The Yin and Yang of the Ranty Man

This column will be a rip-roaring race through 17 years of the fun and games I have had the privilege to enjoy with the legend and former Cotswold Life editor, Mike Lowe. The best way I can encapsulate this marvellous maverick is to try and convey the joyous duality of his larger-than-life personality. For those who only spied him from a distance, he appeared like an old-school bruiser; a blunt, caustic, acerbic hack and a bit scary. All of these are true but these edgy traits were beautifully blended with kindness, warmth, humour, sensitivity and affection.

We bonded immediately because of our shared northern roots, love of journalism, beer, football, and the Cotswolds. The friendship was sealed as we both possessed a similar distain for authority, especially for any senior management who had never practically done the job we did. There is no contradiction to the man who could, in one breath, turn to Twitter to demolish any examples of lazy, poorly-worded journalism whilst at the same time he would genuinely do absolutely anything to help a friend in need. All those who worked for him over the years have spoken about his inspiring leadership and how he was simply the best boss they had ever had. One of my favourite escapades with him was the feature “Ranty Man in the Campervan”.

As I drove up the precarious zig-zagged road from Nailsworth to Minchinhampton Common, he had until we reached the top to record a rant about whatever he liked. We were travelling in my stuttering old knackered tin can, so this afforded him quite a lot of time to relieve himself of the following frustrations: cyclists, the BBC, snowflakes, cyclists, no shows at restaurants, Labour and cyclists. When we got to the top, I told him his time was up. ‘Bugger that, he said, ‘I’ve only just got into my stride. Keep driving, you numpty!’ We ended up in Tewkesbury.

Great British Life: Mike Lowe is a 'Ranty Man in a Van'Mike Lowe is a 'Ranty Man in a Van' (Image: Mark Cummings)

Great British Life: Mike Lowe is a 'Ranty Man in a Van'Mike Lowe is a 'Ranty Man in a Van' (Image: Mark Cummings)

Great British Life: Mike Lowe is a 'Ranty Man in a Van'Mike Lowe is a 'Ranty Man in a Van' (Image: Mark Cummings)

The truth about that photo

The reason we posed for this sexy photo (see top) is all down to Jilly Cooper. She had invited some local media to a book launch in her dreamy Cotswold garden one sultry summer’s evening. After fizz and canapés of the highest quality, our little group started chatting about the Forest Green Rovers chairman and Ecotricity boss Dale Vince. Jilly, Katie Fforde, Emma Samms and my wife Jo all agreed that he was a damn sexy man, and they all loved his iconic, windswept photo with a wind turbine in the background.

We were a little put out by this since Mike had doused himself in Hi Karate and I had donned a fresh pair of underpants that evening. The idea for the comedy photograph to rival Mr Vince and show that Northerners can be cute was quickly concocted, and a few days later we arrived for our shoot. Typical of Mike, this turned into a comedy caper all of its own as he hadn’t asked for permission for us to be on the land.

On a bleak, windswept, unnamed airfield, various cars arrived within ten minutes of each other in a clandestine operation to capture the perfect image. It was like a cross between an episode of The Sweeney and a Top Gear Challenge as the photographer and we two models sought sanctuary in Mike’s smoked-filled vehicle. ‘Listen lads, we need to be quick before we are booted off, so flat cap on, belly out and let’s show the world what a real man looks like.’

Great British Life: He said BBC coffee was crap so I always brought in the best stuff when he was on!He said BBC coffee was crap so I always brought in the best stuff when he was on! (Image: Mark Cummings)

Radio star

It’s taking me ages to write this. It always does. Words don’t flow off my fingertips like they did for Mike. I admired his writing ability so much, I rarely laugh out loud when I read something but I always did when I turned to his column. The reverse was true for him with broadcasting. He got nervous, he wanted lots of advance warning on what we would be talking about and he would only ever go on the radio with me. However, if you heard him co-presenting my show, you would never have noticed his insecurity or any hint that he was referring to his notes. He prepared diligently, arrived half an hour before the show started and spent the next three hours teasing me he was going to say something to have me sacked. His two “riders” were the use of my security pass so he could nip out for a fag and a decent cup of coffee. I never told him that he regularly got me into trouble, but I happily took the hit as his contribution was worth every moment spent on the naughty step.

Don’t be soft

He’d be furious if I got a bit sentimental. So, here goes... He told me once that he had lied about his age for years because he wanted to keep working. He had been saying he was 62 since 2017. After co-hosting the show one morning, he told me he needed to reduce my modest Cotswold Life fee. When I asked to what, he said to nothing. He knew I would keep doing it to promote my show and then persuaded me to buy him breakfast. He was nearly in tears when I told him my two-year-old Lurcher had been put down due to cancer. His love of dogs revealed the softest essence of a man who wouldn’t look right without a whippet by his side. As I sign off, its apt that I am fuelling myself with a stiff drink in his memory and my rescue Lurcher at my feet. Rest in peace, my friend, Mike, 62 and a bit.