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on 27 September 2010
As a petulant teenager growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I always found the Guinness Book of Records a slightly unappealing and heavyweight tome, perhaps because it so closely resembled the fact-filled and boring school text books I loathed so much.

However, after reading "Strictly off the Record", it is clear that life behind the scenes for the Guinness team was anything but boring. Once again, Anna Nicholas has used her exceptional writing talent to great effect, bringing all the record breaking characters and office colleagues to life in a way that makes for a highly entertaining and compelling read.

From the many episodes Anna describes in affectionate tribute to Norris McWhirter, it is clear that he was the brilliant backbone of the Book of Records, the glue that held the rest of the team together, always ready with some wise words when calm needed to be restored.

There are some noteworthy encounters with celebrity and public figures too, not least with the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who Anna reveals had a warm and softer side to her character, in contrast to the "Iron Lady" public persona so often portrayed in the media.

Anna also describes some of the high-pressure situations she herself faced as a Guinness adjudicator. Perhaps most crucially when armed with only a few facts relayed by telephone, she alone had to decide whether Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand had achieved their goal of setting a new record for crossing the Atlantic by hot air balloon, in the face of conflicting opinions and glaring publicity from the world's press.

Above all, "Strictly off the Record" is testament to the high value of loyal and lasting friendship, and proof that life in an office dealing with facts and figures doesn't necessarily have to be dull and boring!!
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on 12 September 2010
Anna Nicholas worked for The Guinness Book of Records (now Guinness World Records) when it was a proper reference book. Although founding co-editor Norris McWhirter had retired and Alan Russell, the creator of the television show Record Breakers, had taken over Mr McWhirter, or "No" as Miss Nicholas called him, was still very heavily involved as editorial director.

The book details Miss Nicholas's adventures at Guinness from her unusual interview - Mr McWhirter asked when she could start and then if she had any questions rather than the other way round - and her appointment as press officer and then records invigilator.

One oddity in the book is that almost no one at Guinness is given a surname apart from Norris McWhirter and managing director David Hoy so editor Alan is replaced by editor Donald (Russell and McFarlan are the missing monikers) which I suppose was intended to be chummy but comes across as a little odd.

That small gripe aside, the book is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at life producing the world's best-selling copyright book. We learn why Matthew Corbett had to soak Richard Branson with Sooty's water pistol, the country where Norris McWhirter is revered as a god and why Anna Nicholas kept being stopped at customs whenever she flew back from invigilating a record attempt.
No's chocoholism is the subject of much hilarity and David Hoy is probably the only managing director of a publishing company who doubled up as a general handyman.

The Guinness book has changed considerably since Norris McWhirter's departure. Donald McFarlan, the book's fourth editor (after Norris and Ross McWhirter and Alan Russell) described it as "a fairly academic title" and Anna Nicholas calls it "essentially a cerebral tome" - two descriptions that sadly could not be applied to the current Guinness World Records, which has been dumbed down. Miss Nicholas writes, "Had Guinness resorted to all out silliness or vulgarity, the book would instantly have lost its quite unique appeal" - unfortunately, it has.

These days if you want an authoritative reference book, Guinness World Records is not one that you would choose and that's the saddest fact of all.
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on 16 November 2010
I have been lucky enough to have read Anna's earlier books about life in the beautiful Soller Valley in Mallorca. From her first book I quickly come to enjoy her writing style and ability to allow the reader to become quickly emerged in the lives of the many diverse characters present - essential when reading these books on cold, rainy days in the UK!

When I saw that Anna was writing about her time working for the Guinness Book of Records I was really unsure what to expect. Yes, as I child I had received the book many times at Christmas and I was familiar with seeing Roy Castle and Norris McWhirter on television during the 1980s, but I was unsure if a book about life within the inner workings of the Guinness Book of Records could really hold my attention. How wrong I was!

This book is a real gem and I think it will offer an excellent and interesting read for anyone who is familiar with the Anna's other work or the Guinness Book of Records and its stars - from Michael Jackson to a man who can flip multiple coins on his arm!

As with Anna's other books, she has the fantastic skill of allowing the reader to quickly get to know and love the characters present in the book. Norris McWhirter is ever present in the book, and his fascination for facts and the oddities of human life make for fabulous reading. But there are other real life characters that the reader can quickly relate too, from the tea and biscuit lady in the office (I would love one of those where I work!) to the many odd and quirky characters who attempt to break world records all over the globe.

From the first few pages I was hooked on this book and really struggled to put it down. The book gives a whole new life and depth to the Guinness Book of Records, its employees and the many, many people who are presented within it. Set during 1980s London, Anna weaves historical moments, from the Great Storm of 1987, the late 1980s financial meltdown and the ever present Margaret Thatcher into her hectic daily life of meeting and adjudicating those who wish to claim a new world record. Brilliant!
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on 21 September 2010
Not really my sort of book but I was given a copy and I started to read,...and once I started I simply could not put it down. The Guiness book of Records has a world renown but I had never given much thought as to how these records were accredited and, I had certainly not thought about some of the weird situations and the strange backgrounds which acted as a back cloth to the record breaking events.
This is a fascinating book and has some wonderful characters and some great travelling. Best of all is the addiction that Norris McWhirter has for chocolate. When in foreign lands where the food can sometimes be a bit dodgy, eat chocolate, that will never make you ill. Wonderful.
A thoroughly recommended read
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on 28 October 2010
I have LOVED reading Anna's books about life in Mallorca and Mayfair. But I was not sure if I would enjoy a book about a book?! Hmmm! But this latest offering from Anna is just as absorbing, just as engaging, and just as much fun as the others. Her lovely, lively and often self deprecating ways of a very energetic, exotic and gruelling career can come across as bundles of fun, but reading between the lines it must have been pure exhaustion.

To deal with these strange, wacky and (quite frankly) weird individuals could have been presented as a chore, but in this book I felt as if I was there with Anna laughing at and with these amazing people.

The other great aspect of the book is that when you think back you actually remember many of these events taking place, and many of the strange characters who made the Guinness Book of World Records the success that it has been over the years. It's a bit like reading back over your personal diary, but it's not mine it's Anna's.

Well done Anna - yet another fabulous book to add to my collection.
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on 30 December 2010
This book is a fitting tribute to the irrepressible and encyclopedic Norris McWhirter, written with due reverence and a liberable sprinkling of humour by the young woman who became his devoted 'lieutenant' during a period considered by many to be the heyday of The Guinness Book of Records.

Its devotees will be fascinated to learn how such a comprehensive source of ever-changing information was produced by a relatively small team working from an unpretentious office in a residential suburb of north London. In addition to the globe-trotting adventures and misadventures of the fact-seeking, record-authenticating 'dynamic duo', there are glimpses of the goings-on behind the scenes at such iconic 1980s TV shows as 'Record Breakers', 'Jim'll Fix It', 'Blue Peter' and 'No 73'.

Famous names are dropped as fast as awards are picked up - all good, entertaining stuff, delivered in the easy-going, conversational style that has become this author's trademark.

Read and enjoy. It'll go down as smoothly as a jar of black velvet!
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on 22 October 2010
Like all other books by Anna, this is truly unputdownable, written with a great sense of humour and full of astounding records. I haven't chuckled so much in a long time.
Another good one for Birthday- or Christmas presents or any other occasion.
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on 18 October 2010
interesting if your are into records and statistics and people like norris mcwhirter - and I am!
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