Signal Strength


Delia Derbyshire (5 May 1937 — 3 July 2001) was an English musician and composer of electronic music and musique concrète. She is best known for her electronic realisation of Ron Grainer's theme music to the British science fiction television series Doctor Who and for her work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.


Delia Derbyshire Derbyshire was born in Coventry. Educated at Barr's Hill School, she then completed a degree in mathematics and music at Girton College, Cambridge. In 1959 she applied for a position at Decca Records only to be told that the company did not employ women in their recording studios. Instead she took a position at the UN in Geneva, soon returning to London to work for music publishers Boosey & Hawkes.

Some of her most acclaimed work was done in the 1960s in collaboration with the British artist and playwright Barry Bermange for the BBC's Third Programme, which was later renamed BBC Radio 3. Besides recording the Doctor Who theme, Derbyshire also composed and produced scores, incidental pieces and themes for nearly 200 BBC Radio and BBC TV programmes. A selection of some of her best 1960s electronic music creations for the BBC can be found on the album BBC Radiophonic Music (BBC Records), which was re-released on CD in 2002. Several of the smaller pieces that Derbyshire created at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were used for many years as incidental music by the BBC and other broadcasters, including the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

One set of recordings made for the Third Programme labeled "Dreams" was made in collaboration with Barry Bermange (who originally recorded the narrations). Bermange put together The Dreams (1964), a collage of people describing their dreams, set to a background of electronic sound. Dreams is a collection of spliced/reassembled interviews with people describing their dreams, particularly recurring elements. The program of sounds and voices attempts to represent, in five movements, some sensations of dreaming: running away, falling, landscape, underwater, and colour.


In 1963, Ron Grainer was asked to compose the theme tune to the Doctor Who series that began late in that year. As part of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, Derbyshire developed Grainer's written notes into the version that was then used on the original show.

Ron Grainer was so amazed by her rendering of his theme that he attempted to get her a co-composer credit; when he first heard it he said "Did I really write this?" and got the answer "Most of it" from Derbyshire. The attempt was prevented by BBC bureaucracy, who then preferred to keep the members of the Workshop anonymous. Derbyshire's interpretation of Grainer's theme used electronic oscillators and magnetic audio tape editing (including tape loops and reverse tape effects) to create an eerie and unearthly sound that was quite unlike anything that had been heard before. Derbyshire's original Doctor Who theme is one of the first television themes to be created and produced by entirely electronic means.

Much of the Doctor Who theme was constructed by recording the individual notes from electronic sources one by one onto magnetic tape, cutting the tape with a razor blade to get individual notes on little pieces of tape a few centimetres long and sticking all the pieces of tape back together one by one to make up the tune. This was a laborious process which took weeks.

The theme has been reworked over the years, to Derbyshire's horror and dismay and the version that had her "stamp of approval" is her original one.


In 1966, while still working at the BBC, Derbyshire with fellow Radiophonic Workshop member Brian Hodgson and EMS founder Peter Zinovieff set up Unit Delta Plus, an organisation which they intended to use to create and promote electronic music. Based in a studio in Zinovieff's townhouse in Putney, they exhibited their music at a few experimental and electronic music festivals, including The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave at which The Beatles' "Carnival of Light" had its only public playing. After a troubled performance at the Royal College of Art, in 1967, the unit disbanded.

In 1966, she recorded a demo with Anthony Newley entitled "Moogies Bloogies", although as Anthony Newley moved to the United States, the song was never released.

Also in the late sixties, she again worked with Hodgson in setting up the Kaleidophon studio in Camden Town with fellow electronic musician David Vorhaus. The studio produced electronic music for various London theatres and, in 1968, the three used it to produce their first album as the band White Noise. Although later albums were essentially solo Vorhaus albums, the début, An Electric Storm featured collaborations with Derbyshire and Hodgson and is now considered an important and influential album in the development of electronic music, prefiguring the sound of Stereolab or Broadcast by 20 years.

The trio, using pseudonyms, also contributed to the Standard Music Library. Many of these recordings, including compositions by Delia using the name "Li De la Russe" (note the anagram-esque use of the letters in Delia), were later used on the seventies ITV science fiction rivals to Doctor Who; The Tomorrow People and Timeslip.

In 1967, she assisted Guy Woolfenden with his electronic score for Peter Hall's production of Macbeth with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The pair also contributed the music to Hall's 1968 film Work Is a Four-Letter Word.

Her other work during this period included taking part in a performance of electronic music at The Roundhouse, which also featured work by Paul McCartney, the sound-track for a Yoko Ono film, the score for an ICI-sponsored student fashion show and the sounds for Anthony Roland's award-winning film of Pamela Bone's photography, entitled Circle of Light.


In 1973, she left the BBC and, after a brief stint working at Hodgson's Electrophon studio during which time she contributed to the soundtrack of the film The Legend of Hell House, stopped composing music. She had a series of jobs as a radio operator, in an art gallery and in a bookshop.

In late 1974 she married David Hunter from Haltwhistle in Northumberland, the labourer son of a striking miner in an attempt to gain social acceptance; the relationship was brief and disastrous although she never divorced. She also frequented the gallery space of Chinese artist Li Yuan-chia at his stone farmhouse in Cumbria and in 1980 she met her life-partner, Clive Blackburn, who gave her stability.

She returned to music in the late nineties after having her interest renewed by fellow electronic musician Peter Kember and was working on an album when she died aged 64 of renal failure while recovering from breast cancer.


After Derbyshire's death, her private collection of material she recorded was bequeathed to Mark Ayres. He has worked with Manchester University to create a fully digitised archive of her work.

Source: Wikipedia


Delia Derbyshire

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