Inquisitor Walden fills void left by Cooke as voice of Radio 4

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The Independent Online
A YEAR after the death of the legendary broadcaster Alistair Cooke, the veteran inquisitor Brian Walden is to replace him as the "distinctive voice" of BBC radio.

Mark Damazer, the controller of Radio 4, has revealed that the station is to launch a new series in place of Letter from America, a year after Cooke's death at the age of 95. Point of View will not follow exactly the same format as Cooke's weekly reports, but will offer listeners a similar "distinctive, authorial voice".

Walden is the first of a series of presenters who will fill the 10-minute slot, with a run of 13 programmes starting on 4 March. He will rotate with three other broadcasters, including at least one woman. But the Guernsey- based broadcaster will not present the show from the United States, instead giving a personal view on a topical issue of the week.

"Alistair Cooke left a huge hole. I am not going to replace his programme like for like. But I want the Radio 4 audience to have someone who is compelling, interesting, with a distinctive authorial voice. So I am launching a new series which we have provisionally called Point of View," Damazer told the Radio Times. "We will start with the broadcaster Brian Walden. The brief will be very broad. Brian has got an extremely distinctive voice and a wide range of experience. But he will be different from Alistair Cooke. There is no point in pretending that Cooke can be replicated."

A veteran television presenter, with a career including programmes such as LWT's Weekend World and the Walden Interview, the new voice of Radio 4 is famous for his setpiece interviews with prime ministers and leading politicians.

In 1989, soon after the resignation of Nigel Lawson as Chancellor, he famously put it to Margaret Thatcher that her backbenchers were in open revolt, accusing her of being "off her trolley".

Born in 1932, Walden won a scholarship to The Queen's College, Oxford, and in 1957 was elected president of the Oxford Union. After a brief career as a lecturer, in 1964 he was elected as a Labour MP in Birmingham; he left Parliament for broadcasting in 1977. From 1981 to 1984, he sat on the board of Central Television and is chairman of Bob Geldof's media group, Ten Alps Communications.

Martin Rosenbaum, the executive producer of Walden's weekly essay, said: "It's a very wide-ranging remit. Obviously, it's got to be relate to that week, but there aren't any limits to what he can cover. Cooke was unique and can't be replaced, but what they have in common is it will be one person's view ... at a topical event. Walden has got a long historical perspective. He's good at putting things in context. He's a superb broadcaster, he's got tremendous analytical skills and he is also good at moving from the specific to the general."

Cooke presented his Letter from America for 58 years, covering events in the US from Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon to the 11 September attacks. He retired weeks before his death in March 2004.

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