Been there, done that and he's still only ninety

Maybe Alastair Cooke's metabolism is slower than most humans, so he may be going for some time

ALASTAIR COOKE must be journalism's answer to Eubie Blake. Eubie Blake was a ragtime and jazz pianist who was born in 1883, published his first ragtime work before Queen Victoria died, and was still writing and playing in 1983, the year of his death, which happened a hundred years after his birth almost to the day. Shortly before he died, he made his most famous remark: "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself..."

You get the feeling that Alastair Cooke has taken good care of himself and is good for a few more years yet, but you can't help wondering how it is that he has lasted so long already and what the secret of his endurance is. Is it something to do with the fact that he, too, plays the piano? Or that he hasn't had a proper job for the last 50 years? That all he has ever had to do is write a quarter of an hour letter once a week and read it very slowly into a microphone, then go home? I don't think so. Going into retirement notoriously hastens your decline and if Alastair Cooke has been in retirement for the last 50 years, merely devoting himself to a weekly letter, he would have expired long since.

I think we have to look elsewhere for his secret.

For a start, we have to look at his slow delivery. It has always been a source of amazement to me that one man can speak so slowly without sounding as if his spring has broken. Clement Freud does it when he is trying to speak for 60 seconds without stopping on Just A Minute, sounding like a 78rpm record of George VI being played at half speed, but the rest of the time, Freud speaks almost normally. One gets the impression that Alastair Cooke speaks like that all the time. If so, it puts me in mind of the great truth that David Attenborough is always impressing on us, that the brief life span of a mouse is as long as an elephant's relatively speaking. In other words, that because a mouse's heart beats much faster and his cycles of breeding etc are over much quicker, therefore he gets through the same amount of life as an elephant, but in a much shorter time.

It may be, in other words, that Alastair Cooke's metabolism or life-speed or whatever it is called, is much slower than that of most humans, and he is really only about halfway through his life, which means he may be doing his Letter From America for another 40 years yet, long after all the pipsqueak BBC radio managers, who are secretly wondering when to axe it, have gone to their grave.

Another of Alastair Cooke's secrets is that, unlike most commentators, he is as conscious of the past as he is of the present. Everything is put by him into historical context. When Clinton does something, it reminds Cooke of something done by someone long gone, or of some forgotten smoke- filled Democratic Convention. Why, when Clinton doesn't do something, it reminds Cooke of something that Roosevelt did do.

You might think that the present merely triggers Cooke's memory of the past, but this is not so - Cooke is often reminded of things that happened before he was born. One of his recent talks was about a Presidential scandal of the 1880s. One of his most memorable talks (for me) was an explanation of the present Presidential election system in terms of how bad travel was when it was first invented - i.e. that all the primary elections first took place because most Americans had no idea what the candidates looked like or stood for, and wanted to see them in person in ther neck of the woods.

(A lot of what I know about American history has been picked up from Alastair Cooke, who does for America what pub quizzes do for England. By which I mean that half the people in Britain could not name one of Henry VIII's wives, and the other half - the half that train themselves for pub quizzes - could name them all in order, and the manner of their deaths.)

But I fancy that Cooke's longevity is also due to something much simpler. To the fact that he has a name which is easy to spell wrong. For instance, I have a friend called Alasdair Riley, whose names can be variously spelt wrongly Alastair, Alistair, Alisdair, Reilly, Rahilly, O'Riley etc...

The wrong combinations far outnumber the right one, and all of them cause a slight flow of adrenalin, which keeps him going effortlessly. Now, you can only misspell Cooke one important way, as Cook, but even so, I am willing to bet (as someone who has had his life prolonged by being called Kingston so often) that if Alastair Cooke were John Smith, he would be the late John Smith, and I wouldn't be saying Happy Birthday, Old Chap.

Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?