Awards 1996 World Vision Award for Development Initiative

World Vision Award for Development Initiative

The Winner: Trevor Baylis

Trevor Baylis says that, when he realised, from television, that Africans needed a radio without batteries, so they could learn about Aids, he imagined himself a century ago with pith helmet, monocle, gin & tonic, and fly swat, listening to a gramophone with a horn on top.

"I thought: If there's enough power in a wind-up gramophone to make all that sound by dragging a rusty nail round a piece of Bakelite, there's got to be enough power in a spring to run a small dynamo which can run a radio."

Leaving the TV for the workshop in his house on Eel Pie Island, Twickenham, he clamped a small electric motor in a hand drill and wired the motor to a transistor radio. Then he turned the drill so the motor generated power. The radio gave a bark of sound. It showed a clockwork radio was possible. He spent three or four months, playing around with springs and gears, putting one together.

Then he tried the idea on Marconi, Philips, National Power, BP and the Design Council. None of them was interested. "I was getting so frustrated," he says, "even humiliated."

His morale improved when the BBC ran the story in Tomorrow's World. People rang up and said: "Well done, Trev." One of the callers was Chris Staines who, with his South African partner, Rory Stear, has made the Baylis radio a reality.

"I could never have developed what Trevor has developed," says Chris Staines, "but no one would take him seriously. What I was able to do was give credibility."

Fifty-nine-year-old Trevor Baylis, currently Twickenham's town crier, comes originally from Southall where his father was an inspector in a rubber factory. As a boy of 15, he nearly got a chance to swim in the Olympics, and he became a professional swimmer after joining a company that made the first PVC-lined swimming pools.

He took a dip in a pool on display at the Ideal Home exhibition. "The next thing I knew there was a crowd around. My boss said: 'You aren't getting out of there.' "

Apart from developing new pool equipment, he swam and water-skied at shows and water carnivals and escaped from cars underwater. He worked on TV with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Dave Allen. At a Berlin circus he was Rameses II. "I had to escape from a sarcophagus. First, they roped me up and blindfolded me. Then they put me in the box, nailed down the lid and dropped me with a crane into ten feet of water." Air caught in the sarcophagus lid kept him going while he escaped.

He earned enough to start in 1971 his own business making free-standing steel swimming pools of which schools have bought over 300. This, he says, is his day job.

His days as a stuntman made him realise the perils of disablement since "you're aware that your next trick could be your last." His first invention was a range of aids to enable disabled people to grip everyday objects and tools. These are now being made; but the financial arrangements were to his disadvantage - he gets nothing out of them. It is different with the Freeplay radio on which he gets a royalty.

He is pleased the radio is being made, in South Africa, by disabled people. "To see all those guys and girls working in their wheelchairs and on their crutches, that was pretty good," he says.

In Cape Town, he met his hero, Nelson Mandela, who shares his concern for the disabled. "The handicapped really are at the bottom of the pile. A handicapped person with low IQ: what chance does he have?"

He is disappointed just the same that the factory is in Cape Town, not Kilburn, and blames an ungenerous British tax system which sends inventions abroad. He is keen to get a Royal Academy of Invention set up with millennium money, so inventors have a better deal.