THE CINDERELLA not invited to the Foreign Office to take a photocall with Robin Cook and the Design Council chiefs is Trevor Bayliss, inventor of the Clockwork radio. Yet the Foreign Secretary was unstinting in his praise for the wind-up radio that replaces batteries with a big spring in the side. Crank up the handle for 25 seconds and it will run for an hour.
"Can I get the BBC?" the Foreign Secretary asked the young product development designer who had worked with Bayliss on the original concept. Yes, and what's more you can get it in some of the world's more remote areas, which is why Bayliss, now 60, set up his factory BayGen in Cape Town, to manufacture 80,000 radios a month. He hit on the idea while watching a TV programme on Aids in Africa. Struck by the fact that villages without electricity were cut off from information unless they could afford batteries, he invented a radio that costs nothing to run. He calls it the new African drum.
But getting his prototype out of his workshop and into production was a bitter struggle. In the urinals at his factory still hangs a framed copy of a letter that the Design Council sent him on 12 March 1992 after it assessing the viability of promoting and backing his project. While the clockwork radio was "a well thought out product which would benefit its target market", it turned him down. It was "very unlikely that UK industry could enter profitably into a licensing agreement with this product. The major customers are third world countries which, with severe debts, would not be in a position to pay for this device. The extent to which component parts could be manufactured in the UK was also felt to be limited".
Bayliss is still angry: "The third world couldn't afford it and no British licensee could make a profit from it? Scandalous." So he got in touch with BBC's Tomorrow's World which gave him a five-minute slot. An accountant, Christopher Staines, saw the programme and said his firm could make it happen. Now they are partners.
"Within two weeks the project had pounds 1m, and funding from the beautiful, darling Lynda Chalker (former Foreign Minister) through the Overseas Development Agency. Bless her." Nearly rubbed out by those rejections he admits that when he saw the first radios coming off the production line at Bay-Gen in Cape Town he broke down and cried "like a big girl's blouse".
Now the designer who prototyped his radio in a garden shed is pushing for an Academy of Inventors. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers would like to install him in the old Patent Office in London and he hopes that if Prince Charles is listening it will be given the status of Royal Academy. Mr Bayliss will invite the big cheeses from the Design Council to the launch party.Reuse content