Ross McWhirter

Alan Ross McWhirter (12 August 1925 – 27 November 1975) was, with his twin brother, Norris, the co-founder in 1955 of Guinness Book of Records (known since 2000 as Guinness World Records) and a contributor to TV programme Record Breakers. He was murdered by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in 1975.[2]

Ross McWhirter
Ross McWhirter
Alan Ross McWhirter

12 August 1925
Died27 November 1975 (aged 50)
Cause of deathAssassination
EducationMarlborough College
Trinity College, Oxford
OccupationWriter, political activist, television presenter
Notable credit(s)
The Guinness Book of Records, Record Breakers
Spouse(s)Rosemary McWhirter[1]
RelativesNorris McWhirter
FamilyWilliam McWhirter, father; Margaret Williamson, mother

Early life

McWhirter was the youngest son of William McWhirter, editor of the Sunday Pictorial, and Margaret "Bunty" Williamson. He was born at "Giffnock" (after Giffnock Church in Glasgow, where the McWhirters were married), 10 Branscombe Gardens, Winchmore Hill, London, N21. In 1929, as William was working on the founding of the Northcliffe Newspapers Group chain of provincial newspapers, the family moved to "Aberfoyle", in Broad Walk, Winchmore Hill.[3] Like his two brothers, Ross McWhirter was educated at Chesterton School, Seaford, Marlborough College and Trinity College, Oxford. Between 1943 and 1946, Ross served as a sub-lieutenant with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on board a minesweeper in the Mediterranean.[4]


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 McWhirter's words "to supply facts and figures to newspapers, yearbooks, encyclopaedias and advertisers".

While building up their business, they both worked as sports journalists. One of the athletes they knew and covered was runner Christopher Chataway, an employee at Guinness who recommended them to Hugh Beaver. 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 more months it was the UK's number one non-fiction best-seller.[5] Both brothers were regulars on the BBC show Record Breakers. They were noted for their encyclopedic memories, enabling them to provide detailed answers to questions from the audience about entries in The Guinness Book of Records. Norris continued to appear on the programme after Ross's death.[6]

In 1958, long after the legend of William Webb Ellis as the originator of rugby had become engrained in rugby culture, Ross managed to rediscover his grave in le cimetière du vieux château at Menton in Alpes Maritimes (it has since been renovated by the French Rugby Federation).

Political activity

In the early 1960s, he was a Conservative Party activist and sought, unsuccessfully, the seat of Edmonton in the 1964 general election. Following his killing, his brother and others founded the National Association for Freedom (later The Freedom Association).

Views on Ireland

McWhirter advocated various restrictions on the freedom of the Irish community in Britain, such as making it compulsory for all of them to register with the local police and to provide signed photographs of themselves when renting flats or booking into hotels and hostels.[7] In addition, McWhirter 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). In doing so, McWhirter recognised that he could then be a target himself.[7] This was described as a bounty by McWhirter, and considered a bounty by the IRA Army Council, a view that led directly to the events that followed, although the idea was not originally his, but that of John Gouriet.[8]


On 27 November 1975 at 6.45 p.m., McWhirter was shot and killed by two IRA volunteers, Harry Duggan and Hugh Doherty, both of whom were members of what became known as the Balcombe Street Gang,[9] the group for whose capture McWhirter had offered the reward. He was shot at close range in the head and chest outside his home in Village Road, Bush Hill Park. The weapon used was a .357 Magnum revolver.[10] He was taken to Chase Farm Hospital, but died soon after being admitted. His killers were captured and charged with his and nine other murders.[9] They were sentenced to life imprisonment but freed in 1999 under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.[11]

Selected bibliography

Sports and general encyclopædia

  • Get To Your Marks (1951, with Norris McWhirter) OCLC 963645353
  • The Guinness Book of Records (1955–1975, with Norris McWhirter)
  • Ross: The Story of a Shared Life (Norris McWhirter) ISBN 0-902782-23-1, OCLC 3540709
  • Ross Was Right – The McWhirter File (Covenant Pub., 29 Sep 2014) ISBN 978-085205-118-4, OCLC 911093351

See also


  1. ^ "1975: TV presenter Ross McWhirter shot dead". BBC News. 27 November 1975. Retrieved 10 April 2010.
  2. ^ Bernstein, Adam (21 April 2004). "Norris McWhirter Dies; 'Guinness Book' Co-Founder". The Washington Post. Retrieved 16 December 2008.
  3. ^ Ayrshire Notes – Norris McWhirter Ref used to confirm only that "Aberfoyle" is house name in Winchmore Hill, rather than town name in Scotland or Ireland
  4. ^ Norris McWhirter – A Short Biography
  5. ^ Lusher, Adam (20 November 2004). "Crunch time in my attempt at Guinness World Records glory". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 18 May 2009.
  6. ^ "Record Breakers' McWhirter dies". BBC. 20 April 2004. Retrieved 16 December 2008.
  7. ^ a b The Road To Balcombe Street: The IRA Reign of Terror in London by Steven Moysey (ISBN 978-0-7890-2913-3), pages 116 to 117
  8. ^ John Gouriet, The Daily Telegraph, 13 September 2010
  9. ^ a b "1975: TV presenter Ross McWhirter shot dead". BBC News. 27 November 1975.
  10. ^ McHardy, Anne, McWhirter's killer is known bomber, The Guardian, 3 December 1975
  11. ^ "1975: Balcombe Street siege ends". BBC On This Day. BBC News. Retrieved 12 February 2018.

External links

1975 in the United Kingdom

Events from the year 1975 in the United Kingdom.

1992 North American IRA arrests

Four Irish men were arrested in the United States on 11 November 1992, on charges of sending detonators to Northern Ireland for the use of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. They were later acquitted.

Balcombe Street siege

The Balcombe Street siege was an incident involving members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) of London lasting from 6 to 12 December 1975. The siege ended with the surrender of the four IRA members and the release of their two hostages. The events were televised and watched by millions.

Bush Hill Park

Bush Hill Park is a locality within the London Borough of Enfield. Situated 0.5 miles (0.8 km) south east of Enfield Town and immediately to the west of the branch railway line from Edmonton Green to Enfield Town which forms a boundary between the historic parishes of Enfield and Edmonton. Much of the district is a planned suburban estate designated a conservation area in 1986. For political purposes the locality falls within the Edmonton parliamentary constituency.

Guinness World Records

Guinness World Records, known from its inception from 1955 until 2000 as The Guinness Book of Records and in previous United States editions as The Guinness Book of World Records, is a reference book published annually, listing world records both of human achievements and the extremes of the natural world. The brainchild of Sir Hugh Beaver, the book was co-founded by brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter in Fleet Street, London in August 1954.

The book itself holds a world record, as the best-selling copyrighted book of all time. As of the 2019 edition, it is now in its 64th year of publication, published in 100 countries and 23 languages. The international franchise has extended beyond print to include television series and museums. The popularity of the franchise has resulted in Guinness World Records becoming the primary international authority on the cataloguing and verification of a huge number of world records; the organisation employs official record adjudicators authorised to verify the authenticity of the setting and breaking of records.

Hugh Doherty (Irish republican)

Hugh Doherty is an Irish republican and former volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He is known for his role in the Balcombe Street Siege of December 1975, at the resolution of which he was sentenced to eleven terms of life imprisonment for murder, with a judicial recommendation he serve at least 30 years.Doherty and fellow members of his active service unit had targeted civilians, soldiers, policemen and politicians as part of the IRA's campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland. During this time they are believed to have killed sixteen people in England including Ross McWhirter, who had offered a £50,000 reward for their arrest, and Gordon Hamilton-Fairley.

The Balcombe Street gang, who were named after the London street on which they were arrested after a five-day siege, were allegedly responsible for 16 murders. During a 14-month campaign across the south-east of England they carried out 50 bombings and shootings.Doherty's bombing campaign was brought to an end after a five-day siege that was broadcast live on television and watched by millions.Doherty served 23 years in British prisons before being transferred to Portlaoise prison in Ireland.

In 1987 Jeremy Corbyn handed a petition to then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher demanding better visiting conditions for Doherty and his fellow IRA prisoner Nat Vella and "the immediate transfer of Irish political prisoners to prisons near their homes".Doherty made an appearance at the 1998 Sinn Féin Ard Fheis at which the party accepted the Belfast Agreement, under the terms of which Doherty was later released from prison.He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and now works as an artist in Ireland. He is the brother of Sinn Féin MP and MLA Pat Doherty.

Ian Milne

Ian Milne (born 8 April 1954) is an Irish republican politician from Northern Ireland.

Jean Goujon (cyclist)

Jean Goujon (21 April 1914 – 28 April 1991) was a French cyclist. He won the gold medal in team pursuit at the 1936 Summer Olympics. In 1937 he turned professional and rode the 1937 Tour de France. He retired in 1949.

Kieran Nugent

Kieran Nugent (1958 – 4 May 2000) was an Irish volunteer in the Provisional Irish Republican Army and best known for being the first IRA 'blanket man' in the H-Blocks. When sentenced to three years, Nugent refused to wear a prison uniform and said the prison guards would have to "...nail it to my back".

List of chronologies of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions

The chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions is divided into five parts:

Chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions (1970–79)

Chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions (1980–89)

Chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions (1990–99)

Chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions (2000–09)

Chronology of Provisional Irish Republican Army actions (2010–present)

List of people from the London Borough of Enfield

The following list includes notable people associated with the London Borough of Enfield.

Andy Abraham (b. 1964) – singer

Abz Love (b. Richard Breen, 1979) – musician

Adele (b. 1988) – singer/songwriter

Kacey Barnfield (b. 1988) – actress

Joseph Bazalgette (1819–1891) – civil engineer who rescued London's sewerage system

Sir Anthony Berry (1925–1984) – politician

James Blake (b. 1988) – musician

Bernard Bresslaw (1934–1993) – actor

David Burrowes (b. 1969) – politician

Chas & Dave

Roy Chipolina (b. 1983) - footballer

Dodie Clark (b. 1995) - musician

Charles Cowden Clarke (1787–1877) – author

Sharon D. Clarke (b. 1966) – actress and singer

Jim Crace (b. 1946) – writer

John Dalton (b. 1943) – musician, bassist with the Kinks

Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881) – politician, prime minister and novelist

Isaac D'Israeli (1766–1848) – writer

Michael Duberry (b. 1975) – footballer

James Eatock (b. 1977) – animator, designer, writer and publisher

Rick Edwards (b. 1979) – radio and television presenter

Tim Eggar (b. 1951) – politician

Caroline Flack (b. 1979) – television presenter

Bruce Forsyth (1928–2017) – TV personality

John French (1907–1966) – photographer

Mike Gatting (b. 1957) – cricketer

Alison Goldfrapp (b. 1966)

Alan Hopes

Chris Hughes (b. 1947) – quiz contestant

Nigar Jamal

David Jason

Hugh Jenkins, Baron Jenkins of Putney – politician

Russell Kane – comedian

Boris Karloff – actor

John Keats – poet

Joe Keyes – rugby league player

Kataxenna Kova (b. 1985) – model

Charles Lamb – poet and essayist

Norman Lewis

Terry Lightfoot

Jake Livermore

Andy Love

Iain MacLeod – politician

Simon Mayo

Paul McKenna

Julia McKenzie

Norris McWhirter

Ross McWhirter

Colin Metson

Ron Moody

Gregory Motton – playwright

Dave Murray – musician, guitarist for Iron Maiden

Walter Pater – writer

Trevor Peacock – actor

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham (1708–1778) - Prime Minister and statesman

Michael Portillo – politician

Kathryn Prescott (b. 1991) – actress

Megan Prescott (b. 1991) – actress

Michelle Ryan (b. 1984) – EastEnders actress

Scorcher (b. 1986) – rapper, actor, producer

William Smith (1813–1893) – lexicographer

Rachel Stevens (b. 1978) – singer/songwriter, band member of S Club 7

Derek Taunt

Norman Tebbit, Lord Tebbit

Professor Philip Tew

Andrew Turnbull, Baron Turnbull

Stephen Twigg

Chris Walker-Hebborn – swimmer, gold medallist in 100m backstroke at the 2014 European Championships and Commonwealth Games

Murray Walker

Jessie Wallace (b. 1971) – EastEnders actress

Neil 'Roberto' Williams – radio and television presenter

Paul Whitehouse

Amy Winehouse (1983–2011) – singer/songwriter

Ray Winstone

Professor Frederic Wood Jones

Martin Hurson

Edward Martin Hurson (13 September 1956 – 13 July 1981) was an Irish Republican Hunger Striker and a Volunteer in the East Tyrone Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).


McWhirter and Macwhirter, MacWhirter (also spelled McWherter and Macwherter, MacWherter) are Anglicisations of the Scottish Gaelic Mac an Chruiteir, meaning "son of the harpist or fiddler". Mawhorter and McWhorter are less common forms of this Scottish name, and are found in North America. The name is derived from the Gaelic cruitear, meaning "harpist", "fiddler". The Scottish name is generally found in Ayrshire. The surnames can be represented in modern Scottish Gaelic as Mac a' Chruiteir.

Murder of Stephen Tibble

PC Stephen Andrew Tibble, QPM, (1953 – 26 February 1975) was a police officer in London's Metropolitan Police Service. During a chase through central London, Tibble was fatally shot by Liam Quinn, a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army.

News Shopper

The News Shopper titles are local newspapers published in South East London and North West Kent by Newsquest. The newsroom is in Orpington.

There are five local editions: Bexley Borough, Bexley & North Kent, Bromley, Dartford & Gravesend and Lewisham & Greenwich.

Norris McWhirter

Norris Dewar McWhirter (12 August 1925 – 19 April 2004) was a British writer, political activist, co-founder of The Freedom Association, and a television presenter. He and his twin brother, Ross, were known internationally for the founding of The Guinness Book of Records, which they wrote and annually updated together between 1955 and 1975. After Ross's assassination by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA), Norris carried on alone as editor.

Provisional IRA's Balcombe Street Gang

The Provisional IRA's Balcombe Street Gang was a Provisional IRA Active Service Unit (also known as the Balcombe Street Four or the Balcombe Street Unit) who carried out a bombing campaign in England in the mid 1970s. All of their attacks happened in southern England with the majority taking place in London but also in surrounding areas like Surrey & Kent. Between October 1974 and December 1975 they carried out approximately 40 bomb and gun attacks in and around London, sometimes attacking the same targets twice. The unit would sometimes carry out two or more attacks in one day; on the 27 January 1975 they placed seven time bombs in London. On 25 November 1974, they carried out three bomb attacks in the centre of London injuring 20 people. They were eventually caught during the Balcombe Street Siege in December 1975 thus ending their 15-month bombing campaign in England. They have been described as "the most violent, ruthless and highly-trained unit ever sent to Britain by the Provisional IRA".

Record Breakers

Record Breakers is a British children's TV show, themed around world records and produced by the BBC. It was broadcast on BBC1 from 15 December 1972 to 21 December 2001. It was originally presented by Roy Castle with Guinness World Records founders twin brothers Norris McWhirter and Ross McWhirter. The programme was a spin-off series from Blue Peter which had featured record breaking attempts overseen by the McWhirter twins. Producers of the series over the years were, Alan Russell (its creator), Michael Forte, Eric Rowan, Greg Childs, Annette Williams and Jeremy Daldry.

The closing theme was "Dedication", performed by Roy Castle, who broke nine world records on the show himself.As well as interviews with people who held British or World records, early editions of the programme would include a feature in which the studio audience would test the McWhirter brothers on their (almost infallible) knowledge of records, and the climax of each show would usually be a world record attempt in the studio. Ross was murdered by a Provisional IRA gunman in 1975, but his brother continued to appear on the show in the "Norris On The Spot" feature.

Republican News

Republican News was a longstanding newspaper/magazine published by Sinn Féin. Following the split in physical force Irish republicanism in the late 1960s between the Officials (Official Sinn Féin — also known as Sinn Féin Gardiner Place — and the Official IRA) and the Provisionals (Provisional Sinn Féin — also known as Sinn Féin Kevin Street and now most commonly simply as Sinn Féin — and the Provisional IRA) Republican News was eclipsed by An Phoblacht, a new magazine launched by Provisional Sinn Féin in 1970. "An Phoblacht" came first and then in early 1970, Joe Graham and Proinsias Mac Airt put together "The Republican News" and it functioned independently for quite a while. Graham worked on only three issues of it before starting "The Vindicator". The magazines merged under the name An Phoblacht/Republican News in 1979.

Chiefs of Staff
Espionage &
Prominent killings

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