Aug 122016
 

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Today is the birthday (1925) of twins Norris Dewar McWhirter, CBE, and Alan Ross McWhirter, both of whom were athletes, sports journalists, television presenters, and co-founders of Guinness World Records, which began as The Guinness Book of Records, a book which they wrote and annually updated together between 1955 and 1975.

Norris and Ross were the twin sons (Norris was the elder) of William McWhirter, the editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret Williamson. In 1929, as William was working on the founding of the Northcliffe Newspapers chain of provincial newspapers, the family moved to “Aberfoyle”, in Broad Walk, Winchmore Hill.  Like their elder brother, Kennedy (born 1923), Norris and Ross were educated at Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford.  Between 1943 and 1946, both served with the Royal Navy on active service in the Atlantic (escort duty) and the Pacific (minesweeping).

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Ross and Norris both became sports journalists in 1950. In 1951, they published Get to Your Marks, and earlier that year they had founded an agency to provide facts and figures to Fleet Street, setting out, in Norris’ words “to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers.” At the same time, he became a founding member of the Association of Track and Field Statisticians.

Norris came to public attention while working for the BBC as a sports commentator, when on 6 May 1954, he kept the time at Iffley Rd track in Oxford when Roger Bannister ran the first sub four-minute mile. His announcement after the race has gone down in sports history because of his droll drawing out of the delivery of the actual result:

As a result of Event Four, the one mile, the winner was R.G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a track record, an English native record, a United Kingdom record, a European record, in a time of three minutes…

The rest of the announcement was drowned out in the deafening uproar.

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One of the athletes in Bannister’s record mile, whom the twins knew and covered on several occasions, was Christopher Chataway, who, as an employee at Guinness, introduced them to Hugh Beaver (managing director of Guinness). After an interview in 1954 in which the Guinness directors enjoyed testing the twins’ knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agreed to start work on the book that would become The Guinness Book of Records. In August 1955, the first slim green volume – 198 pages long – was at the bookstalls, and in four months it was the UK’s number one non-fiction best-seller.

Both brothers were regulars on the BBC television show The Record Breakers. They were noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about world records – both published and unpublished.

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Both brothers had political views that I find repugnant. They were both highly conservative with pro-business, anti-trade union opinions (bordering on libertarian). Both stood for elections as Tory MPs, but were defeated. They also had hard-line policies concerning sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and England.

Ross was a vocal critic of British government policy in Northern Ireland, and called for a “tougher” response by the Army against Irish republicans. He advocated restrictions on the Irish community in Britain such as making it compulsory for all Irish people in Britain to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels. In addition, he offered a £50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction for several recent high-profile bombings in England that were publicly claimed by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

On 27 November 1975, Ross was murdered by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom were members of what became known as the Balcombe Street Gang, the group for whose capture Ross had offered the reward. He was shot at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Enfield, Middlesex. Of course I absolutely deplore this murder, and admire his courage for standing out against violence. I will not brook any sentiment that suggests that he deserved to be a target.

Following Ross’s murder, Norris co-founded the right-wing political organization the National Association for Freedom (now The Freedom Association). This organization initiated legal challenges against the trade union movement in the UK, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and the European Economic Community (EEC), later the European Union (EU). I don’t agree with any of these stances or their political motivation.

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After Ross’s death, Norris continued to appear alone on Record Breakers, eventually making him one of the most recognizable people on children’s television in the 1970s and 1980s, leading him to be made a CBE in 1980.

Norris retired from The Guinness Book of Records in 1985, though he continued in an advisory role until 1996, when he was forced out by the company, which wanted to downplay the listing of records in favor of dramatic illustrations. Nonetheless, he continued to write, editing a new reference book, Norris McWhirter’s Book of Millennium Records, in 1999. Norris died of a heart attack at his home in Kington Langley, Wiltshire, on 19 April 2004, aged 78.

Several world records that were once included in Guinness World Records have been removed for ethical reasons, including concerns for the wellbeing of potential record breakers. The “eating and drinking records” section of Human Achievements was dropped over concerns that potential competitors could harm themselves and expose the publisher to litigation. These changes included the removal of all liquor, wine, and beer drinking records, along with other unusual records for consuming such unlikely things as bicycles and trees. Nonetheless, the world’s largest, heaviest, etc. foods are still very much in play.

This gallery taken from this site — http://www.foxnews.com/leisure/2013/03/18/top-7-record-breaking-foods/ — gives an idea of why you’re not going to break any records cooking today.

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Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be part of making such gargantuan dishes. They are surely a tribute to quantity over quality which I heartily disdain. World’s most expensive foods don’t float my boat either as in the case of this fish sandwich:

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The Birds Eye company created this sandwich to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. It cost £187 to make.

Most delicious, most artistic, and so forth interest me a lot more, but here we’re dealing with personal aesthetics which are not quantifiable. You might be able to quantify world’s favorite, but that’s iffy. Oxfam recently did a survey of 16,000 people worldwide and determined that pasta was the most popular choice. Big help. What does that even mean? What kind of pasta? Prepared how? In general, food superlatives are of little interest to me. I don’t have a favorite food, as such. My tastes constantly change based on all manner of factors. The list of the foods I’ve disliked the most is fairly short, but, of course, it’s highly subjective, and every one of them is something that some people adore. I’ll die a happy man if I never eat sea cucumber with winter melon again, but it is considered a great delicacy in east Asia. You’ll at least give me credit for eating the whole plateful I was served, even though I wanted to run a mile.

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Basically I think you ought to cook your own favorite today, but given that the McWhirters had a Scots heritage I’ll go with what many people outside of Scotland will grant as a (perhaps uniquely) strange dish in name and construction – crappit heid. Actually when it comes to a competition for strangest name in Scots’ cooking there are a lot of entrants: festy cock, clapshot, rumbledethumps, and fatty cutty are strong contenders. But crappit heid has name and ingredients on its side, even though it’s a great dish. Crappit heid is lowland Scots dialect for “stuffed head” – stuffed fish head to be precise.

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Crappit heid originated in the fishing communities of the Hebrides and North-Eastern Scotland in the 18th century. Money was scarce so the desirable fillets of cod or haddock were be sold by fishermen to markets, but the offal and less attractive parts were retained for the pot. Crappit heid was a common meal in fishing communities, consisting of the head of a large cod or similar sized fish, washed, descaled and then stuffed with a mixture of oats, suet, onion, white pepper and the liver of the fish. This was then sewn or skewered to close the aperture and boiled in seawater. The dish was served with potatoes or other root vegetables in season.

Although once a common dish in Scotland, crappit heid has, like many traditional dishes, become a rarity. Cod livers are now harder to obtain and usually only available if the fish has been caught by local line fishermen. However if you can get them, they add valuable nutrients including, of course, cod liver oil. I don’t live anywhere near the sea at present and can’t get access to whole fresh fish to give it a whirl. I don’t imagine either that any of my readers will want to rush out to snag fish heads for dinner. Here’s a website instead that tells you all you want if you are interested. The URL says it all:

http://foodanddrink.scotsman.com/general/a-history-of-crappit-heid-including-a-recipe-for-making-your-own/

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