Float through any event with M?’s fast facts. This week Audrey Coutinho looks at the phenomenon that is Guinness World Records.
The Instant Expert: Guinness World Records
THE BASICS The first edition of The Guinness Book of World Records (now known as Guinness World Records) was bound on August 27, 1955 by twins Norris and Ross McWhirter. It has grown into a multimedia smash hit, expanding to television, the internet and video games.
THE BIG DAY The Annual Guinness World Records Day was started in 2004 to mark the book's 50th anniversary and the sale of its 100 millionth copy. Each year, and this year on November 17, thousands of people all over the world will try to break records.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN In May 1951, the managing director of the Guinness Breweries in Ireland, Sir Hugh Beaver, was on a shooting party. He got into an argument over which was the fastest game bird in Europe. He realised it was one of many topics that could not be found in any books. He commissioned the McWhirters, the owners of a London fact-finding agency who were known for their remarkable memories.
SUCCESS STORY, IN PRINT Beginning as a giveaway, the book went on to become one of the highest-selling regularly updated books, with more than 115 million copies sold since 1955. It is listed in Guinness World Records as the "Best Selling Copyright Book". It is published every October to take advantage of Christmas sales.
SUCCESS STORY, ON TELEVISION Many TV series documenting attempts to break world records have been commissioned by Guinness World Records around the globe. Two of the most well-known are Guinness World Records Primetime (US) and Guinness World Records Smashed (UK).
OK, TELL ME MORE Guinness World Records Primetime, hosted by Chris Collinsworth and Mark Thompson, aired from July 1998 to October 2001. Fox Television pulled it because of poor ratings and reviews - and after viewers were disturbed by bizarre records attempted, such as a man squirting milk from his eyes, and the world's largest tumour. Guinness World Records Smashed, hosted by Konnie Huq and Steve Jones, has been shown on Sky1 since April 2009.
SUCCESS STORY, ON THE WEB The web site www.guinnessworldrecords.com lists all the records created and broken, and gets more than 11 million visitors a year. On YouTube, the company has more than 100,000 subscribers.
SUCCESS STORY, WITH GAMERS Since 2008, Guinness World Records releases a gamer's edition every year, in association with Twin Galaxies, a video-game record-tracking organisation. The book is the gamer's ultimate dream, with facts, trivia, best-selling video games and the highest scores of every game.
SOME CHANGES Guinness World Records now seems mostly a dull marketing gimmick. All eating and drinking records have been dropped and closed to new entries, and all animal-based sports have been dropped, along with the "lightest" and "heaviest" animal categories. Entries have been closed to unsafe acts beyond human tolerance levels, such as sword-swallowing and rally-driving on public roads.
AND THE VERIFICATION? The website receives about 1,000 applications per week. The record is then attempted, and the evidence sent to the London office for verification, or a Guinness World Records ajudicator verifies the attempt on the spot and presents a certificate.
ASTUTE ANALYSIS "This curious American dedication to the fact, as well as your competitive spirit, your betting sense, seems to account for our book's popularity," Ross McWhirter told The Leader-Post (Regina, Canada) in 1974. "But certainly the vast expenditure on literacy worldwide, as well as the spread of the paperback market has helped us."
Nine weird world records
LARGEST CHICKEN DANCE 72,000 people, in Canfield, Ohio in September 1996
LOUDEST BURP 107.1 decibels, by Paul Hunn, in London in 2008
MOST COCKROACHES EATEN 36 cockroaches in 1 minute, by Ken Edwards, in London in 2001
STRANGEST DIET 2lb of metal per day, by Michael Lotito, in France, as of 1959
MOST LIVE RATTLESNAKES HELD IN THE MOUTH 10 snakes, for 10 seconds, by Jackie Bibby, in New York in 2006
HEAVIEST WEIGHT DANGLED FROM A SWALLOWED SWORD 25kg by Thomas Blackthorne, in Italy in 2009
FARTHEST THROW OF A PERSON Jonathan Macfarlane, who threw a man 4.87m in Auckland, New Zealand in 2009
MOST PEOPLE EATING CRISPS SIMULTANEOUSLY 33,756 people, in New York in July 2009
LONGEST LEG HAIR Wesley Pemberton, at 16.51cm, in Madrid in February 2008