Record Breakers was the BBC's successful attempt to transfer The Guinness Book of Records to television. Being backed by the book's founders, Norris and Ross McWhirter, certainly gave it the authenticity it required, but more important to its success was the decision by the BBC to appoint all-round entertainer Roy Castle as its host.
Roy Castle was no mere front-man. Records weren't always of a sporting variety and, just like in the book, featured the unusual, the quirky and often the downright comic, and Roy threw himself into each one with unbounded enthusiasm. In the very first programme he set a record himself by performing as the world's biggest one-man-band playing over 43 instruments in four minutes (including a kettle and a kitchen sink). Roy went on to set numerous records of his own (during the life of the series over 300 new records were set) such as the world's fastest tap-dance, the River Thames bridge parascending record and leaping from the top of Blackpool Tower.
Largely studio based in its early days
Record Breakers soon ventured out into the big wide world and from 1974 undertook
expeditions to New York, California, Canada, Hawaii and Australia. The 1977 All-Star Record
Breakers included the world's largest tap troupe dancing in formation outside BBC Television
Centre. The McWhirter twins regularly appeared on the programme, Norris astounding everyone with
his encyclopaedic knowledge of world records as displayed in his 'On The Spot' quiz. (Only one
question ever caught him out - "Which tree has the most leaves?") The McWhirter's continued to
appear until November 1975 when Ross was murdered by IRA gunmen after offering a £50,000
reward for their capture. Norris passed away in April 2004.
The programme was rested in 1983 but came back just as strong two years later. In 1987 Roy Castle was joined by ex Bucks Fizz pop singer turned presenter Cheryl Baker. In 1992, Roy, a non-smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy before going into remission in the autumn of that year.
On 26th November 1993, Roy announced that his illness had returned, and once again underwent treatment in the hope of overcoming it. Several months later, he carried out the high profile Tour of Hope to raise funds for the erection of the building that would become the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, which was - and still is - the only British charity entirely dedicated to defeating lung cancer. His final contribution to Record Breakers was aired over the summer of 1994; he died on 2nd September, two days after his 62nd birthday.
Record Breakers continued with Baker as host and joined by former Olympic athlete Kriss Akabusi, former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry, and, for two seasons, Ron Reagan Jnr (son of the former US President) who presented a report from the USA each week. The programme was revamped in 1998 and returned as Linford's Record Breakers, now hosted by another Olympic athlete; Linford Christie. The original title returned in 2001 but only lasted for one season. The show's theme was (played originally by Roy Castle) 'Dedication.'
Published on January 24th, 2019. Written by Laurence Marcus (2 October 2008) for Television Heaven.