Trevor Baylis was born on 13 May 1937 to Cecil Archibald Walter Baylis and Gladys Jane Brown in Kilburn, London. He grew up in Southall, Middlesex, and attended North Primary School and Dormers Wells Secondary Modern School.
His first job was in a Soil Mechanics Laboratory in Southall where a day-release arrangement enabled him to study mechanical and structural engineering at a local technical college.
A keen swimmer, he swam for Great Britain at the age of 15; he narrowly failed to qualify for the 1956 Summer Olympics. When he was 20 he started his National Service as a physical training instructor and swam for the Army and Imperial Services during this time. When he left the army he took a job with Purley Pools, the company which made the first free-standing swimming pools. Initially he worked in a sales role but later in research and development. His swimming skills enabled him to demonstrate the pools and drew the crowds at shows, and this led to forming his own aquatic display company as professional swimmer, stunt performer and entertainer, performing high dives into a glass-sided tank. With money earned from performing as an underwater escape artiste in the Berlin Circus he set up Shotline Steel Swimming Pools, a company which supplies modular swimming pools to schools in the UK.
Baylis' work as a stunt man made him feel kinship with disabled people through friends whose injuries had ended their performing careers. In 1985 this involvement led him to invent and develop a range of products for the disabled called Orange Aids.
In 1991, he saw a television programme about the spread of AIDS in Africa and that a way to halt the spread of the disease would be by education and information using radio broadcasts. Before the programme had finished he had adjourned to his workshop and assembled the first prototype of his most well-known invention, the wind-up radio. The original prototype included a small transistor radio, an electric motor from a toy car, and the clockwork mechanism from a music box. He patented the idea and then tried to get it into production, but was met with rejection from everyone he approached.
The turning point came when his prototype was featured on the BBC TV programme Tomorrow's World in April 1994. With money from investors he formed a company Freeplay Energy and in 1996 the Freeplay radio was awarded the BBC Design Award for Best Product and Best Design. In the same year Baylis met Queen Elizabeth II and Nelson Mandela at a state banquet, and also travelled to Africa with the Dutch Television Service to produce a documentary about his life. He was awarded the 1996 World Vision Award for Development Initiative that year.
Baylis filed his first patent in 1992. The original Baygen radios used the windup mainspring design which is no longer in production. The year 1997 saw the production in South Africa of the new generation Freeplay radio, a smaller and cheaper model designed for the Western consumer market which uses rechargeable cells with a generic crank generator.
Numerous tours, interviews and television appearances have followed, and Baylis has been awarded many honours including the OBE in 1997, and eleven honorary degrees from UK universities (1998 to 2005) including the degree of Doctor of the University from the Open University in 2001. In 1999, he received the Pipe Smoker of the Year Award for his invention of the Freeplay radio from the British Pipesmokers' Council, which honoured famous pipesmokers. He continues to invent, and in 2001 he completed a 100-mile walk across the Namib Desert demonstrating his electric shoes and raising money for the Mines Advisory Group. The "electric shoes", developed in collaboration with the UK's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, use piezoelectric contacts in the heels to charge a small battery that can be used to operate a radio transceiver or cellular telephone.
Following his own experience of the difficulties faced by inventors, Baylis set up the Trevor Baylis Foundation to "promote the activity of Invention by encouraging and supporting Inventors and Engineers". This led to the formation of the company Trevor Baylis Brands PLC which provides inventors with professional partnership and services to enable them to establish the originality of their ideas, to patent or otherwise protect them, and to get their products to market. Their primary goal is to secure licence agreements for inventors, but they also consider starting up new companies around good ideas. The company is based in Richmond, London.
Baylis has lived on Eel Pie Island for many years; he regularly attended jazz performances at the Eel Pie Island Hotel. He is single and is well known for being a pipe smoker. Baylis was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1971; part of his small intestine has been surgically removed. In March 2010, Baylis stated that he was sexually abused at age 5 by a Church of England curate. This was also covered in his 1999 autobiography.
Baylis was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1997 Birthday Honours and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to intellectual property. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Leeds Metropolitan University in June 2005.
Baylis also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2003