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. The whole set trembles with the weight of Vicwardian Britishness. ‘Good evening,’ he says in his immaculately trimmed mid-Atlantic accent, so reassuring that you wonder if perhaps he is going to sound the nuclear alert. He is very nearly the perfect benevolent-English-gentleman-in-America; nevertheless his calm, almost lazy intonation reminds me of the underlying menace in the same phrase when used by that other official (though, like Cooke, miscategorised) quintessential English gent, Alfred Hitchcock. Good evening.
LRB 21 June 2012 | PDF Download