Delia Derbyshire (1937–2001) was an English musician and composer of electronic music who was born in Coventry. She was interested in music, maths and electronics from an early age, and later won a scholarship to study Maths and Music at Girton College, Cambridge University—very unusual at the time for a woman from a working class background. Upon graduating, she applied for jobs at recording studios in London but was turned down because of her gender.
After some temporary teaching roles in London, Geneva and Coventry, in 1960 she got a job as a trainee assistant studio manager at the BBC, and from there made her way to the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. The workshop was used to create special sound effects and scores for plays, children’s programmes, and other light entertainment, first for radio and then gradually for television. Until she left the workshop in 1973, Derbyshire created the sound for over 200 programmes, and, like Daphne Oram who co-founded the Workshop, pioneered the use of tape, electronics, synthesisers and other technology for composition.
One of her most famous and well-loved works is the electronic rendering of Ron Grainger’s score for the Doctor Who television theme tune—the first theme tune to be made completely with electronic sound. Whilst still with the BBC, Derbyshire helped set up studios and other organisations to promote electronic music, wrote scores for plays and films, and performed concerts of electronic music in London. Derbyshire retired from composition in 1975 and didn’t return to it until 2001, producing sounds for Peter Kember’s Serendipity Machine. She died a few months later.
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Minutes by Delia Derbyshire
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- GRC4 #21 Hear full minute
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