All using ‘best in class’ Swiss stopwatches, they agreed a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.
As a talented fellow athlete and a BBC sports broadcaster, McWhirter was a close friend and training ally of Bannister and was the Oxford stadium announcer on the day. Famously, as he declared the time, only the word ‘three’ was audible – the rest of the announcement lost in the roar of the crowd.
Consigned by family members, McWhirter’s Lemania Nero 1/10 split-second watch (now, somewhat ironically, ‘non running’) came for sale at Dominic Winter in South Cerney, Gloucestershire, on December 16.
It was offered together with a small archive of related photos and papers, including two autograph letters dated 1951 from Bannister to McWhirter in which the possibility of the sub-four-minute mile is discussed.
Estimated at £3000-5000, it sold at £26,000 (plus 20% buyer’s premium) to an online bidder using thesaleroom.com.
Previous auction appearances
Two of the five official ‘Roger Bannister’ timers have previously sold at auction: an Omega Olympic chronometer used by chief timekeeper Charles Hill (£7700 at Bonhams in 1998 and later resold to the Omega Museum for close to £100,000) and another Nero Lemania used by WK Burfitt which took £20,000 at Graham Budd Auctions in 2015. Later in 2015, Christie’s sold Bannister’s spikes, made for him in lightweight materials by GT Law, for a premium-inclusive £266,500.
It was following coverage of Bannister’s achievement that race pacemaker Christopher Chataway had introduced McWhirter and twin brother Ross to his fellow executives at Guinness.
After an interview in which the directors enjoyed testing knowledge of records and unusual facts, the brothers agreed to begin work on the volume that in August 1955 became the best-selling Guinness Book of Records.