Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Mike Turner (February 2017)

(Born 6th of May 1939. Died 7th of January 2017)

The most impressive thing about Mike Turner was that, athletes and many others he met were inspired by him as, he imparted so much good knowledge about the sport and ways to train.
I met Tony Swindelhurst, several times, from Mike’s club, Liverpool Harriers, he enthused about Mike in no uncertain terms.

Doctor David Michael Turner was a main part of the Cambridge University cross country team, as their President for some 30 years. Roger Robinson, who competed for England & New Zealand told me, it was very difficult to make the Cambridge University cross-country ‘A’ team in the early 1960’s, when Mike was there. In fact Roger won the Surrey cross country Championships in January 1963, the very day Mike Turner (Queens College) won the Varsity race from Tim Johnston (Also from Cambridge, who went on to become an  international ‘Star’ and also a World Veteran Champion.)
Two others who impressed in the early 60’s were Tim Briault and Bruce Tulloh both Cambridge University men.
Mike was Captain of the England team when they won the International and later, as an over 40 set a UK record for Over 40’s for 5000 on the track of 14:22 (June 79 in a British league match for Liverpool), Mike was Inter-County cross country Champion for his beloved Lancashire, that were the first team home. In his late 30’s he was winning 10 mile road races in respectable times. In 1968 he was a team Manager of the British team at the Olympics in Mexico and, was even a treasurer of the BAAB for a time.
At Cambridge University, after gaining his PhD, he became. A Lecturer in the Department of Land Economy. But originally came from Liverpool, where he was good at cricket and rugby at school but his first love certainly son became athletics.
Anyway let us go straight to Mike Turner and what he had to say when I visited him at the University (1978).

Although he found his lecturing fitted in with his running, we must not forget he was Dean of Magdalene College Cambridge “You have your responsibilities for discipline and you would like to imagine that 100 years from now the college will be more or less as it is now, and that is a normal span of time when you are thinking of a college.
Then you think it is worthwhile maintaining these kind of disciplinary rules, but it dose take time because, undergraduates are only going to misbehave in my leisure time, they are not going to do it between 9 and 5.
My problems start when most of us need some time to recuperate from whatever we have been doing in the week, so, to that extent being a Dean can be very burdensome. There was a period for example in the Easter term two years ago when I was competing well and I never got more than five hours sleep a night for four weeks. I don’t say that is typical, it is not, but it can happen. You have a particular set of trouble makers and in order to keep some sort of order among them, without sending them all down, which would be outrageous, you have just got to be around then; your life style is thrown completely. Running at seven in the morning after hardly any sleep, you cannot fit another session in during the day because you are constantly tired. That was when I was acting Dean. When the previous incumbent had given the job up, one of the reasons he had done so was because the state of indiscipline in the college and somebody had to get a grip on it. I think I have now got the job organised. It is not a life style that I would recommend to a budding athlete. Yet, once the end of June comes there is a totally different situation, as there are no undergraduates around till the second week of October and during that period therefore, one has got much more flexibility. Then it is a job I would regard, for many athletes, as one to be recommended where you can organise your life round your running and frankly that is what I do. I reckon that is why I am here in part, as running is such an important thing to me and I enjoy it so enormously, that it makes everything else seem worthwhile and I can put up with almost anything, provided I am able to run when I want and how I want and with whom I want.”

In 1978 “I have trained twice a day really since 1956, although I was not training twice a day then. The morning session really is designed to get the machine organised, partly therapeutic, so that has basically been steady running. If the morning session is a 5 miles session the second session is a 10miles.”

It is interesting looking through old Cross country results and the names that come up, as to get into the International (Old World CC) you had to be in the Senior National Championship race, with just a very few exceptions at times, to be considered at all for the International (World CC). Mike was 2nd in 1964 and 1966 so, well in the team and, there were some interesting names on the team chosen from the actual order they finished in, at Blackpool in 1970.
Trevor Wright, Dick Taylor, Dave Bedford, Mike Turner of course, Mike Baxter, Mike Beevor, Ricky Wilde , John Caine, Ron Grove and Mike Tagg.
As you must have gathered, Trevor Wright won at Blackpool in 1970 Mike was 4th and also 4th in 1969 when the winner was Mike Tagg.

Back in 1966 at Graves Park, Sheffield, there was a terrific finish between Ron Hill (1st) and Mike Turner both running 46:21 with Jim Hogan 3rd.
“I am sure I could have won. It was my fault through bad organisation on my part, where as in the Northern three weeks earlier, I had really been much more organised, and the first time Ron (Hill) made a mistake in that race as, I was past him and away, and he did not catch me. It was easy in that race, a lot easier. I think there are a lot of races like that when you know in your heart of hearts that, if you were the other bloke you would beat the other person by miles, and don’t let it happen or you get in front in a race and think, why did they let me out front? I have six miles to go, why don’t they catch me and leave me so I can take it easy. But you are not able to; you just go on and on. That seems to be the triumph of character. There have been many races where I have come through, not necessarily at the front of the field, and the satisfaction has been absolutely fantastic, unbelievable, and quite inexplicable to other people particularly if you have not won. I had run against Fergus Murray in the British Universities, where the previous year much to the annoyance of the crowd, not to say the press, we had come in together and the fact was that we were about the same level.  The following year we were told categorically that this was to be a r ace and we just ran shoulder to shoulder and in the end, fortunately, they did not draw the line because they did not imagine it was going to be that close, but as we cross the line there was no way of telling which one had won, we both ran absolutely to beat each other all the way, there was so little between us. We were both determined to win because he had come through the Scottish system without being beaten, I had come through the English one without being defeated, except by people that were superior to us anyway, and we were both equally determined.”

Runners like Mel Batty and Gerry North were not university men but  Champions also in those days but, coming back to our subject, the ‘charming’. Mike Turner.
Mike had been part of an amazing Cambridge University team. In the UAU Championships of 1963.There was a very good and very close finish when Tim Johnston (Cambridge) so good in the snow, and John Farrington of London University who went later to run for Australia; both were timed at 34:49 with Mike Turner 3rd in 35:24 and two Olympians from Manchester University, Ron Hill 36:46 and John Whetton 36:53. with John Jackson, the Olympic steeplechaser just behind that.
The race was at Coxtie Green, Brentwood in Essex

“In the British Universities Championships one was pretty hard pressed to keep ahead of one’s own Cambridge colleagues. Our sixth man was 15th!
'In those days we had such a team at Cambridge that you were training all the time at a phenomenally high level, whoever you went out with, inevitably you got into a race and the light blue vests were all around you and so the first thing was to get organised in the pecking order in your own team, and then sort that out by that time there was not many of the opposition left. This comes back to something I was saying earlier, that if you are a member of a good team, a really great team with a good morale, who are absolutely determined to do well then the best in that team must be good inevitably, because they are going to have to prove themselves each week. That is the great thing, get a team together and compete regularly”

Liverpool Harriers were close to his heart as was Cambridge University Hare & Hounds
“With Liverpool we used to travel all over the place and I remember going to High Wycombe, and one of my club coming down on a motor bike to make up a team, on a Friday night, getting in at midnight, having been on the back of a bike from Liverpool for six hours, absolutely frozen, shaking with cold. We had gone out with one thought, ‘What the hell are we doing here?’
‘We have come here and we were second last year so we are going to win this damn race this year. We won it, and I think this is something you get out of our style of British, call it what you will, club athletics.”

In the last years of Mike’s life he was unable to enjoy running anymore due to medical reasons but had some tremendous memories and, kind people like Dave Bedford and others would come up especially to see him and have a nice chat to cheer him up. He was that well respected and liked.

Alastair Aitken

Back to Reports Index

Back to Archive index