Raising a glass to class

Peter Carr

Opinion – The Age of Reason – By Peter Carr.

As what appears to be a regular weekly writing gig for this august media organ I am driven to cast my mind back a large number of years even before my more youthful times.

Then, a young man born in Lancashire emerged from Cambridge University with an honours degree in English. The only thing, as a Yorkshireman, that I hold against him is that he was born on the wrong side of the Pennines – the string of hills that divides those two industrious counties.

Post his academic period he wrote for that fine newspaper The Manchester Guardian but prior to that he gained a Harkness scholarship to Harvard and Yale where he indulged his acting and musical skills. For a number of years after returning to the UK he wrote a weekly letter directed for readership in the USA wherein he described life in his home country. All this before I was born.

At the time of the Pearl Harbour raid he had just returned to the United States and had been sworn in as a US citizen and about that time reversed his London to US journals to enlighten those in his original domicile with his weekly views on life in America. For the next 58 years Alistair Cooke presented his highly renowned radio broadcast, Letter from America. This was avidly listened to in pre-TV times by a large number of people as they emerged from war-ravaged and coupon-restricted Britain where information about life in ‘the promised land’ could be avidly devoured.

I was, in my formative (at least teenage) years such a follower of his weekly items which, if I recall correctly, were heard on Saturday evenings. He later indulged in the use of television as a medium of explaining his views on life in Uncle Sam’s country.

The reason that I raise the issue of this fine journalist is that he started to become depended upon by a large number of followers for whom a weekly 15-minute news  snippet was a highlight of the week. He had a wonderful voice well suited  to listeners – a gravelly tone, slow and concise in his presentation. Oh that we lack such journalistic giants today.

Writing for a (relatively) small town weekly journal using Opinion as the right of entry brings with is an expectation from readers that there should be a certain gravitas in the writings – an aura that Cooke most certainly portrayed. Recently I was challenged by a Cambridge News reader that my previous week’s production was not hard-hitting enough! I had not realised that we were at war.

From which, dear readers, you will deduce that my key and expected subject – those of more elderly years – have not given me sufficient excitement to write about them this week. So I decided to salute someone who was most certainly capable of reaching out to young and old alike with a spread and depth of prose that was exciting, meaningful and entirely acceptable. Without the seeming necessity of  being seen as hard hitting.

I salute the grand man – who departed this life 16 years ago. There are few like him who can obtain and maintain a wealth of loyal followers and still not either bore them nor insult their intelligence.

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