Trivia king leaves record-setting legacy

Trivia king leaves record-setting legacy, by Sasha Shtargot - 22nd April 2004
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

A trivia question: the co-founder of the world's most well-known volume of trivia has died of a heart attack. Who was he?

If you answered "Norris McWhirter", the 78-year-old Englishman who with his twin brother, Ross, started the Guinness Book of Records in 1954, congratulations.

An obsessive gatherer of quirky facts, McWhirter edited the Guinness Book of Records, a compendium of milestones from the oldest man ever to the longest eyelashes on a dog, until 1986.

His brother, Ross, who like him was a passionate supporter of conservative politics, was killed by the IRA in 1975.

About 200,000 copies of the book, now called Guinness World Records, were sold last year in Australia and up to 3 million copies have been bought by Australian readers since 1954. The 50th edition is expected to be out in October.

Meera Govil, the owner-manager of Eltham Bookshop, said the book was mainly bought as a Christmas present for boys aged 10 to 14.

"It's such an institution. It's been running for so many years and it's got such a cult following," she said.

"Parents or grandparents see it as a great gift. Once the book is brought home, a lot of people dip into it, not just the person for whom it's bought."

Ms Govil said she sold up to 40 Guinness World Records books each year, but would sell many more if major chain stores such as Kmart did not offer it at a substantially reduced price.

William, a 13-year-old student at Eltham High School, said he enjoyed reading the quirky and interesting facts in Guinness World Records.

"I mainly look at the big battles over previous years and the tallest and fastest things in the world," he said.

"It's got stuff on the most deadliest virus in the world, which eats flesh very slowly."

Sean Lenahan, general manager of Borders Books in Carlton, said the book was loved because it was well presented and easy to read.

"It's a bit of a tradition. People remember it from their childhood and after they've bought it as a present, they want to have a look at it themselves," he said.

Peter Phillips, sales and marketing director with the book's Australian distributor, Pan Macmillan, said Guinness World Records was a perennial settler of family arguments over trivia.

He said the book's adult appeal in the 1950s and 1960s had changed over the years and it was now mainly enjoyed by adolescent boys.

"It's just a thing that they (young boys) have got to know the most ghoulish things or the shortest, tallest, or fastest whatever and they've just got to talk about it."


Media websites

The Sydney Morning Herald

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Guinness World Records

World Record websites

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Guinness World Records

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The World's Largest Steer


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