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The Z Files: Tony Waithe

Updated Monday, 14th October 2019

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

Transcript

Benjamin Zephaniah
I’m a poet; I use words to invent poems.  Today I’m at the RAF Museum 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. 

 

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