Not many people know about the life of one of the most-read authors. In fact, few still could tell who this man was, let alone his own personal accomplishments. Norris, along with his twin brother Ross, wrote a book of facts and statistics that people the world over enjoy reading every year. But, before we talk about his work, let’s talk about…the rest of the story!
On August 12, 1925, Norris and his brother Ross were born in London, England to William Allan and Margaret McWhirter. They’re family history was rich and full of innovation and creativity. William McWhirter, the grandfather, invented the voltameter and the ammeter; Willaim Allan McWhirter was the first Englishman to edit three British newspapers. The twins would go on to set records of their own.
While they served in the British Navy, they were separated for the first time—Norris was assigned a minesweeper position in the Pacific, while Ross was assigned a minesweeper position in the Mediterranean. The only time the two met during the war was when their ships collided in Malta. Once the war was over, the two of them went to Oxford University, both competing on the record-setting relay team at the University. But, records were made to be set and broken.
After the twins graduated, they returned to their parents’ house and continued their close relationship. Both began writing for local newspapers—Ross as a freelance rugby and tennis reporter, and Norris as a general freelance sportswriter for the Star. Both men had a mind for facts and in 1951, the two of them started McWhirter Twins, Ltd., a fact-finding service for newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopedias, etc. Norris was the senior partner.
In 1954, according to popular legend, Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of Arthur Guinness, Son & Co., Ltd., was out hunting birds. He and a friend began a disagreement about what the fastest game bird was and were disappointed to find no book of records with an answer. To settle the dispute, Beaver hired McWhirter Twins, Ltd., to settle the dispute. He commissioned the brothers to write a book of records that would be used in bars, most likely, to settle heated arguments. He established Guinness Superlatives, Ltd., to publish the book.
The first publishing of the book of superlatives, as it was called, was 198 pages long, completed in 16 weeks at a cost of $35,000. In time for the Christmas rush of 1955, it was an instant success and the 187,000 copies were sold out in no time. The Guinness Book of Superlatives became England’s number one best-seller in the non-fiction category for 1955 within just four months.
Since 1956, the Guinness Book of Records has been published at regular intervals with even more facts and records. But, it all almost came to an end in 1975. Norris and Ross had become very outspoken political activists over the years. Both had run for Parliament in 1964, but lost the election. Ross’ dislike for the Irish Republican Army terrorists became a cause of sorts. He published a pamphlet called, “How to Beat the Bombers.” Sadly, he could not beat the bombers, for on November 27, 1975, two IRA gunmen shot him on his doorstep in suburban London. Norris was devastated. After long considerations, he chose to continue the publication. He wrote a book about his brother called, Ross: The Story of a Shared Life, and in the preface penned the following words:
This account of my twin brother's life began as a piece of private therapy very soon after his assassination. That it has become a book at all is due to the insistence of friends who were determined that there should be something less remote than an unmarked grave, references in law books and a Memorial Fund.
Norris never forgot his brother—nor did he ever remove Ross’ name from the mailbox for their offices. He continued researching facts and finding the newest records for Guinness Book of World Records until 1985. He did, however, continue his record-finding missions for the 1999 publication, Book of Millennium Records. Norris and Ross were noted for their photographic memories—a record in its own right. Norris, also, never lost his love for sports or his competitive nature. He died of a heart attack following a tennis match on April 19, 2004. He was 78.
For more information, please see the following websites:
Guinness Book of World Records
Guinness Book of Millennium Records