Oh Norris McWhirter, where are you?


Posted by in June's Magazine

Record keeping is in short supply. Colin Montgomery reckons it’s about time for it to make a comeback 

He’s dead. Sorry, that’s the answer to the titular question above. And this would be a sorry piece if it were the only matter of record here. Luckily, even mortality’s coil won’t stop this rant. Indeed I may go on writing these bitter epistles from the grave, enough cheery thoughts, let’s talk about… record breakkkeeeerrrss!

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If you’re of a certain vintage, you’ll be humming the tune to Dedication as sung by ‘all-round entertainer’™ Roy Castle around now. That particular ditty was wheeled out towards the end of Record Breakers on the BBC – a half hour or so of various show-offs doing ridiculous stuff to get into the Guinness Book of Records – as Roy whipped out his trumpet (careful now, no sniggering at the back) and blew up a storm. The other notable part of the show was the slot called ‘Norris on the Spot’. And therein lies the beef of this sandwich.

The famous Record Breakers logo (duh)

The Norris in question was the aforementioned Mr McWhirter who, along with his twin brother Ross had started compiling the Guinness Book of Records back in 1955 – along with a copy of The Broons or The Oor Wullie annual (in alternate years), it was a staple of your Christmas haul. Well I got one every year until I was about 22. It was pretty good read as you tanned the chocolate and e-numbers in all those stocking sweeties you were allowed to crack into at 6 in the morning; Christmas was like a junkie paradise back in those days. 

Anyway, back to Norris and the Record Breakers. His star turn came about halfway through the show when the kids in the audience – all Jemimas and Quentins, maybe the odd spotty Nigel – got a chance to quiz the great man on his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Book of Records. Usually it was what’s the highest waterfall or who has the longest fingernails in the world yada yada. Meat and drink to our Norris. But then one time, some wee tit threw him a serious curveball: which tree has the most leaves?

Silence. Followed by a bit of umming and ahhing. He was stumped (pun most definitely intended). Yes, for once in his life, Norris couldn’t coax the answer from his bulging hippocampus (neurologists, please don’t write in, it’s creative licence.) My brother and I were amazed. Would the world continue to turn? Would breakfast be on the table the next morning? The horror, the horror – albeit alleviated by discovering he was a rabid right-wing lunatic who had co-founded the Freedom Association. Look ‘em up, not a pleasant lot. 

Usually it was what’s the highest waterfall or who has the longest fingernails in the world yada yada. Meat and drink to our Norris

Which begs the question: why are you dribbling on about him now Montgomery? Well, I guess, part of me, deep down had a begrudging respect for McWhirter’s ability to keep records in a very rigorous old-fashioned English way, he was very definite when it came to recording facts and referring back to them. These days, we don’t seem to do that. Or at least we don’t hold people to their word, their deed or indeed their track record. 

Limber up ladies and gents, for we are about to launch into a political broadside and preconceptions are dangerous things as a rule. For example, as a young skinny footballer playing Boys Brigade league games on Saturday mornings, I used to love dashing the preconceptions of lumbering defenders; they thought I’d be easy pickings, until I ripped the piss out of them on the wing and even left the boot in occasionally and, politically speaking, the same caution applies. 

For years, all I’d ever heard from chinless wonder Tories was: “No matter what you think of us, we’re good with the economy.” Really? Okay, let’s have a look at how much has been spunked on this Brexit farce. Hundreds of millions have been wasted by one man alone, step forward Chris Grayling. A name you can drop to any unsuspecting canvasser that rocks up singing the praises of Ruth Davidson and her shower. It’s a fact. As is the truth that various Tory councils in the shires have actually mismanaged finances so badly, they’ve gone bust. 

Add to that the miserable failure that is our balance of payments deficit, or our productivity figures, or the fact that the Tory governments since 2010 have borrowed more money than every Labour government in history. Yet still the same people who insist the Tories are good with the economy also insist they’re best at security. The same party can’t even keep the proceedings of the National Security Council secret owing to their relentless internal backstabbing. These are not debatable assertions but matters of record as good old Norris would have to admit. 

I would happily examine the SNP’s record on education and health or Labour’s fudge on Brexit with the same rigour, as should we all. Because if you ignore the record and refuse to factor that into your choices in any area of life, you’re destined to play it on repeat until the needle starts smoking. Sadly, a return to a Presbyterian ledger culture seems far away. Forgive me; I’m starting to sound like a broken record. Norris McWhirter would be pleased.


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