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Delia Derbyshire Papers

Date range: 1932-2001

Medium: Archive

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. (the original make-up tapes for the Doctor Who theme are held by the BBC Archive Centre at Perivale in the Radiophonic Workshop Archive).

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 – including a period assisting the artist Li Yuan-chia at his LYC Museum and Gallery in Cumbria, her musical output became far less frequent but she 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.

The recordings relate primarily to Derbyshire’s freelance work but some BBC productions are represented amongst the tapes as well. Many of the tapes contain make-up elements for projects with sounds and cues in various stages of development. Projects featured prominently in the tape collection include the first two Inventions for Radio (The Dreams and Amor Dei), Ron Grainer’s 1966 musical On the Level, the first edition of the Brighton Festival, Peter Hall’s 1967 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Macbeth, Tony Richardson’s Roundhouse production of Hamlet, Caroline McCullough’s short 1970 film Lowell, Edward Lucie-Smith’s Poets in Prison event for the 1970 City of London Festival, the 1971 BBC schools radio production Noah and the 1972 factual series Tutankhamun’s Egypt, one of Derbyshire's final assignments at the BBC. Other tapes within the collection contain off-air recordings of interviews with Derbyshire as well as music and sound design not composed or created by Derbyshire.

The original tapes are currently unavailable for consultation for conservation reasons but, since the end of 2015, digital copies of these recordings can be accessed and listened to in the reading room of the John Rylands Library.

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.

In 2013, the artists Madelon Hooykaas and Elisabeth Kozmian, with whom Derbyshire collaborated in the mid-1970s and early 1980s respectively, donated items to the University of Manchester Library relating to the films they worked on with Derbyshire. Further donations relating to Delia Derbyshire include items from her close friend and colleague Brian Hodgson, her partner Clive Blackburn and Jo Hutton.

Further information:

  • Catalogue available online via ELGAR.
  • A catalogue of Derbyshire's juvenile papers is 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 document.

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 uml.special-collections@manchester.ac.uk. For further information about the history and future plans of the Archive please contact David Butler (email: david.g.butler@manchester.ac.uk)


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