Cookman, one of the country’s leading magazine designers, and the man
who helped to launch Rolling Stone in the UK, has died of cancer aged
His was a hugely varied life which included teaching t’ai
chi, reviving an ancient fertility tradition and pursuing a career as a
professional musician (he even had a hit record in Austria).
in India on 22 November 1946, Brian lived in Delhi until the age of
seven.When his parents moved back to Harrow, Brian showed his
unconventional side by heading off each morning to his secondary modern
school with a rolled-up umbrella. As early as 14, he was keen on music
and played in the local pizza restaurant.
After studying graphic
design at Harrow School of Art, he went to work for EMI on the sales
side, playing gigs in the evenings. He set up his own band, Jug Trust,
which made a couple of singles. This later became Bronx Cheer “because
we wanted groupies and vast sums of money from the pop world”, Brian
said. Neither materialised, however the band made one LP, Bronx Cheer
Greatest Hits Volume III, before it became the Brian Cookman Band. For
a while Brian went professional, touring with Gallagher and Lyle and
becoming friends with other singer-songwriters such as Ralph McTell,
Alexis Korner and Mike Harding. He also claimed that Paul Simon never
paid back the train fare Brian lent him.
Having left the music
scene for a while owing to management problems, he subsequently used
his graphic design skills to help with the launch of Rolling Stone
magazine in the UK, ultimately taking on the role of ad manager. In his
book on Rolling Stone magazine, the owner, Jann Werner, pays credit to
Brian’s contribution and enthusiasm.
He moved on to spend some
time making models for model villages, then drifted into design in 1978
with a company called CPP, which was later taken over by EMAP. Brian
became art director, then group art director, later leaving to run his
own design business, producing work for a large range of publications,
including the Financial Times .
He was one of the very first
designers in this country to see the potential of the Apple computer,
and had one of the first full systems in the UK. But many creative
people, he was not at his best with the business side – often he was so
busy designing magazines that he forgot to invoice his clients.
his spare time he found his love for music again and started playing
gigs, as well as compering at the Cambridge Folk Festival. He is still
the only compere to win a standing ovation.
He was also the only
NHS-registered t’ai chi practitioner, and was chairman of the T’ai Chi
and Chi Kung Forum for Health, with schools in Kent and Cambridgeshire.
He started learning it Former Middle East correspondent of The Guardian
in 1981, and most recently travelled to South Africa to teach its
relaxation techniques to hardened criminals. “It was pretty scary,” he
said. “At first they wouldn’t talk to each other, but by the end they
were working together and shaking hands with each other.”
revived an old fertility dance, Plough Monday and the Molly Men, in the
1980s. This was a ritual that dated back hundreds of years and ensured
that crops in Fenland would grow well. It was traditionally performed
The black-faced dancers, carrying brooms and
wearing tattered coats bestrewn with ribbons, would dance at farms and
in every village, collecting money as they went. The tradition died out
in the 1930s, but Brian found two old Molly men, learnt the dances from
them and every year on Plough Monday, went to perform the dances in
Cambridgeshire villages. His Molly Men were invited to a folk festival
called Dancing England in the 1980s, and the organisers were aghast at
the display. But he was still invited back six times to show off the
For the past 10 years, he worked as head of PMA
Design, teaching desktop publishing skills to hundreds of people and
redesigning dozens of magazines, from What Car? to the British Dental
Journal . He proved to be an inspirational tutor who had a brilliant
eye for design and a wonderfully relaxed teaching style. He was also
unconventional, to say the least, and it surprised many people to find
that the man in the Hawaiian shirt was their tutor.
He leaves a partner, Diana, estranged wife, Lesley, two sons, Myles and Leo, and two daughters, Louise and Philippa.
All of his children are musicians.
Keith Elliott Chairman of the PMA Group