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World Record People
There have been many, many people involved in the
business of setting World records, cataloguing records and, of course,
collecting record-related books and miscellanea. This page records some of these
people and their achievements by means of interviews, news items and
submissions to our web-site.
If you want your achievements to be recorded here,
send us an e-mail and we'll be delighted to talk to you!
Gyles Brandreth ◊
Larry Olmsted ◊
Lucky Diamond Rich ◊
Iain McWhirter ◊
Ralf Laue ◊ Anna Nicholas ◊
Emily Miethner ◊
Billy Copeland ◊
Craig Glenday ◊
Gordon Nutbrown, August 2016
We were very lucky to meet up with Gordon Nutbrown recently and we spent a
pleasant couple of hours talking about his involvement with Redwood
Press, the Trowbridge-based company which produced the Guinness Book of
Records in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. We also chatted about his
collection of Guinness books and his friendship with Norris and Ross McWhirter.
Q. Hello Gordon. How and when did Redwood Press start?
A. In the 1960s, I was working in the printing industry
and made the acquaintance of a book distributor named Neil Gormley. We
lost touch for a while but I happened to bump in to him some time later
when he was the distributor for the Guinness Book of Records. He
explained that Norris and Ross McWhirter were having trouble printing
the book in the tight timescale required, and asked me if I would
consider getting involved. In March 1966, I met with Norris and Ross and
we agreed (with Neil) to start a business to print the Guinness Book of Records in-house.
Q. Why was Trowbridge chosen as the site for the print works?
A. Neil was working in Bristol at the time, and he came across a
suitable plot of land in Trowbridge where we could be up-and-running
reasonably quickly. Neil, Norris, Ross and I invested in the business as
equal partners in 1966 and began to develop the 3,000 square feet print
works in Trowbridge. We chose the name Redwood to represent the tallest
living tree (collectors will know that the company logo was a Redwood
Q. The 1966 edition has the printer as "Billing & Sons Limited
of Guildford". Why was that?
A. When we started, we purchased a Heidelberg Rotaspeed
two-colour offset litho printer and employed three staff, but we were not in
a position to print the 13th edition that year. We sub-contracted the
job to Billings, so the 14th edition in 1967 was the first to be printed
in Trowbridge. The official opening of the print works took place on the
8th of February, 1967 and was performed by Sara Morrison, wife of Charles
Morrison, MP for Devizes.
Gordon with Sara Morrison and the McWhirters
Q. How did the business grow?
A. Our original idea was to streamline the production of the
Guinness Book of Records each year. However, the printing of the book is
a relatively short part of the whole process, so there was plenty of
slack at the print works which need to be taken up. In the late 1960s,
Neil Gormley left to pursue new ventures and my brother Wally bought his
share in the business and joined as Sales Director. His role was to sell
our printing services to the book trade and make sure that the print
machines were seldom idle. Initially, much of our work was reprinting
older typeset publications using the more flexible lithographic process.
In his book,
Ross - The
Story of a Shared Life, Norris says that within four years, we
were printing one in every nine titles published in Britain!
Q. How did the expansion of the business come about?
A. One part of the production that was still outsourced was the
binding of each edition. In 1972, by which time we had grown to a
medium-size company, we were approached by the Gieves Group who owned a
bookbinding company — James Burn & Co. in Esher — and the two businesses
merged to form Redwood Burn Limited. The new company later employed
almost 500 people, and the print works grew to around 50,000 square
feet. The company eventually relocated to larger premises in Melksham
and was bought by Pitman (later Bath Press).
Q. Did Redwood Press produce any of the specially bound
A. We supplied the printed text for such editions and arranged
for a trade bindery (initially Ackford's in Chichester) to complete the
text folding, sewing and case binding. When Redwood merged with James
Burn the binding of such editions was carried out at Esher. Some of the
special editions included jackets or printed paper case coverings; these
would have been printed in Trowbridge.
Q. Do you have a collection of Guinness books?
A. Yes - I have a number of books from my time at Redwood,
including a set of editions from 1968 to 1981 which were specially bound
for the directors of the company. I have some treasured signed copies,
and I am still given the latest edition every year.
Q. You must have fond memories of your time at Redwood.
A. Yes, many fond memories. Norris and Ross were genuinely nice
people, and we were good friends as well as work colleagues. We created
a successful business without ever having a major disagreement about
anything - our ideas just seemed to work.
Thank you Gordon - it's been a great pleasure meeting you.
Craig Glenday, January 2016
Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief of Guinness World Records, has kindly
answered a few of our questions in this exclusive interview:
Q. For collectors of the book - and fans of record breaking -
a job with Guinness World Records would seem to be a dream career. As
Editor-in-Chief, could you sum up the highs (and lows if there are any)
of working for a world-famous organisation?
A. As a fan of record-breaking and trivia in general, being
Editor-in-Chief at Guinness World Records is a dream job. I've often
said I've got the best job in the world, and that's official! The best
part of the role is getting to meet our incredible record-holders: our
holders are, by definition, the most fascinating, most awe-inspiring
people on the planet. I've had the pleasure and honour of meeting
royalty, prime ministers, pop stars, Hollywood actors, sports stars, and
the like, but also everyday people who've pushed themselves to
My most star-struck moment came when Michael Jackson
asked me to present his Guinness World Records certificate for
Best-selling album (Thriller) at the World Music Awards. Helping me out
was my glamorous assistant Beyoncι Knowles! Michael and I stayed in
touch and talked about writing a book together about the making of
Thriller, but sadly it never materialised and we lost one of pop music's
most influential figures at the age of just 50 years.
It's also an honour being the curator of so many
fascinating facts and figures. Sharing these with our predominantly
young readers is a real responsibility, which I take very seriously. The
GWR book is a window to a vast universe of experiences, races, creeds,
etc., and I believe that we expand the minds of our readers by showing
them things and ideas beyond their ken. It might sound very overblown
and self-aggrandising, but we have a mission to entertain and educate,
and a commitment to embrace record-breaking across the widest spectrum,
opening up the possibility of being a superlative human being to
everyone on the planet.
The most touching moment working here was on Canadian
radio, when, during an interview, a listener called in to say that we
were the only book that her child would read; as a reluctant reader, he
avoided the printed word except for the GWR book, and she thanked me
profusely for creating a book that was so appealing to kids. I do admit
to using every technique possible to attract kids to our book, from
filling it with exciting photography, glow-in-the-dark pages, 3D specs
and, most recently, augmented reality features, but if it gets them to
pick up and enjoy a book, I'm guilty as charged!
The least pleasing part of the job is having to leave
new record-holders out of the book because of space issues. We approve
many more new or updated records than we have room for, and we have to
curate the book in such a way that we can't accommodate every new title.
We might not have a spread for, say, mosaics, so any new mosaic record
will likely be left out. Most new records do make it on to our website,
though, and every new record holder is awarded their official GWR
Q. How did you get the job of Editor-in-Chief, and what does
your role entail?
A. My background is publishing - I studied a BA in Publishing at
Napier University, Edinburgh, and worked for a number of years in
magazine and part-work development. This meant that I researched five or
six new titles each season, and had to quickly become an expert in a lot
of different subjects, everything from car maintenance, cookery, jazz
music and home DIY to World War 2 history, gambling, sex health and the
paranormal. You very quickly have to identify the go-to people for each
topic and get a crash-course in the least you need to know. I've always
said that I know very little about a lot of things - perfect for
Guinness World Records!
I took some time out to write a couple of books of my
own - on UFO investigation techniques and vampire hunting! - then took a
full-time position with the Mirror Group as a food and drink editor.
While there, my friend Maureen Kane, who I'd worked with on a magazine
called Animals Animals Animals (about animals!), called me to say that
they'd got a job at Guinness World Records as a picture researcher. I
said to her, please let me know if there's ever a job on the editorial
side of things. After a few months, I got the call: the website editor
had just come second in a nationwide stand-up comedy competition and was
leaving GWR to pursue a career in comedy. I rushed down to the offices
the next day with my portfolio and convinced the VP of Content to give
me the job. A dream come true!
After a couple of years, the roles of Web Editor and
Book Editor were combined and I was lucky enough to secure this new
title. The role encompasses every aspect of the book creation process,
from sourcing and commissioning consultants, researching new record
categories, exploring options for cover materials and designs, creating
the flatplan for the books, adjudicating records, proofreading, and so
on. My time at Napier also armed me with a vital technical knowledge
about printing, so I get stuck in there too (indeed, I'm currently with our printer in Germany, where I'm doing colour tests on foil
materials for the next edition). I'm lucky to be able to stick my
fingers into many pies, so I also get to promote the book as an official
spokesperson and help with launch activities such as radio and TV
interviews, celebrity certificate presentations, and so on.
Q. When did you get your first copy of the book, and do you
have a full set of the editions from 1955?
A. My first edition was the 1985 book, which I vividly remember
for its astronaut cover. I was 12 years old, and reading this book
really was an eye- and mind-opening experience! I've still not managed
to complete my collection at home, but at work I do have access to a
full set. The early books make fascinating reading, and - a bit like
James Bond movies one's first experience tends to establish one's
favourite version. (My Bond is Roger Moore, by the way, although Daniel
Craig does a fantastic job too!)
I'd love to be able to publish new books that exactly
mirror those from the 1980s but I know today's younger audiences just
wouldn't appreciate the density of information. Nostalgia ain't what it
used to be, and we need to appeal to the widest range of readers, hence
the ever-changing designs. The older books were practically the same
year on year you could turn to the same page each year and see the
exact same records until the late 1990s, when The Guinness Book of
Records brand was effectively rebooted. At this point, the books no
longer represented the entire archive of records - there just wasn't
enough room, so the books were curated on a spread-by-spread basis
making them different each year. They became more of a snapshot of the
world at the time of going to press, so you can read them more easily
than before as historical documents charting the development of new
trends. We continue to be a best-seller, so I'm happy that we're doing
Q. What are your interests outside of record breaking?
A. I'm a big theatre fan, and I am in London's West End at
least once a week. I'm asked to review a lot of shows, so I get to see
more theatre than the average punter. I'm also the Chairman of The
Stephen Sondheim Society - a charitable trust that studies and promotes
the work of the Broadway composer/lyricist (and record holder for Most
Tony Awards won). I spent a big chunk of my (very limited) free time
last year producing a gala concert in celebration of Sondheim's 85th
birthday at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It's a fun distraction from
We also have an office band, called the Infamous
Grouse, so we rehearse in the office and play occasional gigs in pubs
around the office. I'm the drummer, so get to take out any work stress
on the kit! I'm also a percussionist, and have recently joined London
Metropolitan Brass, a newly formed brass band in north London. Any other
moments of spare time are spent working on movie scripts that I can't
seem to ever finish, a couple of ideas for TV documentaries and a book
about the joy of truffles...
Q. Does Guinness World Records have any special plans for the
A. We're looking at some new publishing ventures, and are about
to launch a new title called "Blockbusters". I can't say too much at the
moment, but it's a compendium of recent records from the world of
popular culture - movies, TV shows, gaming, music, gadgets, etc., aimed
specifically at kids. We're also starting work on the tenth edition of
the Gamer's Edition - a book I'm very proud of, as it came out of a
series of chats I had with Walter Day of Twin Galaxies, one of our
videogame consultants. It's a really popular spin-off book that's going
from strength to strength, and we've just hired a new Gaming Editor,
Stephen Daultrey, who's doing great things with the title.
Beyond the publishing team, we're also developing an
exciting new "live" museum experience, which will allow visitors to take
part in record attempts; and we're expanding our team of adjudicators to
cover even more record attempts around the world. It's a very exciting
Q. With the rapid spread of digital media, how do you see the
future of the book?
A. We're known in the book trade as "the last book standing", as
the regular annual is fundamentally a Christmas impulse gift purchase
that comes around every year like clockwork; we're as Christmas as
turkey and trees - you know Christmas is coming when the book starts
appearing in store! The book continues to be the best, fullest
expression of the GWR brand, as we can explore a wide range of topics
astronomy, Earth sciences, animals, human achievements, science,
engineering, technology, arts and sports in a way that our TV shows
and licensed products can't. It's just not the same experience on a
digital platform, although we do offer an ebook option. Our website is
the 24/7 face of GWR, of course, and the web team are always showcasing
the most spectacular videos - something a book can't do (yet!). But I'm
a printed book person at heart...
So are we Craig! Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to us
Billy Copeland, April 2012
Those of you who collect Guinness record related toys
and gifts will know of the 2003 series of Kids' Pak meals from Subway
that featured, amongst others, the "World's
Fastest Street Luge" toy. In 1998, Billy "Rocketman" Copeland set the speed
record for the fastest street luge with a rocket-powered version which
reached 70 MPH.
Billy, how did the record come about,
and what are your plans for the future?
A. I was lucky enough to be part of the
Guinness Primetime show and featured in the 1999 book of records. In
1998 while filming the show, I set a speed record of 70 M.P.H. with 8
rockets. Then in 2001 I went 98.5 M.P.H. with a new board that had 24
rockets, but only fired 15 while filming the Ripley's Believe It or
Not! Show. The toy that was released in 2003 is an updated version
which has 48 rockets and has never been featured on TV. All of my rocketluges are currently on permanent display in our
local museum until 2017. At that point I will probably sign another 10
year deal to keep them available for the public to see.
Emily Miethner, December
the publication of the
RecordSetter Book of World Records in November 2011, we contacted
them to find out a bit more about their work.
Emily Miethner, who is community manager at
RecordSetter, kindly answered a few of our questions:
Q. Emily, can you give our readers a brief
history of RecordSetter?
A. Thanks so much for reaching out to us! RecordSetter is an evolution of a Burning
Man theme camp created in the summer of 2004. A group of friends,
including RecordSetter co-founder Dan Rollman, sat down in San Francisco
to brainstorm theme ideas for their camp. Eager for a concept that
allowed community participation, Dan suggested a Burning Man Book of
Records, in large part due to his lifelong Guinness Book obsession.
In 2006 Rollman met Corey Henderson through his then
girlfriend (now wife) Emily Wilson. Over beers during a concert in San
Francisco, Rollman and Henderson brainstormed how to take their ideas
online. In 2008, Rollman and Henderson, both now living
in New York City, finally saw their idea come to fruition.
Q. You run many RecordSetter events in the
USA - are there any plans to run similar events in the UK and elsewhere?
A. We're super excited to announce that on
April 28th 2012, we'll be hosting RecordSetter World Record Day around
the globe -- a national day of setting world records with a charity
twist. The idea is to help Record Setters around
the world plan events and then also give everyone the tools to host
their own events. The events can be anything from a small group of
friends to a large event at a bar.
Thanks Emily, that sounds fantastic - keep us
Anna Nicholas, September 2010
September 2010, Anna Nicholas published
Strictly Off the Record, an account of her work at the Guinness
Book of Records. Anna was kind enough to invite us to the official
launch of the book at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge,
London on Wednesday 15th September, 2010.
"How interesting to glimpse your site
hugely nostalgic for me ... you have
some fascinating items on the site".
Q. Anna, can you give our readers a quick
history of your involvement with the Guinness Book of Records?
A. I initially worked as press officer on the
book when it was undergoing great changes
new editor (Alan Russell) and a new editorial team. Before long I began
helping to adjudicate records and did a fair amount overseas and in the
UK with Norris. At the same time I continued to promote the book, handle
the launches and Norris's promotional tours.
Q. How long did you work with Norris
A. I worked with Norris in the mid to late
eighties and continued as a consultant on the book into the nineties. I
left just before Norris stepped down. However, I then approached Virgin
on Norris's behalf and continued to work as his private consultant on
the Millennium Records book. He was a very dear and close friend
throughout my life even giving me
away at my wedding and I was utterly
devastated when he died.
Q. Why did you decide to write the book
A. After Norris died, friends suggested that I
record the happy times we had shared, but it didn't seem the right time.
However, some years on and having discussed the idea Norris's family, it
seemed important to offer a tribute to someone I respected hugely and
who I believe contributed so much to the world. I have been touched that
record-breakers have made contact with me since and offered to help
where they could. Norris's family has been fantastic, of course.
So, the book is 17 chapters long and covers my time
starting at the book and adventures along the way.
Q. Do you have any contact with anyone at
Guinness World Records these days, or contact with people from "the old
A. I do not know anyone now at Guinness World
Records, but I am in regular touch with the McWhirter family, and I keep
in touch with former Guinness personnel such as David Hoy, Alan Russell,
Alex Goldberg, Muriel Ling, Nick Heath-Brown and Stewart Newport.
Q. Thanks Anna for such an entertaining
A. Thank you for keeping the Guinness Book of
Records alive through your site. That is so wonderful!
Ralf Laue, November 2009
How did you get into record-breaking, what records have you set and which
records do you hold currently?
A. It all started with my collection of news items
on records. After collecting every piece of information about unusual world
records, it was quite natural to ask which records I could break myself. The
first one was for the
largest fan of playing cards; I am still the record holder for
this one. Another record that is still unbroken is for the
fastest pancake flipping - 416 tosses in two minutes. I broke some more
records like domino and nail stacking. However, the toughest one was for
solving the Rubik's Cube blindfolded - I did this in the US Guinness TV Show
in 5 minutes and 42 seconds. Today, the best solvers can do it in less than
By the way: seeing my name in the Guinness Book of
Records has became less important for me. The last records I broke (fastest
game of Operation, golf ball blowing and the longest distance tiddlywinking)
were not even submitted to GWR.
Q. How did you get interested in record breaking?
A. Similar to the McWhirters, I started to collect
newspaper articles about world records as a young boy in 1980. I grew up in
East Germany where it was not possible to buy the Guinness Book. In fact,
this was a good thing: anyone just buying the book would believe that he has
the ultimate collection of records. Instead, I started to build my own
archive. I am sure that today it is the second most comprehensive world
record archive after Guinness World Records themselves. It has served as a
source for journalists and TV people: when the German Guinness Show started
on television, I provided some information which the producers were unable
to get from Guinness World Records.
Q. You must have a great collection of record
books (and related news items). When did you start collecting, how extensive
is your collection, and are there any books (or items) that you are looking
A. It is important to stress that I collect
information about records, I would not call myself a true collector of
Guinness Books. The main part of my archive is still newspaper cuttings.
When each country had a really localized version of the book, I collected
various editions and translated them to find the national records that were
not in the English version of the book. Now that all the international
editions have the same content, it does not make sense for me to buy the
book in other languages. Instead, I look for other record books to add to my
collection. There are many such books; one of the best known is the "Limca
Book of Records", a national record book from India.
I am also interested in the stories behind the records,
so I have many books like "Stacking the Deck" (by Bryan Berg, the world's
best cardstacker). I also have several original record-related items, such
as a signed photograph of Robert Wadlow, and the signed frying pan that was
thrown 47.6m by discus world record holder Jόrgen Schult.
Last - but not least - I have a nice stamp collection on the "world
Q. What is your favourite book of records?
A. That's very difficult to say. Books I really
like are the national record books from the Czech Republic. For those who
are interested in sports records (in particular strength feats), I highly
recommend Dale Harder's "Strength
and Speed" book. Dale is a private record statistician like me, and I
really appreciate his work.
Q. How are sales of your book doing, and will there be further
A. The sales of the book were okay, but not
overwhelming (being marketed as a humorous book may not have helped). The
book is rather meant as a challenge to everyone who is interested in
creative, funny activities. In this respect, it has been very successful
indeed. I regularly get impressive records submissions which are published
http://www.alternativerecords.co.uk if verified successfully. As an
example, there was a festival in New Zealand with records like tallest
balloon hat, longest distance by a toy balloon powered car and fastest
change of four wheels of a car - all these records were challenges from our
book. If we motivate people to become creative and active this way, the book
has reached its goal.
And yes - I am planning to have future editions. I am
currently looking for a publisher who shares my interest in unusual records.
Thank you Ralf - it's been really interesting talking
Iain McWhirter, August 2009
Iain, thanks for having this chat with us - the question uppermost on our
readers' minds is obviously, "Do you have a full collection of the Guinness
Book of Records from 1955 onwards"?
A. No, I'm afraid not. My father, Ross, died in 1975
and up until that point we had a complete set of all the UK editions, and quite
a few of the foreign and paperback ones, too. Somehow our collection has
dispersed and we did not get sent new copies by Guinness Books. So, sadly, our
collection is rather sparse. I am now looking to fill in the gaps, as I think it
would be a nice thing for my children and grandchildren to have.
Q. In your collection, are there any unusual or
otherwise significant copies?
A. I do remember that we had
specially bound copies of the early 70's books. From memory, they had a
dark red, green or grey, slightly padded hard cover with a diamond geometric
grill pattern within a frame (both in a gold coloured leaf) on the front
Q. You mentioned that you helped your Father when
the early books were being produced. Did his love of facts and figures,
sport, journalism and politics rub off on you?
A. I suppose it did, yes. I tend to read factual,
rather than fictional, books - the contents of which I have a bit of a
reputation for regurgitating! My children, thankfully, are very into sport,
and my wife and I spend a lot of time watching them play. I play a bit of
tennis, squash, golf - when I can - but it is so time-consuming, and
recently croquet (proper rules!). We are all avid fans of watching sport and
never miss a moment of the Olympics when they are on. I last went to the
Montreal Olympics in 1976 and am greatly looking forward to the London Games
Q. It must have been exciting being involved with
the production of such a well-known publication. Do you remember meeting any
record-breakers? Did you go along to the recording of the Record Breakers TV
A. Yes, I did go to the recordings of several of
the Record Breaker shows. I also met some rather unusual people! The man who
ate a Cessna light aircraft and snacked on supermarket trolleys was one.
Then there was the Frenchman ("Henri la Mothe"), who in his eighties had the
record for the highest dive into a paddling pool. He confided that his
success - by which I mean his survival - was due to the fact that he did it
every day. If you did something yesterday successfully, I suppose it
improves your chance of doing it today. Norris always said that once you get
to eighty your chances of surviving another year start to improve - at least
for the non-high divers amongst us! He would have been disappointed at not
having the opportunity to prove the point as he died a few months short of
his 79th birthday. He was playing tennis, as he did most days when there was
no snow on the ground, when he had a heart attack. I'm sure, had he been
able to write his own obituary, he would have added that he was one set up
when it happened! He was a stickler for the facts.
I remember going
with my father to pick up an American lady from Heathrow, who was to appear
on one of the television shows, and who held the unenviable record for the
most failed driving tests. It was a miracle she made it across the Atlantic!
Chris Greener, Britain's tallest man came to Norris's memorial service in
Trafalgar Square, and it was great see the same look of awe on my children's
faces as I am sure was on mine when I first met him at the age of ten.
The greatest record breaker of them all was undoubtedly Roy Castle. His
infectious enthusiasm, considerable talent and complete determination was
only rivalled by his charm and good humour. British television needs more
like him but, sadly, he was unique.
Q. Are you still involved in the Ross McWhirter
A. Yes. The McWhirter Foundation, as it was
renamed to "include" Norris, is now in its 34th year. We hold an annual
dinner in Middle Temple Hall to honour individuals for their acts of courage
or good citizenship. We also hold a conference at Trinity College, Oxford
for 6th Form students from all over the country and from a wide variety of
schools and colleges. The latter is usually concerned with some aspect of
the rule of law; environment, media, sport, democracy, etc. Our objective is
to encourage those who attend to take an interest in some of the big issues
that our country faces and perhaps, when they have completed their
education, to participate in public life. Our ability to continue is wholly
dependent on sponsorship. I, my brother James, and cousin Alasdair are all
trustees of the foundation.
Thank you Iain, and good luck with your collection.
Lucky Diamond Rich, April 2009
title page for the 2007 edition (right) shows the World's Most
Tattooed Person (Lucky
Diamond Rich) breaking through the page. As well as being a
record-breaker and acclaimed street performer, Lucky Diamond
Rich is a keen collector of the Guinness Book of Records, and in
April 2009 he kindly agreed to answer a few of our questions:
How did you get into record-breaking, what records have you set, and
which records do you hold currently?
A. I have been collecting Tattoos since I was
16 years old and I am now 37 years old. It was a childhood dream of mine
to be in the book - I have had the record since 2004 and I am the
current world record holder for The Most Tattooed Person in the World.
Q. You must have a great collection of
record books (and related news items). When did you start collecting,
how extensive is your collection, and are there any books (or items)
that you are looking for?
A. Yes I am a true collector and, as I am in
the book, the Guinness World Record Book is a great book in which to see
the history of it all. I am only a few books away from a complete
collection, and there are always things that appear that I am interested
in adding to my collection.
Q. What is your favourite book of records,
or your favourite world records?
A. The 2007 Guinness World Records Book, as I
am coming out of the front page. Of course my record is my favourite
(and has been since I was a kid), so: The Most Tattooed Man and The Most
Q. How has your record breaking enhanced
your career, and is there more record breaking to come?
A. It has helped the majority of the planet
paint a picture of who I am. Yes, there are always records that I am
interested in breaking to do with tattoo or circus skills.
I wish you all the best with your website.
Thank you LDR!
Larry Olmsted, January 2009
Larry, thanks very much for agreeing to this interview. Apart from the
sheer effort of your record attempts, did you find it easy to gather the
information for your book, and did you enjoy writing it?
It was not especially easy, nor overly difficult to gather the
information for my book, but it was a lot of fun and writing it was one
of my favorite journalistic endeavors of the past decade and a half. The
hardest part was arranging live interviews with people like Sir Richard
Branson, who are not overly accessible, and tracking down people with
personal involvement in the book's history, such as the producer and
presenter from Record Breakers, Ashrita Furman and Jackie Bibby. What I
did find was that the very topic opened doors and people like Richard
Branson and former Good Morning America producer Ben Sherwood were much
more forthcoming when they found out they could talk about such a
Most of the historical background on the book came from magazine
and newspaper articles dating back to the 1950s, so while I spent much
time in the library doing research, this was made much easier than it
would have been a few years ago by the digital databases that let
journalists access historical newspaper archives online. Of course, some
older more obscure papers are still available only in copies or
microfiche, and I used all of those. I did travel to London for a week
to do research at the British Library and other resources, such as Sir
Hugh Beaver's personal papers collected in the archives of the London
School of Economics. I also went to New York several times for library
research, and used my local college library extensively. In short, it
was a multi-pronged effort of emails, phone calls, archives, and
libraries. I also collected a fair number of the annual editions of GWR,
and have probably about 45 years worth.
The next question has to be: "Are the sales of the book meeting
your expectations (if so, will you be retiring soon)?"
A. Alas, I will not be retiring soon, and no, sales did not
meet my expectations. I did get a lot of print press and very favorable
reviews, but that has not translated into sales.
Will you be trying to break any more records in the near future?
A. During the writing of my book, I received a letter telling me
that I was no longer welcome to break records. I personally have been
disenchanted enough that record breaking has lost its personal appeal to
me. I am moving on to my next, and unrelated, project.
Some of the - shall we say - less positive comments about your book
relate to the "dryness" of some parts and an obsession with Ashrita
Furman. These comments appear to come from people who would find the
Guinness Book itself very hard going, so do you think your book appeals
more to true GBR devotees? If not, would it have been better to include
stories from other record breakers?
A. When I first
researched this topic, I was stunned by the breadth of areas of
interest. The "dry" history of the book was one level. The people whose
lives have been affected by the book, such as Ashrita, was another. The
humor of the whole endeavor and the crazier records was a third. My own
attempts and first person experiences were another. I did not want any
one of these elements to overpower the book, and instead I wanted it to
be many things to many people, so the devotee would find it equally
compelling as the armchair cultural observer. There were many, many
different ways to structure this book, in terms of chapter organization
and order, but in the end I decided that Ashrita gave the reader entry
to the entire story, and through him I could touch on the book's
history, the way it evolved, the record breaking process itself, the
obsession, and the humor, and use that as a springboard for the rest of
the book. The reason I put all the nitty-gritty about record breaking
logistics in the back in appendices was because the book is supposed to
be a good read first, and a how-to second. Some people have absolutely
loved the Ashrita chapter and the way I did it, and others have
commented that it's too dry and too long and my book overall has too
much research and history. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying,
that is why they make wallpaper in so many colors. You can't please
everyone. I'm very happy with it and the reviews have been
overwhelmingly very positive. In fact, the only "dry" reviews you have
referred to that I have seen have been from anonymous online readers.
Every professional critic who has reviewed my book has been very
Q. Some of the history of the Book appears
to contradict some of our findings. For example, you seem to imply that
the "hiring of editors Ross and Norris McWhirter" took place on 3rd May
1955 ("Mr McWhirter and Mr Horst lunching"). However, Norris McWhirter's
own recollections (from his book "Ross" and elsewhere) gives the date of
that meeting as 12th September 1954. We know that Sir Hugh Beaver's
diary entry for May 1955 was for more of a "progress report", rather
than the initial meeting. Do you have a reference for the May 1955
meeting that would clear up any confusion?
A. As for
the history, I try to make it clear that there is debate over some of
the dates, and that some of the research is contradictory and I make my
own most informed conclusions. Unfortunately, neither Ross nor Norris
McWhirter nor Sir Hugh were available for interview. You have to
remember that at the time this all started, none of the parties thought
that when they had lunch or when they began the process would later be
seen as even remotely important. On the one hand, Ross had a near
photographic memory which would support his recollection. On the other,
Sir Hugh was a meticulous record keeper and I was moved by the absence
of a previous meeting in his very detailed appointment notes. Also,
Ross' recollection of how little time they had between launching
Superlatives and publishing the book support the later Beaver date. But
at the end of the day, the eight or so months between the dates means
little to the overall fascinating story, which remains simply
Thank you Larry.
we had a very pleasant conversation with Gyles Brandreth about his
involvement with the Record Breakers Club, which was launched at the
Trocadero in Piccadilly, London in 1985. Gyles was introduced to Norris
McWhirter in the 1970s by Lord Longford (Norris and Ross McWhirter were
heavily involved in the support for personal freedom in the United
Kingdom, as was Lord Longford); at the same time, Gyles also met David
Boehm (founder of the Sterling Publishing Group), who was instrumental
in the success of
Guinness World Records in the U.S.A.
David Boehm had set up the Guinness World Records
Museum in New York for Guinness (20th May 1976) and was keen to expand
the concept elsewhere. In the U.K., Guinness was also keen to involve
younger people in the record breaking scene, so David Boehm was involved
in the setting up of the Guinness World Records exhibition at the
Trocadero in London, and the Record Collectors Club that was devised
Gyles Brandreth recalls his first impressions of
David Boehm's apartment in New York, "Two things stand out in my
memory of my first visit: Once in the lobby, one entered the elevator
and selected the floor to David's apartment. When the doors opened, you
were right in the middle of his apartment - it was like being
delivered via a dumb-waiter. My second memory is of the erotic
Chinoiserie wallpaper in the bathroom".
the Record Breakers Club, Gyles says, "I don't recall that much about
it - except that we had fun!" Actually, he has a fantastic memory of
the club, the office, and the club members. One of the "fun" elements of
the club was that everyone employed by Guinness to manage the club was
encouraged (if encouragement was needed) to break world records. This is
possibly the start of the trend for wacky record breaking that continues
to this day. Gyles recalls that he set the record for the longest
after-dinner speech at 3hrs 40 minutes - a record that he extended to 11
hours and then to 12½ hours. In the 1980s, no
"comfort breaks" were required so these were true feats of endurance.
Nowadays, health and safety concerns mean that many of the endurance
records are disallowed or have become relatively meaningless.
Ultimately, the club ceased
to make money and was closed (as was the Guinness exhibition at the
Trocadero). Nevertheless, the club served its purpose, as it introduced
a new generation to the world of record breaking. Sadly, now that the
likes of the McWhirters, David Boehm and Roy Castle are no longer with
us, it seems unlikely that such a club will happen again.
Gyles has one final claim
to fame - he stood on his head on TV more often than anyone else. As he
told us, "It was the one thing that I was better at than Roy Castle!"