his listeners, and his success in that respect is proof of what amounts to no less than genius.

The talks are introduced by the BBC's American editor Justin Webb. Justin Webb is a polished BBC professional, smooth and accomplished and with all the individuality of a paper cup. His presence throws into higher relief the difference between Alistair Cooke and the regular run of journalists, even upmarket journalists. On these two discs the linking motif is the festive season. I am sure that these talks will have an assured market among British nostalgists who remember Cooke as well as I do. Who else they will appeal to I have no real idea. Admirers of journalistic talent ought to find plenty to admire, and Americans may be interested to hear how their nation and their culture were presented, so sympathetically and for so long, by no mean presenter.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Each of these letters from Alistair Cooke is a gem. Dating from 1951 to 2003, they are now doubly impressive as they don't just take the reader stateside, but back to another time. Just the right length, Cooke's words are precise and his voice mellifluous.

However, the package lets them down. Justin Webb's introductions are at best redundant and at worst irritating; he provides a synopsis of each letter and on one occasion advises us to listen out for Cooke's description of Osama Bin Laden. The letters require such little scene setting it would have been better to do more than provide a date.

Collections like this are for fans who want something to treasure. This rather ordinary two CD package, which heavily promotes other BBC audio titles while providing only a sparse biography of Alistair Cooke, fails to tick that box. It may still qualify as a stocking filler Christmas gift for someone who still misses Alistair Cooke's regular Letters from America, but only just.
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VINE VOICEon 31 October 2009
As an avid listener to "Letter From America" ever since my grandfather introduced me to it way back in the 1960s when I was a wee lad, I was moved to write in my Amazon review of the 2004 BBC release of "Letter from America (Radio Collection)"

(quote) "Ah! That voice! Alistair Cooke had the voice that could be listened to for hours on end i.e. a sort-of cool, mellow, slow-burning voice. In fact he was one of the few people I've ever heard who could spend 15 minutes telling you almost nothing - and yet make it sound interesting!" (unquote)

Having listened to this "Seasonal" compilation of Alistair's Letters, I still stand 100% by that viewpoint. The two-CD compilation contains eight "Letters From America" which were originally broadcast around the Christmas/New Year period.

The Letters included are: Introducing The Messiah (21/12/2001), Birth Of A Christmas Fairytale (19/12/2003), Groucho & Bing (23/12/1977), Silence In Vermont (29/12/1995), The Early Days Of Television (19/1/1951), The Noxious Weed (1/1/1971), Y2K Alert (29/12/1999) and Making A Home Of A House (4/1/1969).

On a negative note, this compilation loses one star purely because:-

1) At least two of the Letters included are not the original recordings but re-recordings - admittedly by A.C. himself. Why do the BBC do this when I KNOW the original recording exists - and indeed has been included in another BBC Letters From America Audiobook release?

2) At least two of the Letters included in this compilation are also included in other BBC Letters From America Audiobook compilations.

Neither of these two minus points greatly spoil what is an enjoyable two hours or so of A.C.'s voice, but to me the use of non-original recordings does tend to grate somewhat as the timbre of A.C's voice did change quite considerably over the years (as everyones does) and in the re-recorded version his voice just sounds out of place in the era concerned in which the Letter From America was originally broadcast.

Don't get me wrong, this is still very much a worthwhile buy for any afficionado of Alistair Cooke's Letter From America - especially at the price Amazon are currently selling it for; it's just that it could have been a whole lot better for purists like me!

Recommended - with the above caveats.
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VINE VOICEon 28 October 2009
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A personal interpretation of Life in America on over the 50 years that the original programmes. This selection concentrates on programmes which were broadcast around the Christmas and new years period. Each programme runs for about 10 minutes each starting with a brief introduction by Justin Webb. He uses cleverly brings his commentary using anecdotes and sketches to portray some the characters. Perhaps not the very best material throughout the series but nonetheless interesting and easy listening. Alistair Cooke's easy on the ear and beautifully clear voice making for pleasurable listening experience.

The 8 programmes are entitled:
Introducing the Messiah (Dec 2001)
Birth Of A Christmas Fairytale (Dec 2003)
Groucho And Bing (Dec 1977)
Silence In Vermont (Dec 1995)
The Early Days Of Television (Dec 1951)
The Noxious Weed (Jan 1971)
Y2K Alert (Jan 2000)
Making A Home Of A House (Jan 1969)

Total run time = 1 hour 45 mins On two audio CDs.
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VINE VOICEon 20 November 2009
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really enjoyed listening to these 'letters from America' as they give an interesting snapshot of the last 50 years.

The 8 letters are neatly introduced by Justin Webb who frames the year (for those that don't know/or have forgotten) by the context in which they are written.

I am sure Alistair Cookes stype and easy listening voice have been commented on many times before but he is just great to just sit and listen to . I also think they wouuld make a great present to someone 30+ at Christmas.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This CD Alister Cooke's Seanonal Letters from America is just wonderful. With Christmas coming up would make a good present.

The late Mr.Cooke's voice is unmistakeable - he speaks so well and clearly it is almost as if he was in the room with you.

I have played and played these CD's driving to work, at home and on the bus! They are great and each time I listen to a letter hear more.
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on 26 February 2010
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I know Alistair Cooke is an absolute legend, but unfortunately I found him a little too dry to palet. It is not my usual taste anyway but I thought I would venture over and have a listen. Dont get me wrong, I found his letters interesting, particularly the views on the American ways but they were not interesting enough to keep me listening. Sorry!
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VINE VOICEon 6 November 2009
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Alistair Cooke died in 2004 leaving behind an impressive legacy of work. His BBC Radio 4 broadcasts "Letter From America" being the part he was most famous for in Britain. Over the years there have been several collections of these 15 minute essays and this 2 CD set of broadcasts made over the Christmas Season is a welcome addition.
Each of the eight is prefaced by a brief and concise introduction by BBC correspondent Justin Webb; this is useful to anyone new to Mr Cooke's work and a timely reminder to the rest of us of Mr Cooke's genius.
What was always impressive was the scope of each letter, although there might be a single theme this did not stop him from bringing of wealth of associated detail; the first one in this collection is a fine example.
Although this collection is of those broadcasts made during the Christmas Season they are not essentially `Christmas' broadcasts dwelling only upon this festival. The last one is a good illustration, made on 4th January 1969 before Richard Nixon assumed the mantel of president it is a compact insight into the characteristics of previous presidents and considering the space of time since that broadcast is a now valuable historical evidence on men barely remembered in these times. Similarly the first on CD 2 is an absorbing account of TV as it was just starting out in the USA. Thus these can be listened to at any time of the year.
Mr Cooke had a deceptively gentle, relaxed tone which drew the listener to stop whatever they were doing, and such was his skill that no subject was ever found dull.
Packaged neatly with useful notes this would also be an ideal gift for Christmas for anyone who enjoys the art of broadcasting journalism and unfamiliar with this master.
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Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
That Alistair Cooke is both a gentleman and a gentle man is evident within
a minute or so of listening to the first "seasonal letter'' in this marvelous
collection of radio broadcasts. The voice immediately engages our attention;
a voice familiar to his legions of listeners for over half a century.

Mr Cooke adopted American and America, in turn, welcomed him as a son.

Like Quentin Crisp after him he became a resident alien whose shrewd eye,
elegantly constructed prose, gentle wit and profound observational skills
exercised the ability to capture an instant in space and time and imbue it
with both intimate and universal relevance. Like his somewhat more flamboyant
compatriot he too possessed a keen ability to grasp the fleeting human moment.

The eight recordings in this inspiring release span fifty years. The first
captured on January 19th 1951 is a funny and insightful commentary on
the early days of television. Observations on cookery programmes,
over-enthusiastic weathermen and his evident excitement in the
development of current affairs and news reportage is fascinating.

The dangers of the development of nanny-state ideology is examined
in 'The Noxious Weed'. The government's increasing interference in
public and personal choice is examined in relation to cigarette smoking.
It is a small but chilling foretaste of the gradual and insidious erosion of civil
liberties which have accrued in both America and our own country since that time.

Mr Cookes' recollections of two old friends, Groucho Marx and Bing Crosby,
are both amusing and poignant. When speaking of Mr Crosby's elusive,
undemonstrative and unpretentious character he might almost also be
describing himself. His deep respect for such a kindred spirit is very touching.

The most powerful recording in the group is undoubtedly his December 21st
2001 broadcast 'Introducing The Messiah'. Beginning innocuously enough
with some entertaining recollections on introducing the great conductor
Leonard Bernstein to Handel's great oratorio he shifts, almost imperceptibly,
into a series of reflections of far greater import and gravitas.
In the wake of the 9/11 atrocities he gives voice to thoughts which in
others' mouths might well have been considered un-American in the
emotional and political climate following those terrible events.
His observations on Osama bin Laden and the historical context for the
escalation in East-West conflict must have ruffled a few feathers among
Washington's hawks. It is a carefully considered but none-the-less
brave condemnation of the accumulative actions of both sides.

Between sections, Justin Webb's introductions are on the whole helpful
(although he does have a tendency here and there to preempt the subject
matter of Mr Cooke's narratives but on balance he can be forgiven).

This release is a heart-warming opportunity to remember this eloquent,
charming and uniquely original broadcaster. His ability to connect up
the dots with a gentle eye for his listeners remains an unimpeachable
example for those who might follow in his esteemed footsteps.

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VINE VOICEon 2 November 2009
Format: Audio CD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Arguably one of the most famous and recognisable voices ever broadcast this 2 CD set of Alistair Cooke's Seasonal Letters from America is a treaure of an archive since the man is no more with us.

Starting with a recording from 1951 and his droll reading of the effects daytime television is having on the housewife now the local paper lists the tv programmes.
The collection finishes with his last broadcast in 2003 during which he looks back to the Christmases of his past and the the influence of Charles Dickens on the myth of Christmas and the importance of his "A Christmas Carol"

He truly is the voice of America and this collection is a synthesis of the popular history of American in the last 50 years or so.

The production of the set is perfect in its clarity, indeed at times I felt that I was listening to Mr Cooke on the radio and was transported to the various Christmases collected here.

Christmas was one of his favourite holidays and the recordings certainly reflect his love of the season.

This CD would certainly make the ideal gift for anybody, not only interested in the popular history of America but also those of us who enjoy the well articulated journalism of a master.

I can not encourage you too earnestly, reader, to click your button and purchase this wonderful archive. It is a something that you will listen to time and again and want to share with all your friends
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