Guinness World Records (or the Guinness Book of Records, as most of you will probably still prefer to call it) has been sold to Canadian billionaire Jim Pattinson, owner of the modern-day freak show Ripley’s Believe it Or Not. Ripley’s has already been using the brand on license for the last few years in six of its worldwide attractions, so it was always favourite to win the auction.
The famous book was originally devised in the Fifties as a marketing gimmick, allegedly after Guinness boss Sir Hugh Beaver got into an argument about the fastest game bird in England and decided that there could be a big market for something that could solve this kind of pub debate (admittedly we’ve never had this particular barney in our local, but perhaps we’re hanging out in the wrong part of town).
So he asked brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter, the owners of a London-based 'fact-finding agency' (a cross between 82ASK and Magnum PI, perhaps?), to compile the first edition. Initially it was given away as a freebie, but when it shot to the top of the bestseller lists Guinness soon wised up – and a good job too, since it went on to sell more than 100m copies worldwide. Owner Diageo eventually flogged it in 2001, since when it’s passed through two other temporary owners in the search for a permanent home.
However, it remains an iconic brand – not least because it made the nerdy McWhirters (particularly Norris) into some of the unlikeliest celebrity statisticians of all time. Millions of kids grew up tuning into spin-off TV show Record Breakers every week to watch daring record attempts – as Roy Castle told us: ‘If you're the strongest, longest, never been wrong/ If you're the latest, the greatest, then you can state/ That you're a record breaker’.
These days, of course, you can’t move for talentless layabouts trying to get their name into the book with some kind of spurious record attempt: most baked beans eaten with a cocktail stick in a minute; longest time spent on an exercise bike; largest number of beer bottles balanced on a single head, and so on. Just this week 9,000 Mexican kids attempted to perform the biggest communal Valentine’s hug ever (and apparently then celebrated by throwing their coats in the air, which just goes to show that they really know how to party in Mexico).
The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but we can safely assume that it’s a record for the sale of a record-based book to a Canadian billionaire. Which will no doubt be some consolation to the sadly-deceased McWhirters as they see their baby finally depart these shores...