Norris McWhirter, co-founder of the Guinness Book of Records, died aged 78, April 20th, 2004.
Obituary. He traced his McWhirter ancestors back to the town
of Maybole. See also
THIS ENGLAND, Spring, 1999, Page 61
A Silver Cross for the courageous twin who fights for our freedom
McWhirter, who has dedicated many years to speaking out in the cause
of Britain's sovereign independence, and our right to choose and
control our own destiny.
Defenders of Britain's sovereign independence have devised a sweet
way of crystallizing the humbug and doubletalk shrouding moves
towards a federal Europe. They have been tucking into "Euro Fudge"
courtesy of The Freedom Association; a body fiercely determined to
protect Britain's independence and with the boxes comes an ironic
Delivered by the association's chairman, Norris McWhirter -- a name
with which millions readily identify -that says: "Not the world's
greatest Fudge. That is still in the making." It is a typically
trenchant comment from a man who has dedicated many years of his
long life to speaking up for Britain. He has done so with a
singularity of voice and purpose that have become impossible to
When it comes to defending his country's independence and freedom to
control its own destiny, there has been no fudge and no room for
mistake about the stance of someone whose tenacity, reinforced by a
daunting grasp of British constitutional law, has become an enduring
thorn in the side of his opponents.
But Norris McWhirter, CBE, MA, author publisher and broadcaster, one
of the outstanding athletes of his day, is an internationalist who,
in the words of Rodney Atkinson, that other prominent anti-Brussels
campaigner, 'defends his nation and its democracy and yet admires,
encourages and trades with all the other free peoples and nations of
the world." Together he and Norris wrote the best-selling Treason at
Maastricht, which has gone into three editions and warns of the
threat posed to the British constitution in particular and the
nation state in general by moves towards integrating Britain into a
Recommending his colleague for the silver Cross of St. George,
Rodney Atkinson says: "When a nation is in terrible danger, as the
British nation is today, we can no longer look -- if we ever could
-- to the kind of people who mistake professional politics for
"Instead we must look to real democrats who have understood the
essence of freedom and democracy, real leaders who are independent
of party patronage or corporate pay- packets, real men of principle
who will put their country and their parliament before their
political party and their petty ambition.
"In Norris McWhirter the British people are lucky to have such a
fearless fighter...with the knowledge and courage to point to that
which binds us historically into the most successful nation in the
history of the world." A ringing citation -- but even with- but his
formidable presence at the heart of the European issue, Norris
McWhirter's achievements and courage in other walks of life would in
themselves merit high recognition.
Much of that life was inextricably bound up with that of his twin
brother, Ross, whose murder at the hands of an IRA assassin in 1975
pierced him to the heart.
They were born in August 1925, at Winchmore Hill, London, the sons
of William Allan McWhirter, managing director of Associated
Newspapers and Northcliffe Newspapers Group, and even allowing for
the intrinsic closeness of twins their careers, talents and
interests mirrored each other to an almost uncanny degree.
Both went to Marlborough College; both were at the same college -
Trinity - at Oxford University; both were outstanding track
athletes, representing their university and running together in the
Achilles Club team that won the Amateur Athletic Association 4 x 110
yard relay championship; both served in the Royal Naval Volunteer
Reserve in the war, where both saw minesweeping duty, and in
addition to other publishing ventures both went on to found The
Guinness Book of Records, which became the world's all-time
best-selling copyright book.
Where athletics were concerned, however, Norris had the edge. He not
only ran for Oxford but for Scotland in the seasons 1950-52 and
Great Britain in 1951, and in the late Forties and early Fifties
virtually monopolized the Middlesex 100 and 220 yards titles,
winning them a total of five times.
His pace helped to make him an outstanding rugby player, too. He
played wing three-quarter for Saracens and won a county jersey with
the Middlesex XV in 1950. By then he had taken his first steps into
journalism, and his ability not only to perform at sport's highest
levels but to describe it informatively and entertainingly opened up
Both the London Evening Star and The Observer homed in on him as
their athletics correspondent for stints that were to last 10 and 17
years respectively, and along the way the broadcasting media pricked
up its ears.
Norris was dispatched by BBC radio to the other side of the world to
cover the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. That went so
well that television work followed, with the BBC choosing him for
their commentary team for four successive Games: Rome (1960), Tokyo
(1964), Mexico (1968) and Munich (1972).
But where television was concerned it was his appearances with the
late Roy Castle as co-presenter of the long-running BBC series
Record Breakers that made him a "star" and a household name.
There have also been appearances on Desert island Discs and Any
Questions? and more than 700 radio and TV interviews around the
world, many of them promoting the book that first brought Norris and
his brother to prominence. Mention its title virtually anywhere in
the world and it will be instantly recognizable. The Guinness Book
of Records, which they launched in 1954, was to make them
They had already established an agency in London to provide facts,
figures and features to the Press, publishers and advertisers, and
in 1951 brought out their first book.
Get to Your Marks, a history of athletics, was critically acclaimed
as being "distinguished by a degree of precision and thoroughness
which no athletics historian has achieved before."
Its successor long ago began creating publishing records of its own.
To date The Guinness Book of Records, which Norris co-edited with
Ross for 21 years before his brother's tragic death, has sold 84
million copies in more than 400 editions in 37 languages, making it
the most phenomenal success in copyright publishing.
For Norris, who continued with Guinness for a number of years after
the tragedy, there were other editorships -- Athletics World, The
Dunlop Book of Facts, The Guinness Book of Answers -- but it was a
moving personal memoir that lingers most in many people's minds.
Ross -- the Story of a Shared Life, was written within months of his
brother's murder. He was shot on his doorstep at his home in
Enfield, Middlesex, in November 1975, by two IRA terrorists, and
died in hospital soon afterwards.
In the previous weeks he had been crusading to raise f50,000 as
reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone involved in
the London terror campaign in which the IRA had up to then taken 54
On the initiative of his friends, the Ross McWhirter Foundation was
set up with subscriptions totaling f100,000 to advance his qualities
of "good citizenship, personal initiative and leadership, and
personal courage as an example to others".
They are all attributes which, as in so many other aspects, are
shared by his brother, though Norris -- a trustee of the foundation,
which makes annual awards for acts of moral and physical courage --
would be the first to pooh-pooh the suggestion.
At heart private and unassuming, when he is away from public service
and the relentless demands of his involvement with The Freedom
Association, he likes to spend his time "hunting in libraries and
visiting small islands".
For a man whose achievements, integrity, and steadfastness to his
cause are an example to us all - the Silver Cross of St. George.