History of the Guinness Book of World Records Part 2

About the history of the Guinness Book of World Records including the story of its creation and founding, how it operates now.



Once launched, the book acquired momentum as readers by the thousands wrote in with their own facts for inclusion. The McWhirters systematically catalogued them, arranged to have them verified, and sought out more. It was much to their advantage that their thinking processes were so alike; they hardly needed to communicate verbally at all, and if one mislaid a fact, the other one knew where to find it. Inseparable as children, they always shared a room even though their house had seven bedrooms, and they were never apart until they joined the Royal Navy during W.W. II. Norris served on a minesweeper in the Pacific, Ross on one in the Mediterranean, and they saw each other only once, when their vessels, making their separate ways to Malta, collided with each other. After the war they went to Oxford together; later married within a few months of each other; ran as Conservatives for Parliament the same year (and lost); and had tastes so similar that Ross, who drank only tea, never ceased to be surprised that Norris occasionally asked for coffee.

In 1975 one of their joint political concerns brought their 20-year coeditorship of Guinness to an abrupt and tragic conclusion. Both brothers were convinced that the British government was not doing enough to bring to justice the Irish Republican Army terrorist bombers then plaguing London. One day Ross McWhirter announced plans to post a reward for their capture. Three weeks later he was gunned down at his front door, less than a mile from the Guinness office. Since then the entire burden of editorship has rested on the shoulders of Norris McWhirter.

Modern Operation: Guinness Superlatives, the publishing arm of Arthur Guinness, Son and Co., Ltd., operates from the third (and top) floor of a red brick building in the north London suburb of Enfield. In McWhirter's office every surface--tables, couches, floor--is piled high with the latest of the 20,000 letters he receives each year--letters of inquiry, letters challenging old records with new ones, letters submitting whole new fields of endeavor, all hopeful of inclusion in the next Guinness. Since each submission must be accompanied by evidence of verification--photographs, newspaper clippings, corroborations of witnesses--the piles grow even higher. Whatever space remains is occupied by the stacks of books and periodicals from which McWhirter does his own firsthand research. A staff of 14 aids him with the correspondence and verifications.

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