Joy of Cranleigh – Two World Records for Cranleigh, 1991 – August 2021

The lines of neatly-laid coins

‘Record Breakers’ was a popular BBC1 television programme from the 1970s to the turn of the century.

The McWhirter twins, Norris and Ross, sports journalists with encyclopaedic memories, co-founded The Guinness Book of Records in 1955. It was a big success, and grew in size with every issue. The children’s programme, Blue Peter, began to feature attempts to break records of all kinds, overseen by the brothers. This became a separate programme in 1972, presented by Roy Castle and the McWhirters. Norris continued to present the show, even after Ross was assassinated by the IRA in 1975.

Roy Castle (1932-94), presenter of Record Breakers

Record Breakers ran for 29 years, with 276 episodes. Roy Castle, singer, dancer and musician, presented it for over 20 of those years. He broke nine world records himself on the programme, including fastest tap dance (he did 24 taps per second) and playing the same tune on 43 different instruments in four minutes.

On Saturday August 10th 1991, the Cranleigh division of the St John Ambulance Brigade organised an attempt on the world record for a continuous line of two-pence pieces. Meanwhile, a group in the Isle of Man was competing against them.

Children laying coins (all photos of the day are from the Surrey Advertiser)

Roy Castle was still the main presenter at that time, together with Cheryl Baker, a singer with the group Bucks Fizz, who had won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1981. She spent the day in Cranleigh, with a BBC crew from Record Breakers filming the event, while Roy Castle was encouraging the Isle of Man team.

Coin-laying began in Stocklund Square at 7.00am, but only a trickle of people arrived to help. By midday six miles of coins had been laid, and Cranleigh was well behind its rivals on the Isle of Man. Cheryl Baker made an appeal on local radio for people to hop on a free bus, and this brought many more people. The line of coins now zigzagged around Stocklund Square and the car park. Even the chief executive of the Royal Mint, Mr Tony Garrett, was present and took part.

Cheryl Baker with the chief executive of the Royal Mint, Mr Tony Garrett

Securicor vans and a mobile bank were present. St John Ambulance and the local fire service went around the streets with loud hailers, urging people to join in the record attempt. By late afternoon, 400 people were in the car park, on hands and knees, steadily laying coins. Securicor staff rushed around with wheel barrows full of coins to be bought and laid. Cheryl Baker, ever enthusiastic, kept up morale.

At 6.45pm the organisers called an end to the attempt. The oldest divisional member, Miss Ethel Hook, aged 75, was invited to place the final coin. Official counters measured the line of coins and announced that it came to 26.25 miles (42.24km). On the Isle of Man they carried on until 8.00pm, but reached only 22 miles. People returned home exhausted but elated. Over 1,700,000 two-pence coins were laid and the St John Ambulance team was left to sweep them all up and deposit them in the Securicor vans. The task took them until 2.00am.

Forming the word ‘John’, with the Scots Guards pipers

The whole exciting day was shown on ‘Record Breakers’ later in autumn 1991.

The Cranleigh History Society is not meeting in August, but hopes to hold its first indoor meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic on Thursday September 9th at 8.00pm in the Band Room.

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