Clock winds down for much-loved inventor Trevor Baylis

By Pete Madeley | Science & Technology | Published:

Trevor Baylis, the creator of the wind-up radio that he designed to save lives in the developing world, has died at the age of 80.

The pipe-smoking inventor, who was awarded a CBE in 2015 for services to intellectual property, died of natural causes on Monday morning, having been ill for some time.

Mr Baylis is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest inventors.

He was best known for his BayGen clockwork radio, which he started work on in 1991 while watching a documentary about Aids in Africa.

The programme highlighted the value of educational radio programmes in tackling the spread of HIV.

“Before the show was over I was into my studio and I managed to get a bark of sound out of an instrument and that was, if you like, my eureka moment,” he recalled.

A first working prototype of the radio ran for 14 minutes, enabling people without access to electricity and batteries to listen to live broadcasts.

After Mr Baylis appeared with it in 1994 on Tomorrow’s World on BBC One, it was put into mass production in Cape Town, South Africa, by a company that employed disabled workers to manufacture it.

He was appointed OBE in 1997 for his radio.


In recent years Mr Baylis complained of financial difficulties after revealing he had received little of the profits from sales of the device.

Although his one-of-a-kind invention sold millions, it wasn't lucrative for Mr Baylis, who admitted to being 'totally broke' in 2013.

He said at the time: “I’m totally broke. I’m living in poverty here.”

Mr Baylis became a key advocate for the introduction of stronger legal protection for inventors.


However, his instinct to innovate did not leave him.

In an interview in 2003 he said that ideas still came to him out of the blue. “If you can solve a problem then you are well on your way to being an inventor,” he said.

Other inventions included his electric shoes, which he demonstrated in 2001 while completing a 100-mile (160km) walk across the Namib desert in southern Africa to raise money for the Mines Advisory Group charity.

The shoe was made in his ordered but cluttered workshop – Mr Baylis was known to never throw anything away.

On walking, it produced enough power to charge a mobile phone.

Born in May 1937 in Kilburn, London, Mr Baylis’s first job was in a soil mechanics laboratory in Southall where a day-release arrangement enabled him to study mechanical and structural engineering at a technical college.

At the age of 15 he swam for Great Britain, and he later spent time as a stuntman, as well as working in sales. An edition of People of Today 2017 credits him with a stint as an 'underwater escape artist' in Berlin.

Among the people paying tribute on Monday were those who credited him with transforming lives with his radio.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance, which supports community groups in countries that were most affected by the crisis, said it hoped Mr Baylis’s legacy would inspire other inventors to develop creative solutions to strengthen the response to HIV.

“Trevor’s radio invention was inspired by an urgent need to provide accurate information about HIV at a critical point in the epidemic when many people did not have access to information,” said the charity's Shaun Mellors.

Others shared personal stories, including Russell Conway, who recalled seeing one of Mr Baylis’s radios in action in a small shack in a village in Malawi while on a bird-watching expedition.

“About 30 of the locals were listening intently to a football match. Communication is important and he will have saved lives. So true that nobody wants to be the richest person in the graveyard,” he tweeted.

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of the software company Sage, described Mr Baylis as 'a man that exemplified true grit and determination to successfully produce the wind-up radio despite initial rejection'.

Mr Baylis' CBE was awarded following his campaign to make theft of intellectual property a white-collar crime.

He said chatting with the Queen at the ceremony was 'like catching up with an old mate'.

Mr Baylis also worked as a film and TV stuntman and an aquatic showman.

Prof Will Stewart, from The Institution of Engineering and Technology, said: "There are now all sorts of inventions aimed at the developing world and it's a relatively common thing for young engineers to dedicate themselves to, but that didn't always used to be the case.

"I think Trevor Baylis deserves considerable credit for having kicked that off and for having served as an inspiration to many other young engineers and inventors."

Pete Madeley

By Pete Madeley

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.


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