Norris McWhirter, co-founder of the Guinness Book of Records, dead at 78
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
LONDON (AP) - Norris McWhirter, co-founder of the Guinness Book of Records, final arbiter on everything from the fastest climb of Mount Everest to the world's longest hot dog, has died. He was 78.
McWhirter suffered a heart attack Monday after playing tennis at his home in Wiltshire, southern England, a family spokeswoman said. "The two things he attached most importance to were the freedom of the individual and the sovereignty of the United Kingdom," the family said in a statement.
"Apart from his family, his great loves were visiting the 1,049 offshore British islands and having a good game of tennis. He was energetic to the last."
As founding editor of the Guinness Book of Records, McWhirter produced a publication that came to be regarded as the final arbiter on questions of who holds what international record.
The first Guinness book appeared in 1954, edited and compiled by McWhirter and his twin brother, Ross, who was slain by the Irish Republican Army in 1975.
Norris McWhirter continued to edit the Guinness Book of Records until 1986, remaining as advisory editor until 1996.
By 1964, the books were selling one million copies a year. Sales topped 40 million in 1981.
The 2004 edition, nearly 300 pages, lists world records regarding everything from war, peace and politics to astonishing feats of food consumption.
For example, there is the oldest woman to make a parachute jump, a Briton aged 80; and the longest hot dog, made by an American company, at 15 feet, three inches (4.64 metres).
McWhirter, who was born in London, was granted a master's degree from Oxford University in 1948.
The following year, he became the sports correspondent for London's Observer newspaper and later worked briefly for a tabloid before going into publishing himself.
McWhirter retained his love of athletics and beginning in 1951 worked as a sports commentator for the British Broadcasting Corp., and as a broadcaster of Olympic track and field events from 1952-72.
In 1954, he announced the time after Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile - his announcement drowned out by the roars of the crowd as soon as he said "three." Bannister's time was 3:59.4.
With others, McWhirter produced volumes like The Guinness Book of Amazing Animals (1981) and Guinness: The Stories behind the Records (1982).
He contributed items on athletics to the Encyclopedia Britannica, edited the magazine Athletics World from 1952-57 and appeared regularly on Record Breakers, a BBC children's show that explained world records.
On The Web: guinnessworldrecords.com/