Norris McWhirter

From Academic Kids

Norris Dewar McWhirter, CBE (August 12, 1925 - April 19, 2004) was a writer, right wing political activist and television presenter. He and his twin brother, Ross McWhirter, were known internationally for the Guinness Book of Records, a book they wrote and annually updated together (until Ross' 1975 assassination, after which Norris continued alone) between 1955 and 1985.


Early Life

McWhirter was the son of a newspaper editor (Sunday Pictorial), William McWhirter and Margaret Williamson ('Bunty'). He was born at 10 Branscombe Gardens, ("Griffnock" after Griffnock Church in Glasgow where the McWhirters were married) Winchmore Hill, London, N21. His elder brother Kennedy was born in 1923. In 1929 as William was working on the founding of the Northcliffe Newspapers chain of provincial newspapers, the family moved to Aberfoyle, in Broad Walk Winchmore Hill. Like his brothers Norris was educated at Marlborough College and Oxford University (Trinity College).


Ross and Norris both became sports journalists in 1950. In 1951 they published Get to Your Marks and later in 1951 they founded an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street. Norris came to particular public attention while working for the BBC as a sports commentator. On May 6, 1954, Norris McWhirter kept the time when Roger Bannister ran the first four minute mile. After the race, McWhirter began his announcement:

:As a result of Event Four, the one mile, the winner was R.G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton Colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a track record, an English native record, a United Kingdom record, a European record, in a time of three minutes... which the rest of McWhirter's announcement was drowned out in the enthusiastic uproar.

In the same year the twins were invited by the Guinness brewery to compile a book of records, giving birth to the phenomenon known as the Guinness Book of Records.

Political activity

He was an active Conservative in the early 1960s and fought, unsuccessfully, to recapture Orpington in the 1964 general election after its loss to the Liberals in the 1962 by-election.

Both he and his brother held right-wing views on topics such as immigration, Rhodesia, British membership of the European Economic Community and Northern Ireland. Always vigorous campaigners for the liberty of the individual, in the 1970s they founded the 'National Association for Freedom', later 'The Freedom Association', which campaigned against what they saw as abuses of power not only by officialdom and the trade union movement in the U.K., but also the E.E.C. in Brussels.

Ross McWhirter's criticism of British policy in Northern Ireland, and his call for a "tougher" response by the British army to Irish republican terrorism and stronger restrictions on the Irish community living in Britain, led to his assassination by the Provisional IRA in 1975.

Record Breakers and later events

Both were regulars on the BBC show Record Breakers. After his brother's death, McWhirter continued to appear on the show, eventually making him one of the most recognisable people on children's television in the 1970s and 1980s. Norris McWhirter was made a CBE in 1980.

In 1985 he launched an unsuccessful defamation case against the TV programme Spitting Image.

He retired from the Guinness Book of Records in 1985 and from Record Breakers in 1994. Afterwards, he continued to write, editing a new reference book, his Book of Millennium Records, in 1999.

Norris McWhirter died from a heart attack following a tennis match, at his home in Wiltshire, on the 19 April, 2004. He was aged 78.

Selected bibliography

Sports and general encyclopædia

  • Dunlop Illustrated Encyclopedia of Facts
  • Get To Your Marks (1951, with Ross McWhirter)
  • Guinness Book of Records (1955-1975, with Ross McWhirter)
  • Guinness Book of Records (1976-1985)
  • Guinness Sports Record Book (1977-1978)
  • Book of Millennium Records ISBN 1852278056



pl:Norris McWhirter


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