PROFILE: Walking in the Steps of Gary Cooper; from Prize-Winning Nuclear Physicist to Fearless Combatant of a Particularly Belligerent Chinese Pheasant, Duncan Tift Meets Edward Cook, Former Managing Director of West Midland Manufacturer Thomas Walker

Article excerpt

Byline: Duncan Tift

You can learn a lot about a person from the films they watch and who their heroes are. On the face of it, Edward Cook is a typical managing director of a mid-ranking Midland manufacturing company but beneath his crisply tailored suit beats the heart of an adventurer.

Prize winning nuclear physicist he may be, but deep down you get the impression all he wants to do is the decent thing and ride off into the sunset with Grace Kelly by his side. The reason - his favourite film.

"I saw High Noon when I was seven and it's still the most induential film I've ever seen.

Ever since then Will Kane has been one of my heroes. The man who stood up for what he thinks is right," he says.

It is one of the principles by which he has tried to live his own life.

Indeed he knows the film inside-out and still has the original 78 recording of the soundtrack.

"The screenwriter, Carl Foreman made the film as an anti-McCarthy statement, which was a powerful thing to do in the early 50s and I admire him for it. It cost him his career in the end but the thing is a triumph and a lasting legacy for him."

His other hero is legendary explorer Ernest Shackleton - unalike on the face of it from Will Kane but underneath, perhaps not so different.

"Ever since I read about his exploits I have wanted to visit Elephant Island, where he kept his team alive in the Antarctic," he says. Indeed, if he were alive today, the explorer could find himself with a dinner invitation.

Perhaps the heroic exploits of these two men inspired him to overcome one of the hardest challenges of his early life.

"I was a student working in a private aviary in Charlcot and it was one of the worst experiences of my life because I had a civil war with one of the birds there, a particularly nasty Chinese pheasant which took it upon itself to attack me every morning I entered the cage.

"I used to have to go in armed with a long stick and fend off attacks. The first you knew of it was this missile suddenly heading towards you and then it was a case of self-defence.

"I'm pleased to say that life's got easier since then."

Chances are, if you're reading this and wearing trousers then in some small way you will have contributed to the success of this week's interviewee.

For Mr Cook has recently stepped down as managing director of West Midland fastener manufacturer Thomas Walker, a company perhaps still best known for supplying the hook and bars that perform such a vital role in stopping our trousers from spending more time around our ankles than our waists.

He joined the company almost three decades ago and has overseen some major changes, both in his own business and in the fashion world.

But it was an unusual road that has brought him to this point.

As a student at Nottingham University he opted to study nuclear physics - and not without success, claiming the Barton Business Prize (University Prize for Physics).

After leaving university in the mid 60s he joined Courtalds, initially with a view to getting into sales.

However, his scientific skills proved useful and was also put to work in the company's laboratories, as well as getting involved in field work.

"We were developing fibre testings for things like carpets, assessing their durability and the like.

"We were also running research into things like tyre construction," he says.

"Oddly, around that time the university contacted me and said that good physicists were in demand and would I like to go back.

"I thought about it but I opted to stay where I was and then I had a lucky break and got into the testing of carbon fibres in aerospace, sports equipment and general engineering," he adds.

Back in the late 60s/early 70s the technology was in its infancy but the farsighted recognised that it was a key innovation for the future. …