I was pleasantly surprised to see that tonights airing of the Delia Derbyshire documentary “Sculptress of Sound: The Lost Works of Delia Derbyshire” on BBC Radio 4 was listened to by enough people to make her name a trending topic on Twitter in the UK for most of the evening – and not just because it means I wasn’t the only person listening to Radio 4 at 8pm on a Saturday night!
Most people will have been exposed to Delia Derbyshire’s work even if they aren’t aware of her name as she created the original 1963 arrangement of the Doctor Who theme tune. Her interpretation of the original score by composer Ron Grainer left him so stunned that on hearing the finished version he asked “Did I really write this?” to which Delia replied “most of it”. Grainer was so impressed with the result that he even tried to get her credited as co-composer but BBC bureaucracy prevented it.
The documentary explains how creating such other worldly sounds in those days was a laborious process involving recording individual notes on magnetic tape which were then spliced together to make up the final tune. The show also includes various interviews and recordings with Delia and other examples of her music that demonstrate how far ahead of her time she was. In particular the 1968 White Noise album “An Electric Storm” made with David Vorhaus and fellow Radiophonic Workshop member Brian Hodgson is one of my favourites and is now considered an important and influential album in the development of electronic music.
Sadly Delia died in 2001 at the age of 64 as a result of complications from breast cancer treatment. After her death her private collection of the material she recorded was bequeathed to Mark Ayres, archivist for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop who has worked with Manchester University to create a digitised archive of her work.
If you missed the documentary you can hear it on iPlayer here or it is repeated on Monday at 3pm on Radio 4.