I do miss Letter from America, Alistair Cooke's weekly show on BBC Radio 4. The 15-minute series ran from March 1946 to February 2004, and was the longest running "speech radio" programme in broadcasting history.
Presented by Cooke, it would focus on a news event in the USA, mixing observation, humour and poignancy. On March 2, 2004, aged 95, and following medical advice, Cooke announced his retirement from Letter from America and died at his home in New York City on March 30th.
Sometimes, I wish I was more like Alistair Cooke. The blazer clad journalist from Salford loved America with unbridled passion. Unfortunately, I don't and the reason is very simple. I am from Liverpool, not Salford, and America drives me bonkers.
The title logo for BBC2's Entertainment USA
But my love-hate affair with America is an Oedipal complex, that spans back to monochrome youth in England; when I was bombarded with glossy images on television and cultural traitors bigging up all things Yank. These men were not veteran news gatherers like the great Alistair Cooke. No, they were the kind of Brits who would report you as a domestic subversive if the UK ever became the 51st State. One uncontested twazzock who comes to mind was Tory voting pedophile Jonathan King and his long-running BBC TV show Entertainment USA.
Convicted serial abuser of children Jonathan King
Devised and presented by King, this road show series from the 1980's had the goggle-eyed, ex pop star and impresario trolling the USA for cultural artefacts, telling everyone in rainy old Britain what a wonderful place America was. For some reason, I was always catching it on BBC 2, aired on Friday night, in those doleful hours before nightclubbing with the rest of London's pampered, teenage brats at the Mud Club and Crazy Larry's. When King was later exposed and convicted as a serial abuser of children, he likened himself to Oscar Wilde and said that his example was a miscarriage of justice. King's light entertainment series, with audiences near 10 million, was consigned to the BBC archive and he has been airbrushed from popular consciousness.
NFL Highlights on UK Channel 4
The English fascination for Americana extended to sports, too. In local Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, Brits would play games of softball and NFL highlights were shown on newly formed Channel 4. Converts to gridiron would remark on the tactical nature of the game and the superb conditioning of its players. I never saw the appeal. There are too many stops and starts and there is a absence of flow for the English spectator. But my aversion to the game was learned in childhood, when Dad the Yank would show us how to throw an American football. My younger brother could make it spiral like a bullet, and I couldn't. "Why, you dumb ass! Can't you do anything right?" I never played American Football again...
Why am I moaning? Because I have been stewing in the American Melting Pot for a whole year without any jet-set travel. But what's my beef with "the greatest nation in the history of the world" blah blah blah? Having lived in dictatorships, it comes as a bit of a shock to discover that America, the land of the free, almost resembles a totalitarian state. There are more flags, per square inch, than Red China and North Korea put together. And just like the PRC, and the DPRK, the children of the republic are full of nationalistic delusions about military might and cultural superiority.
The late Norman Mailer
You are constantly bombarded and brainwashed with tales, myths and self worship on the TV or down at the local cinema, where American Sniper is playing to sell-out audiences of weepy eyed patriots. However, this Romanesque worship of the military, and its industrial complexity, is not lost on native minds. The late author, Norman Mailer, once observed that America was in a "pre-Fascist stage of development" but that was over 30 years ago; Mailer is dead, and I am living, as a demi Yank Johnny Foreigner, in the America of the right here and now.
Clint's getting on a bit...