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Delia Derbyshire Papers

Date range: 1932-2001

Papers of Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001), composer and pioneer of British electronic music. Derbyshire was born in Coventry, where she attended Barr's Hill School for Girls. She subsequently secured a place at Girton College, Cambridge to read mathematics – only later switching to a music degree. Her fascination for maths and its relationship with music shaped much of her later work as a composer. 

In 1962 she obtained a post as a trainee studio manager at the BBC, and was soon seconded to the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, which had been established to provide theme and incidental music and sound for BBC radio and television programmes. The following year she produced her electronic 'realisation' of Ron Grainer’s theme tune for the hugely popular series Doctor Who – which remains one of the most famous and instantly recognizable television themes. (Sadly we don’t hold a copy of this recording.)

She built up a body of innovative work, and outside of the Radiophonic Workshop she also created music for theatre, film, festivals and 'happenings'. After leaving the BBC in 1973, she had a long break from her musical career – pursuing a range of other occupations – but returned to music and composition in the late 1990s, a period which saw renewed interest in her work.

In 2007, the Centre for Screen Studies at the University of Manchester, in partnership with the NOVARS Research Centre, acquired the Papers of Delia Derbyshire on permanent loan from the Derbyshire estate and the composer Mark Ayres (former custodian of the archive). This material includes 267 tapes of music, principally on 10.5" reels, which relate to Derbyshire's work as a composer of electronic music during the 1960s and 70s; and papers such as correspondence and scores which document Derbyshire’s processes of composition and the projects she worked on.

Dr David Butler (Lecturer in Screen Studies at the University) undertook a major research project to digitise these recordings. Since the end of 2015 these recordings can be accessed in the Reading Room of the John Rylands Library via a listening device. Other digital material available includes films and sound tracks belonging to the artists Madelon Hooykaas and Elisabeth Kozmian who collaborated with Delia Derbyshire in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 2011, the University of Manchester Library purchased a separate collection of papers relating to Derbyshire's childhood, primarily school books containing notes, exercises and assignments in various subject areas – including mathematics and music, her two greatest interests.

Finding aids

Catalogues of both the juvenile papers (BDD, Juvenile Papers of Delia Derbyshire) and the adult working papers (DDA, Papers of Delia Derbyshire) are available online via ELGAR.

Track listings and information on the content of the sound recordings have also been created and can be downloaded as a PDF: DD_Audio_Files_Commentary.pdf.  

There are future plans for additional work linking the contents of audio files with corresponding paper records. 

Access to these collections is by prior arrangement only and users should note that the collection is subject to copyright restrictions. If you would like to use the Delia Derbyshire Archive please contact us. For further information about the history and future plans of the Archive please contact David Butler.


The John Rylands Library

Using the reading rooms in the John Rylands Library