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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 January 2008, 17:27 GMT
Sackur's world
Stephen Sackur and Studs Terkel
Stephen Sackur meets Studs Terkel in Chicago

As the US prepares to elect a new president, there's much speculation about where American voters see their country heading. Stephen travelled to Chicago to meet a man who's known as the foremost chronicler of ordinary American lives, the writer and broadcaster Studs Terkel. Now 95, his life's spanned 17 presidents. Why does he say America's forgetting its past?

Studs Terkel had prepared for his appearance on Hardtalk by donning a natty red dressing gown. A side table cluttered with prescription medications was shunted out of view, and his bed was wheeled to the other side of the elegant sitting room in his Chicago row house.

Studs - 95 years young and the oldest-ever recipient of heart by-pass surgery - had his game face on.

He was born on the day the Titanic went down. 'I shoulda known there was trouble ahead', he chuckles
'Whaddya wanna talk about?' he asked before the cameras rolled.

'You, Studs', I said, 'you and your America'.

He was born on the day the Titanic went down. 'I shoulda known there was trouble ahead', he chuckles.

His parents ran a boarding house in Chicago. Studs grew up amongst working men and women looking for a break in a tough city.

He studied to be a lawyer but ended up a broadcaster. He interviewed the famous and the uncelebrated, and turned himself into the great chronicler of twentieth century America.

His oral histories of the Second World War, of the Great Depression and the fight for Civil Rights introduced millions of readers to the voices of the previously voiceless.

Stephen Sackur in Chicago
Stephen on location in Chicago
Now Studs is a very old man. And that made recording a Hardtalk with him a special challenge. His hearing isn't what it used to be so I sat close by his side. This was not Hardtalk as combative contact sport.

Instead I tried to tease out Studs feelings for his own country. The 'United States of Alzheimers' he snapped with a disdainful jab of the finger.

'People have forgotten their own history'.

Age has not softened his radical edge. George W Bush is condemned as the worst of American Presidents; Tony Blair is Jeeves his loyal butler, aiding and abetting the blunders in Iraq.

He has a Pulitzer prize to his name, and in Chicago he's regarded as a national treasure, but Studs' radicalism has been out of synch with America's national mood for a generation.

Now he's investing his hopes - cautiously - in Barack Obama, the Senator from Illinois who has become the shining star of the Democratic primaries.

The 'United States of Alzheimers' he snapped with a disdainful jab of the finger. 'People have forgotten their own history'
When the recording is done I tell Studs I'll be back for an update in 5 years time - Hardtalk has never interviewed a guest with 100 years on the clock.

He shrugs and points to a table in the corner of the room. 'You see that urn' he says. 'That's the ashes of my wife Ida. All I want is for my ashes to be mixed with hers. They should spread us both in Bughouse Square'.

And how does Studs want to be remembered? His answer is delivered with a glint in the eyes. 'Someone who made trouble where trouble was needed'.



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