Turning back the clock;Books

22nd October 1999 at 01:00
CLOCK THIS. By Trevor Baylis. Headline. pound;18.99.

The inventor of the clockwork radio is well known to TES readers. We have reported more than once on his passionate beliefs about the failures of education: that schools do little to nurture creativity in science and engineering, and that even where there are displays of genuine inventiveness - in engineering competitions for young people, for example - participants are unprotected against the loss of their potentially lucrative rights as inventors.

Unsurprisingly, he uses his autobiography to reassert his views, and to suggest a way forward, through his planned "Academy of Invention". All this, though, comes towards the end of the book - as indeed does the story of the clockwork radio itself. Before that we are treated to a fascinating tale of a life that began in north London in 1937.

All the expected ingredients are there - the Blitz, the search for bits of shrapnel, the potentially lethal games in bomb-ruined buildings. Later there was national service as a physical training instructor. And, all the time, we see the emergence of what my family would have called a "nankler" - someone who spends hours in a shed with a lathe and bits of metal and wire.

In a parallel development, Trevor became, by his teens, an international class swimmer. When he was held back from the very top by his slightness of build he went on to earn a living first as a stunt diver, then as a swimming pool salesman. He also organised underwater stunts for television - the simulated drowning of Peter Cook, for example, and an encounter between the Labour MP, Austin Mitchell, and a killer whale.

We learn of the dark side in his life, too: how as a small boy he was sexually abused by a priest, an episode that still stirs him to anger.

This is a good, one-sitting read - a warm and sometimes hilarious account of the life of a kind-hearted and genuinely funny man. He's undoubtedly wealthy now, as the result of an invention that is enriching the lives of thousands, and it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke.

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