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Making a Costume Drama out of a Crisis

Jenny Diski: ‘Downton Abbey’, 21 June 2012

Downton Abbey: Series One and Two 
Universal DVD, £39.99, November 2011Show More
Upstairs Downstairs: Complete Series One and Two 
BBC DVD, £17.99, April 2012Show More
Park Lane 
by Frances Osborne.
Virago, 336 pp., £14.99, June 2012, 978 1 84408 479 1
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Habits of the House 
by Fay Weldon.
Head of Zeus, 320 pp., £14.99, July 2012, 978 1 908800 04 6
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... Alistair Cooke can be seen in an old TV clip, thanks to the bottomless well that is YouTube, carefully cross-legged, wearing a blazer, a discreetly silver-striped black tie on a pearl grey shirt, and what can only be called slacks. He sits on a high-backed black leather and polished mahogany library chair. Behind him to his right, hung on flocked wallpaper, is an ornately framed landscape painting winking ‘old master’, on the other side an overarching potted palm, between them a window hung with heavy, draped velvet curtains, and beneath his elegantly shod feet (the lasts of which must surely have been made and stored by Lobb’s) a fine oriental carpet ...


Stephen Fender, 3 April 1980

The London Yankees: Portraits of American Writers and Artists in England, 1894-1914 
by Stanley Weintraub.
W.H. Allen, 408 pp., £7.95, November 1979, 0 491 02209 3
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The Americans: Fifty Letters from America on our Life and Times 
by Alistair Cooke.
Bodley Head, 323 pp., £5.95, October 1979, 0 370 30163 3
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... of transatlantic opinion somewhere between the ionosphere and the English-Speaking Union. Even Alistair Cooke, a level-headed observer if ever there was one, lives by now in a world of golf and generation gaps, where people worry about neologisms and cholesterol. His friends are ‘a distinguished American magazine editor’, a New York ‘advertising ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: TV Lit, 15 November 2001

... themselves, though, and so does Billy Connolly, alone among broadcasting talent (unless you count Alistair Cooke and Clive James, who provide epigraphs). This may be because Lawson overlooked Connolly when it came to changing the names, or it may be because he forgot Connolly isn’t a member of the royal family. ‘I think you get into such an ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Hitler’s Last Day, 7 May 2015

... in Lofer, Austria.’ And so on for another 250 pages and forty-odd hours. We even find out what Alistair Cooke had for breakfast in San Francisco (not grilled mutton kidneys but ‘two eggs over easy, sausages, pancakes and syrup’), and learn that ‘the dour-looking Molotov has a softer side.’ As the day wears on, the Allied noose tightens around ...


Gabriele Annan, 27 September 1990

Garbo: Her Story 
by Antoni Gronowicz.
Viking, 476 pp., £15.99, August 1990, 0 670 83651 6
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... as she is now: a cult object. Schikel quotes other critics – Tynan, Barthes, Stark Young and Alistair Cooke – and gradually the image shattered by Gronowicz gets put together again. Reviewing Anna Karenina, Cooke wrote that Garbo ‘wrapped everyone in a protective tenderness ... she sees not only her own ...

Minnesota Fates

Ferdinand Mount, 12 October 1989

We Are Still Married 
by Garrison Keillor.
Faber, 330 pp., £11.99, September 1989, 0 571 14140 4
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... Minnesota in a honeyed, sonorous style, the dying cadences of which are eerily reminiscent of Mr Alistair Cooke reading his Letter from America. Keillor’s unforced charm, variation of pace and command of the audience seemed to me to put him in the front line of one-man showmen, along with, say, Michael MacLiammoir, Ruth Draper and Noel Coward. Thus no ...

To the End of the Line

Ferdinand Mount: The Red Dean, 26 April 2012

The Red Dean of Canterbury: The Public and Private Faces of Hewlett Johnson 
by John Butler.
Scala, 292 pp., £16.95, September 2011, 978 1 85759 736 3
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... and outside Madison Square Garden, eclipsing Paul Robeson and Dean Acheson. An awestruck young Alistair Cooke reported in the Guardian that ‘he looks like a divinity and he looks like the portrait on every dollar bill.’ The resemblance to George Washington is undeniable, although there is a creepy hint of Alastair Sim too. Never one to ...

A bout de Bogart

Jenny Diski, 19 May 2011

Tough without a Gun: The Extraordinary Life of Humphrey Bogart 
by Stefan Kanfer.
Faber, 288 pp., £14.99, February 2011, 978 0 571 26072 0
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... The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and the deluded Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. Kanfer quotes Alistair Cooke: ‘Bogart was aghast to discover [that many of the protestors] were down-the-line Communists coolly exploiting the protection of the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. He had thought they were just freewheeling anarchists, like ...

America Deserta

Richard Poirier, 16 February 1989

by Jean Baudrillard, translated by Chris Turner.
Verso, 129 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 0 86091 220 5
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America Observed: The Newspaper Years of Alistair Cooke 
by Ronald Wells.
Reinhardt, 233 pp., £12.95, November 1988, 1 871061 09 1
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American Journals 
by Albert Camus, translated by Hugh Levick.
Hamish Hamilton, 155 pp., £11.95, February 1989, 0 241 12621 5
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... sound hopelessly complacent. So that, put in conjunction with Baudrillard, the ever-watchful Alistair Cooke, no stranger to television himself, seems irrelevant, even though most of the dispatches, which date as far back as 1946, easily recuperate themselves on rereading and are full of sharp intuitions. The problem with the crisis rhetoric that ...

Good enough for Jesus

Charlotte Brewer, 25 January 1990

The State of the Language: 1990 Edition 
edited by Christopher Ricks and Leonard Michaels.
Faber, 531 pp., £17.50, January 1990, 9780571141821
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Clichés and Coinages 
by Walter Redfern.
Blackwell, 305 pp., £17.50, October 1989, 0 631 15691 7
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Rhetoric: The Wit of Persuasion 
by Walter Nash.
Blackwell, 241 pp., £25, October 1989, 0 631 16754 4
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... the American Heritage Dictionary to ‘members of the dictionary’s “usage panel”, (including Alistair Cooke, Jessica Mitford, Margaret Atwood, Paul Theroux, Fay Weldon, Harold Bloom, Susan Sontag, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Dwight Bolinger, Elizabeth Traugott and many more). What is revealing is how the panel’s response to ...

V.G. Kiernan on treason

V.G. Kiernan, 25 June 1987

... in the First World War, and a similar process is going on underground today. The BBC correspondent Alistair Cooke once remarked that in Washington ceremonial gatherings are always being held in honour of foreign visitors to whom nobody has anything to say, while decisions are taken by small groups, often through telephone calls. It is hard to see how ...


Alan Bennett: What I Didn’t Do in 2007, 3 January 2008

... prissy about this conflation of lust and topography – had I known about Brogan (a regular with Alistair Cooke on Transatlantic Quiz), I might have treated Huggins with more respect. 11 January. Picture in the Guardian of an American soldier manning a gun in Baghdad, stencilled on the front of the gun a death’s head. That’s why the war is lost. 25 ...

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