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Trevor Baylis CBE – smoking, sex and hell

So sorry to hear that inventor Trevor Baylis (above left) has died at the age of 80.

The invention for which he's best known is the clockwork (or wind-up) radio that transformed millions of lives, in Africa in particular.

He conceived it relatively late in life – the first production model appeared in 1994 – but he was a prolific inventor long before then.

According to this excellent and occasionally jaw-dropping obituary in the Guardian:

A few years before his wind-up radios began to sell at the rate of 120,000 a month, many of them bound for Africa, he had conceived more than 200 devices to help people with disabilities. He did most of this in less than three months of creative effort in which food and sleep played inconspicuous roles. The inventions included one-handed bottle and can openers, whisks, graters, sieves, sketching easels, embroidery frames and binoculars, as well as smoking aids for those who had difficulty in co-ordinating their limbs (he was an unreconstructed heavy pipe smoker).

The obit is 'jaw-dropping' because there’s a lot of stuff I knew nothing about. For example:

In 1964 he produced a chlorination system that he claimed to be 20 years ahead of the competition, and at the same time began work as a freelance stuntman. He devised and built a 35ft diameter tank in which he had to teach Peter Cook and Dudley Moore how to escape from a car in water. He took the tank around Britain and Europe for displays, once persuading Austin Mitchell, then a Yorkshire TV reporter and later a politician, to ride a killer whale in it.

In 1970 Baylis appeared as Rameses II in a Berlin circus, was shut in a sarcophagus and dropped into the water. The crane went out of control and for a time he was trapped, so that when he finally did get out, the relieved applause was thunderous. He said later that his stay in Berlin was the happiest time of his life.

From the £6,300 he earned in Berlin, he started his own business, Shotline Pools, and dived off the top of a house into his first steel and PVC pool. But at 45, after his father had died and he himself had been ill for a year with a blocked intestine, he gave up stunts and devoted his life to inventing.

I can't remember how or when I first met him.

In 1999, the year I joined Forest, he was awarded the title Pipesmoker of the Year. In those days it was quite a big deal. The award took place over lunch at The Savoy and for 30 years the list of winners was a Who's Who of British sport and showbiz.

I was at the lunch and I may have written to him afterwards, I don't know. What I do know is he became a popular and familiar figure at Forest events, always ready to step in if we needed someone to say a few words.

In July 2008, for example, we organised an event at the House of Commons that I wrote about here:

Exceeding our expectations, 17 MPs and five peers turned up. Of the MPs, there were eleven Conservatives, five Labour, and one LibDem. Views ranged from those strongly opposed to the smoking ban to those broadly in favour.

Our host, Philip Davies, gave a short, well-received speech. I announced the launch of our new Amend The Smoking Ban campaign. And Trevor Baylis told a joke involving smoking and sex.

The following year he helped launch the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign at a pub in Westminster (see below).

He was a welcome guest at many other Forest events. Smoke On The Water, our annual boat party, was a particular favourite of his which I found a bit odd because he lived, surrounded by water, on Eel Pie Island in Twickenham. Talk about a busman's holiday!

Then again, he lived alone and I think he enjoyed the company and the laissez faire atmosphere of these events.

Some interviews implied that he was bitter about not making more money from his inventions. He may have been annoyed or angry that some of his patents were circumvented, allowing others to cash in, but that's not the Trevor Baylis I knew.

He was the most genial and good-natured man you could meet.

If I have a regret it's that I never spent much time talking to him. Instead I would greet him with a cry of, "Trevor! Great to see you, thanks for coming", and usher him to a chair where he would hold court, tell jokes and smoke his beloved pipe.

Perhaps my favourite quote of his appeared in the Daily Mail in 2015. Invited to discuss his health, and asked if he would like to live forever, he replied:

No. I want to go to hell when my time is up because all my friends will be there waiting for me.

Trevor attended our 30th and 35th anniversary parties at Boisdale of Belgravia in 2009 and 2014, and he would have been a special guest at our 40th anniversary event next year.

Sadly he won't be there but I'm sure he'll be looking up, enjoying the banter.

RIP, Trevor, and thanks for your support.

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