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Last Updated: Friday, 15 October, 2004, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Abbey tribute for Alistair Cooke
Sir David Frost
Sir David Frost was among the guests
Friends and family of the late BBC broadcaster Alistair Cooke said a final farewell to the Radio 4 presenter at a memorial service at Westminster Abbey.

A recording of Cooke, who presented the programme Letter From America for 58 years before he died aged 95 in March, was broadcast in the London church.

More than 2,000 attended the service, including BBC chairman Michael Grade and Sir David Frost.

The Abbey choir sang one of Cooke's favourite pieces from Handel's Messiah.

Favourite music

BBC director general Mark Thompson paid tribute to Cooke.

"It is often said that institutions have their own DNA," he said.

Alistair Cooke
Cooke presented his show for nearly 60 years
"I think if you look deep into the genetic code of the BBC, not just today but for as long as the BBC exists, one of the things you would find at its heart would be the rich, calm, beguiling, wise voice of Alistair Cooke," he said.

Susan Cooke Kittredge led the prayers and Cooke's son John gave readings, while his granddaughter, violinist Jane Byrne Kittredge, played the second movement from Bach's Concerto in A Minor.

Jazz singer Jacqui Dankworth performed Gershwin's Someone To Watch Over Me.

A recording of Cooke which was made several years ago when he was unable to attend an engagement was played at the memorial service.

Humorous goodbye

"I'm sure you expect me to say, 'I'm sorry I'm not with you'. Well, I'm not sorry," he said.

"I am of the opinion that a radio broadcaster should be heard and not seen."

US journalist Peter Jennings, senior editor and presenter of ABC News, read a tribute.

Cooke's daughter Susan (second left) with her three daughters
Cooke's daughter Susan (second left) with her three daughters

"Alistair had a passion and a hunger to know and understand and enjoy his adopted country," he said.

"He really captured America and the essence of its being. Alistair helped us to understand ourselves."

Cooke was known in America for his television career, which included the series Masterpiece Theatre.

The Stars and Stripes flew above the Abbey in his honour.

Cooke was born in Salford, but moved to the US in 1937 and was granted citizenship in 1941.

Letter From America was the world's longest-running speech radio programme.

Honorary knighthood

Cooke joined the BBC as a film critic in 1934 and started writing his US current affairs and historical Letter in 1946.

Michael Grade
Michael Grade was at the service which began at midday

The show was listened to by people across Europe, Asia, New Zealand, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East via the BBC's World Service. It was heard in the UK on BBC Radio 4.

Over almost 60 years, his 15-minute reflections touched on everything from the assassinations of the Kennedys to the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

Cooke had presented 2,869 Letter From America programmes, missing just three weekly broadcasts during Letter from America's run.

In 1973, he received an honorary knighthood for his contribution to Anglo-American understanding, and a year later addressed the United States Congress on its 200th anniversary.

He also received an award from Bafta for his contribution to Anglo-American relations and a Sony radio award for his services to broadcasting.



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