The seventy six year old boy wonder

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The seventy six year old boy wonder

Reflecting on some of the people I have met, spoken with and interviewed over the last couple of years, I always smile when I think about Trevor Baylis – a funny, intelligent and warm individual, his sheer passion just blows me away.

At an age when most men have long since retired, Trevor Baylis still bubbles with enthusiasm for his work and his life. Talking to Trevor is like talking to a five-year-old on Christmas Eve and the world feels like a more exciting place. Trevor is an incredible person whose sheer love for life makes other people feel better just by speaking to him.

He was born before the Second World War; in his youth he was an enthusiastic swimmer and won national honours in the sport. When he talks of his life and his career, he is talking about love. Trevor has always done something that he loved, something he enjoyed and that filled him with enthusiasm. Even when speaking to him today, his passion is clear because the things that fill his life immerse and interest him.

Trevor’s father was an engineer, his mother a thespian and both seem to have had an influence on their son’s colourful career choices. Although best known as an innovative British inventor, it is less well-known that Trevor also worked as a stuntman after his National Service and used the money he earned from underwater escapes to set up a swimming pool company. The pools were particularly popular as they were the first free-standing type to be available in the UK and their simple installation encouraged schools all over the country to buy them.

Trevor’s inventiveness came to the fore, when, after seeing a number of his stunt friends suffer serious injuries which sometimes caused permanent disabilities, he decided to create products to help to make their everyday activities a little easier to perform. Trevor needed to understand the issues that affect people who don’t have full use of their physicality, but rather than to attempt to gain this knowledge intellectually, he secured one of his arms to his side with a belt and spent days on end with only one functioning arm in order to fully understand the challenges. This exercise enabled Trevor to fully appreciate the difficulties that people with physical disabilities have with everyday tasks, and he was then able to go on to invent several devices to help them.

When AIDS was recognised as being a world-wide problem in the late 1980s, Trevor was watching a TV programme about the spread of the disease in Africa. Trevor told me, “I could have been watching Come Dancing or anything else, but I just happened to be watching a programme about the spread of Aids throughout Africa. They said the only way they could stop the disease was by spreading information and the best way to do this was by the use of radio. But the problem was most of Africa did not have electricity and batteries were expensive.”

Using his knowledge of electric motors and the various ways in which they could be powered, Trevor took an electric motor from a toy car and the clockwork mechanism from a music box, and a created a rough prototype of the first wind-up radio. Although he patented his idea, it was universally rejected by prospective manufacturers when Trevor tried to get the prototype into production. Despite this, he battled on and told me, “I would work eighteen-hour stretches at a time, fall asleep in my clothes, then wake up and start work again. Although I was exhausted, the work had become pure pleasure.”

Trevor continued to try to get his radio into production and recalls being portrayed in the media as a nutty professor, especially following rejections from the design council and being turned down by potential parts suppliers, who had told him that his idea was unworkable. Trevor persisted with his idea for five years and remained convinced that it could impact on the lives of millions of people. Eventually, after featuring on the BBC science programme Tomorrow’s World, Trevor received some investment and formed the Freeplay Energy Company.

Trevor saw his product become a reality in 1995 when the first Freeplay radios came off an assembly line in Cape Town. As he watched his design become a reality, he remembered the many battles and rejections he had experienced in order for it to be possible. Tears welled in his eyes as he looked around the newly built manufacturing facility and the largely disabled workforce who were producing his award-winning clockwork radio. Immediately after the visit, Trevor met with Nelson Mandela, and the South African President congratulated him on his achievement.

The Freeplay radio went on to be widely distributed throughout Africa and was used as a vital communication and educational tool. It enabled people who had no other means of listening to the news to access several media channels, and allowed information to be distributed amongst communities that had previously been cut off.

None of this would have happened without the English inventor’s unbridled enthusiasm and his belief and passion in what he did. Trevor continues to invent today and has numerous patents to his name. He is most proud of Baylis Brands which helps inventors to get their creations to market. Trevor says it best: “I can only say to people that you have to love what you do.”

A fundamental characteristic of successful people is their passion and purpose in their own life. If you want to become your best, you need to get into that mindset. What are you passionate about? What do you love? Write it down and keep on writing. Don’t think about it as you write, don’t do it from a mature perspective or second-guess what you will write. What are you truly passionate about?

What do you want to be when you grow up? Trevor is 76 and still deciding.


Barry Duddy is a business growth and personal development coach. Contact him before you grow up