The Guinness Book of World Records is 60 and - it all started in Ireland
Home to the world’s best, worst and weirdest, the hugely popular book started life on a grouse shoot in Wexford
The Guinness Book of World Records, which has just turned 60, holds the record for being one of the most frequently stolen books from public libraries in the United States. If you want to steal books (to quote Roy Castle, the late presenter of BBC TV’s Record Breakers) “dedication’s what you need”. Dedication and shamelessness.
Since it was published on August 27th, 1955, the book of world records has brought the world’s heaviest people and the world’s tallest horses to more than 134 million people. The world’s best, worst and weirdest have had their achievements and afflictions written down in 21 languages in 100 countries. It is the bestselling annual book in the history of publishing.
Given that official Ireland seems to have adopted the black stuff as its national brand, it seems right that some people feel proprietorial about Guinness World Records turning 60.
Turns out we should feel proprietorial.
The whole wheeze was concocted on a grouse shoot in Co Wexford when the managing director of the Guinness Brewery, Sir Hugh Eyre Campbell Beaver, became embroiled in an argument about whether or not the golden plover was Europe’s fastest game bird. It is a question that has vexed many.
Sir Beaver, a British engineer and industrialist, thought that there must be numerous other questions debated nightly in the pubs in Britain and in Ireland, but there was no book with which to settle arguments about records.
He was determined to put this right.
That’s where Ireland zooms into focus again.
Norris and Ross McWhirter, who had been running a fact-finding agency in London, were recommended to Beaver as suitable for the task of running the show. The brothers were commissioned to compile what became the Guinness Book of Records in August 1954. The statty, Glasgow-born brothers even became regulars on Castle’s children’s TV show.
British Conservative Party member Ross McWhirter’s political views were never broadcast on children’s television, but interestingly, he thought that all Irish people in Britain should register with the local police and provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels.
McWhirter also offered a £50,000 reward for information about bombings in England. But before he could pay out, McWhirter was assassinated by two IRA men, members of what became known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture McWhirter had offered the reward.
Ireland has does of course have a smattering of records, of which it can be rightly proud. Or not.
Enya remains the world’s best-selling act with no concert appearances. The singer-songwriter has sold 70 million albums since 1988 without performing a single concert solo.
The longest-serving live match commentator in the world is Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh. Yes that Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh. The GAA legend began his broadcasting career for RTÉ on March 17th, 1949. He retired on October 30, 2010 at the age of 80.
Ireland drinks the most tea per person – in the world. That’s 1,184 cups of tea per person per year or 3.2 cups a day.
Fiona Nolan has worn the most socks on one foot. On March 25th, 2011, Nolan managed to squeeze on 152 socks.
But only one-tenth of the 40,000 world records held today are included in the book. That’s a lot of dressing up as Where’s Wally – potentially for nothing. Imagine you had all those socks on and no one noticed.