My First Job: Trevor Baylis, the inventor, remembers his days as a circus stuntman

Then they put elephant dung in my coffin...
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The Independent Online

In a previous incarnation, Trevor Baylis was Rameses II. Before he invented his wind-up radio, he was a circus stuntman whose most spectacular escapade involved a near-death experience while dressed up as the 13th-century BC pharaoh. While at his secondary-modern school (he revisits it in a forthcoming BBC2 documentary) he was drawn into the world of showmanship by his friend Johnny Pugh, whose father was the legendary circus impresario "Digger" Pugh.

"I learnt to tumble in his back garden," recalls Baylis. Having swum for England as a boy, as a teenager he would do comedy diving routines that involved plunging into the water in a woman's dress - while on fire. He once ended up in hospital, swathed in bandages. Later he trained as an engineer and began building swimming-pools. Then he welded the two skills together by putting on acts such as a performing (or, as it turned out, non-performing) dolphin display. Another stunt involved Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in a sunken car.

His greatest feat involved himself as the star turn in a German circus, for which he installed one of his small swimming-pools in a Berlin arena. "I'm dressed up as Rameses II," he says. "The band plays spooky, Egyptian-like music. I'm roped and blindfolded and put into a gold sarcophagus." The scenario was that, before Rameses II was granted his licence as a pharaoh, he had to survive a terrible ordeal. The lid of the coffin was nailed down and Trevor was dropped 14 feet to the bottom of the swimming pool.

The ropes were not long enough for a decent knot, so Trevor could instantly untie himself. Water poured into the glittering coffin but there was just enough air, trapped in the pharaoh's death mask built into the lid, to give the escapologist four minutes of life, as long as he breathed carefully and didn't hyperventilate. Outside the tank, the retinue of performers in Egyptian garb pretended to go berserk as Rameses failed to emerge from the depths. The terrified audience would actually go berserk. After four long minutes, using techniques that the curse of the Magic Circle forbids him from revealing, Trevor found his way out of the watery trap and rose regally to the surface.

The audience was right to be terrified. Trevor's first public performance was almost the last, as he nearly blacked out while the water was lapping his chin. Rameses's death mask almost became Trevor's.

He remembers his fellow showmen as terrific people, and wonderfully supportive - apart from his final performance, when they left elephant-droppings in the coffin and nailed it down.

But all that is so much water under the sarcophagus. He now keeps himself afloat by running Trevor Baylis Brands (www.trevorbaylisbrands.com), which helps inventors develop and market their gizmos. Oddly enough, there doesn't seem to be much call for submarine Egyptian coffins.

jonty@jonathansale.com

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