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Science, Maths & Technology
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The Z Files: Tony Waithe

Updated Wednesday 29th September 2010

British inventor Tony Waithe shares his passion for design and innovation with the poet Benjamin Zephaniah

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Benjamin Zephaniah

I’m a poet; I use words to invent poems.  Today I’m at the RAFMuseum in Hendon, North London, to meet another kind of inventor, he’s called Tony Waithe, and we’re here because this is the place where his love of invention all began.  What is this we have here and how important is it in your life?

Tony Waithe

Well how this inspired me, I was a cadet.  We used to man the museum during the holidays and see some of these amazing aircrafts from the earliest aircraft right the way up to the Harrier.

Benjamin Zephaniah

And this is the plane that takes off like straight off?

Tony Waithe

It has a vertical lift-off. 

Benjamin Zephaniah

Yeah Thunderbirds.

Tony Waithe

Bit like the Thunderbirds situation.

Benjamin Zephaniah

Like Thunderbird 2.

Tony Waithe

Yeah absolutely yeah.  Being around these engines, being around these machines inspired me to want to go a bit further with it. 

Benjamin Zephaniah

So come on show off now, what kind of things have you invented?

Tony Waithe

Well bicycle saddle was, you know, one of my first ones.

Benjamin Zephaniah

And?

Tony Waithe

Fire escape ladders.  Our house caught on fire, we managed to put it out, but for a few years I had it in the back of my mind what if?  If the main route is blocked you need to have an alternative route of escape.

Benjamin Zephaniah

Wow.  That’s very important yeah.

Tony Waithe

Yeah very important. 

Benjamin Zephaniah

I don’t know how to put this, I’m going to put this really delicately, you know, you don’t look like the average inventor man; you look like the brother I’m going to hang out with and play some tunes with.

Tony Waithe

For real yeah.

Benjamin Zephaniah

And do you find you fit in?

Tony Waithe

I think they’re quite inspired to see a young black guy kind of in their environment.  I think I add a bit of flavour to their world.

Benjamin Zephaniah

So Tony I want you to use your imagination now and think of the young Benjamin Zephaniah or somebody like me, how can I follow my dreams?  I want to be an inventor, where do I go?

Tony Waithe

You go inside; you realise your true potential.  I’m sure that’s how you became a poet, it came from inside yeah?

Benjamin Zephaniah

Yes, definitely.

Tony Waithe

And then the outside.  It’s the same thing with invention, you know, you have a passion to want to make things better, to change the way we use things.

I run the Young Inventors Club, basically what we do is we go into schools, secondary schools and we talk to young people trying to kind of consider what careers they want to get into.  We talk to them about engineering, science, design and technology and maths.  When kids think of maths generally they think of some complicated numbers, but mathematics is the pressure in those tyres. 

Benjamin Zephaniah

There are hundreds, thousands of young black kids out there, how can they be inspired?  What is it that’s stopping them?

Tony Waithe

I think there’s a lack of confidence amongst young people out there, big time, and there’s nothing out there that they can relate to.  Perhaps maybe they can relate to this, when they see this they see us two talking, they can say well I understand what Benjamin’s saying or I understand what Tony’s saying. 

Benjamin Zephaniah

Having seen what inspired him, I head to his studio to see his award winning inventions in practice.

Tony Waithe

Yeah this is the hub, you know, the hub of ideas. 

Benjamin Zephaniah

So Tony this is the big one I’ve heard about.  This is the big invention, tell me about it. 

Tony Waithe

This is the first of the prototypes, which they want every building that has a flat roof to have these.

Benjamin Zephaniah

And to put it simply it’s attached and you just let this, and it’s not a rope ladder.

Tony Waithe

Yeah.  It’s steel wire, pull the strap here.

Benjamin Zephaniah

And then we go.

Tony Waithe

And you throw it out. 

Benjamin Zephaniah

Very good!

Tony Waithe

I always advise people that if you get a great idea then why not put it in competition?  I myself have been to the British Invention Show.  I won a gold medal for my efforts.  You know, that then gives me the confidence to want to take it to the next level.

Benjamin Zephaniah

Have there been any times when you’ve felt like giving in and just felt well, you know, I’m banging my head against a brick wall?

Tony Waithe

Yeah I’ve banged my head against a brick wall, but I’d never ever give up.  I’m too strong for that, I’m resilient.  You know, you’ve got to always be kind of like a champion to your cause, as you know. 

4’13”

 

 

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