McWhirter, Norris (Dewar) 1925-2004

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McWHIRTER, Norris (Dewar) 1925-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born August 12, 1925, in London, England; died after a heart attack April 19, 2004 (some sources say April 20), in Whiltshire, England. Journalist, publisher, and author. Along with his twin brother, Ross, McWhirter is best known as the cofounder of the Guinness Book of Records. After minesweeping duty in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II, he was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, where he ran track while earning a B.A. in international relations and economics and a master's degree in contract law in 1948. McWhirter then began a career in journalism, working for the London Observer from 1951 to 1967 and for the Star from 1951 to 1964, and he had the privilege of being present to announce the breaking of the four-minute mile by Roger Bannister. Records had been a fascination for both McWhirter and his brother since childhood, and in 1951 the pair decided to start a fact-checking business called McWhirter Twins Ltd. that did fact-checking for journalists and advertising companies. The idea to start a book about world records had its birth in 1954, when Sir Hugh Beaver, an executive for the brewing company Arthur Guinness, Son & Co., asked the brothers to resolve a dispute about whether golden plovers or red grouse could fly faster. The answer, said the McWhirters, was grouse, and the incident inspired them to begin the Guinness Book of Records reference, which quickly became a bestseller and has since then sold more than one hundred million copies. McWhirter became managing director of the company Guinness Superlatives Inc., which published the records book, and remained so until 1975, the year his brother was assassinated by IRA terrorists who objected to Ross McWhirter's offer of an award for information leading to the arrest of IRA bombers. Both Ross and Norris McWhirter were active in conservative politics, having founded the Freedom Association and having both been candidates for Parliament, though they lost the election. After his brother's death, McWhirter changed his role at the company to become its director in 1975; he edited the book until 1986 and was an advisory editor until 1996. Meanwhile, he also served as chair of William McWhirter & Sons from 1955 to 1987, director of Dreghorn Publications, beginning in 1962, was founder and chair of Redwood Press from 1967 to 1972, and was director of Gieves Group Ltd. from 1972 to 1995. McWhirter was also involved with television, where he was a presenter on the BBC program Record Breakers from 1972 to 1992. As editor of the Guinness Book of Records McWhirter was proud of his role in checking to verify the facts that it published, and he disdained the competing Ripley's Believe It or Not as a book that included interesting but unverified information. For his contributions, he was made a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1980, as well as being honored with the Free Enterprise special award from Aims of Industry in 1983.



Chicago Tribune, April 21, 2004, section 1, p. 9.

Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), April 22, 2004, p. 20.

Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2004, p. B12.

New York Times, April 21, 2004, p. C21.

Times (London, England), April 21, 2004, p. 30.

Washington Post, April 21, 2004, p. B6.