In the same way that Murray Walker was a quintessential part of Formula 1’s TV coverage, race meetings at Oulton Park just aren’t the same without the enthusiastic and knowledgeable circuit commentator, Mike Cookson, being part of the soundtrack.
Ever with an eye for detail, Cookson can remember not only the date (20th August, 1977) but also the organising club (BRSCC) who were in charge when he made his début on the Oulton Park PA System. Mike told Racing Exposure “Since then I have commentated at 570 meetings. It is anybody’s guess how many races that is… probably around 5,000!”
Cookson was thrown in at the deep end on that day 33 years ago as he was asked to stand-in for Neville Hay who had failed to turn up. Nonetheless Mike was in familiar surroundings as he had been assisting his absent colleague as a lap-charter since 1973. He must have done a more than competent job as he has since been called upon to describe proceedings in all corners of the world. All categories have been covered but the most unusual assignment was at the Longleat Special Stage of the RAC Rally where Cookson kept the spectators informed from inside the lion’s enclosure. Fortunately he was perched out of reach on a cherry picker style platform!
Mike says that when performing his weekend duties he is conscious of the broad range of listeners who are being addressed. “One has to remember,” he explained, “amongst the spectators there will be people who are real enthusiasts and come to as many meetings as possible and those for whom it is their first ever visit therefore I always try to make my commentaries informative and, hopefully, amusing.”
Despite all his travels Cookson continues have a soft spot for Oulton Park which is only a few miles from his home. One good thing about working at the Tarporley track is that he always has a co-commetator to help him keep the public entertained. He says, “It’s hard work doing a whole race meeting on your own so I enjoy working with all the band of commentators (is a group of commentators called a clutch?!?). I work regularly with Richard (Sproston) and I think we seem to hit it off.”
The one downside is that when he is manning the main Oulton commentary box, there is a brisk walk each time the chequered flag falls when he heads off to interview the winners on the podium at the other end of the pit-lane (…and they don’t always turn up!) before having to get back to his post to catch the next grid setting off. He once calculated that he walks 3 miles (more than the length of the International Circuit) during the course of a typical meeting. This is in addition to patrolling the paddock during the morning looking for background information to get the full picture.
Mike’s interest in motorsport developed when as a child he was taken to Oulton Park and Aintree. At this time Championship and non-Championship Formula 1 races were regularly staged at these two premier North West circuits. With the general public having unrestricted access to the paddocks the young Cookson was able to accumulate an impressive autograph collection which included those of no less a man than Enzo Ferrari as well as legendary drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Mike Hawthorn and Jim Clark.
During a holiday to Lake Como his father even produced tickets to the 1960 Italian Grand Prix. This was a fabulous surprise for Mike… and an even greater shock to his mother!
Cookson’s globe-trotting exploits were resumed later in his life after he had become a renowned commentator. Highlights include being part of the Radio Le Mans team when the Silk Cut Jaguars were victorious in 1990 and phoning through a report on the Long Beach Grand Prix to the BBC’s World Service from one of the decks of the Queen Mary.
Away from motor-racing Mike is a qualified Chartered Accountant and did his training in Liverpool where he enjoyed many lunch-times listening to jazz at the Cavern Club. He drifted away when The Beatles came along and the venue switched to contemporary sounds. Fortunately he was better with figures than talent spotting musicians!
His career evolved towards general industry rather than accounting specifically. Mike ended up as the Company Secretary and one of the Directors of NWF Group in Wardle where he recently stepped down to work on a part-time basis.
Semi-retirement is proving to be a busy time. Mike and his wife Sally enjoy walking, particularly in the area around Kyle of Lochalsh where they have purchased a second home. Meanwhile back in Cheshire a significant amount of time is spent improving the lot of those less fortunate by assisting a local charity for people with learning disabilities. The Cookson household has also hosted a number of trainee guide dogs.
Despite having so much to occupy him ‘the Mike behind the mic’ intends to describe the on track action for many years to come.