How a Hand-Cranked Radio Battled AIDS in Africa

A prolific inventor dreamed up everything from the self-weighing suitcase to electricity-generating shoes. But his ultimate invention was a simple device with the power to spread knowledge to the most remote corners the world.

By | May 18, 2015

Trevor Baylis is the inventor of the wind-up radio, which helped spread the knowledge of AIDS to remote villages in Africa. He talks about his fascinating life and his most successful invention.

Narratively spoke with David Beazley about his process for the film.

How did you first hear about Trevor Baylis?
I first came across Trevor through a newspaper article on him and the house he made on Eel Pie Island. I’ve been putting together a series of short documentary pieces on unique people with interesting jobs, and I thought he’d be perfect for it.

How did you decide what to focus on in the documentary?
Trevor’s led many interesting lives. He’s got tons of great stories, so it was extremely difficult to narrow it down. We filmed him talking about his life through from being a swimmer in his youth, to a stuntman and then an inventor. I was unable to work some of the stories in as I knew I needed to concentrate on one area. To me, his wind-up radio was the by far the most interesting and important

You were also the editor on the film. Was there any footage that you didn’t want to cut but had to?
Lots! There was some great stuff, but it was too lengthy and didn’t work when I tried to cut it down. One being when Trevor worked in an underwater escape act in a Circus in Vienna. That was pretty interesting!

The film was made with a very small crew. Do you think this helps the subject to open up more and create an intimacy missing in other documentaries?
I don’t feel you need a big crew when shooting documentary films. As for Trevor opening up, to be honest he’s such a social and intriguing character that I don’t feel he would have difficulty opening up to anyone! But it is definitely the case that most of the time smaller crews help to put the subject at ease and to create an intimacy and connection.

Do you think people can learn from Baylis’ proactive approach to problem solving?
He’s someone who doesn’t wait for things. If he sees a problem, or a need for something, he’ll just try things out until he finds a way to accomplish what he wants. He’s definitely a determined person. All his life he’s done what he wants and has led a really interesting life, and will leave a legacy because of that.

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