Engineer of the Week No. 38: Delia Ann Derbyshire (5 May 1937-3 July 2001)
Today we remember Delia Derbyshire, electronic music pioneer, on her 82nd birthday.
Delia Derbyshire is best known for her work with the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop and creating the famous Dr Who theme music. Although not, strictly speaking an engineer, Delia spent most of her working life in a highly technical line of work, making innovative use of the emerging electronics of the period. Born into a working class family in Coventry, Delia was exceptionally bright, especially at maths, and won a scholarship to study maths at Girton College Cambridge – an outstanding achievement for a girl from such a humble background. She graduated with a degree in maths and music in 1959, having also had some courses in electronics. The commercial recording studios of the period refused her applications because she was a girl but in 1960, she joined the BBC as a trainee assistant studio manager and two years later had persuaded the BBC to send her to the Radiophonics Workshop, where she was immersed in the electronic equipment from which her musical talents coaxed the music for which she is famous. She worked on an enormous number of other compositions but the BBC in those days did not credit such work and it would be 50 years before an onscreen credit of her Dr Who music was permitted. She collaborated with Brian Hodgson and others in establishing freelance electronic studios but in 1975 left the field and composed little music in the rest of her life, as she moved between a variety of jobs. Sadly her life ended somewhat chaotically due to alcoholism but is widely remembered and was honoured with a posthumous honorary doctorate from Coventry University and also a blue plaque in the same town of her birth.