Lost tapes of Doctor Who composer and electronic music pioner Delia Derbyshire to go public for first time

This post has been updated and includes a correction: 200 tapes, not 200 scores as previously stated, will go on display.

The lost tapes of the Doctor Who theme tune composer, Delia Derbyshire, are to go public for the first time, thanks to the work of a several year archiving project.

Delia shows how she makes her compositions

Delia shows how she makes her compositions at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Some of over 200 tapes from the archive of one of the most talented, early

British electronic music pioneers, will be available to listen to at

John Rylands Deansgate Library in Manchester, from later this


It marks an important step forward in terms of finally turning Delia,

who helped to revolutionise BBC soundtracks by creating electronic

music through recording everyday sounds and cutting, splicing and

distorting tapes, into the household name she deserves to be.

One of the team working on the archive is David Butler, a screen

studies lecturer at the University of Manchester, who has been

working since 2007 to help archive and digitise the fragile tapes of

Delia’s work, which were found stashed in large cardboard cereal

boxes in her attic after she died in 2001.

As many of the labels were missing, he and his colleagues have

arduously been trying to match the recordings to her known works,

as well as solve the mysteries surrounding her partially or un-
published work.

The research has helped to unearth music that was created in the

early 1980s, an important find that puts to bed the common belief

that Delia stopped creating electronic music after she left the BBC

Radiophonic Workshop in 1973 due to an increasing disillusionment

with the way the genre was heading at the corporation.

The archiving has also led to the discovery of the enigmatically

titled ‘Ron Grainer’s Bread’, an astounding three minute 30 piece of

synthpop, which is thought to have been created in the early 1970s,

almost a decade before the genre became prominent.

David said: “Much of the work on the archive has been done in my

spare time but it’s been an incredible project to work on.

“I’m really thankful to all the people who have contributed to the

archive and helped us to confirm what some of the pieces are. It’s

been wonderful to rediscover the breadth and talent within her work.

“There are always going to be some question marks over some

aspects of her archive and the only person who could have

provided all the answers was Delia but I’m really pleased with what

has been achieved so far, even though there is still plenty left to do!

“Delia’s archive was entrusted to the composer Mark Ayres who

is also the archivist of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. When

we received the tapes from Mark some of them were in a fragile

condition and had not been played fully for over 30 years. Digitising

the tapes was a lengthy process and much of the credit there goes

to Louis Niebur.”

David Butler inspects one of her reel to reel tapes in the archive

David Butler inspects one of her reel to reel tapes in the archive

Thanks to funding from the library, the plan is to allow members of

the public to listen to Delia’s archive on laptop listening stations in

the building.

Until now, only those lucky to attend events such as the 2013 Delia

Derbyshire Day at Manchester’s Band on the Wall have been able

to hear its contents. Others have been restricted to listening to her

published works, which were released through the BBC, and under

other aliases, such as Li De La Russe.

Although Delia’s available work has influenced numerous

musicians, such as Aphex Twin, Orbital and 808 State, it is hoped

that being able to showcase her wider work in this way will grant her

a much wider fan base.

David said: “Being able to finally let people listen to her work is a

really important step forward in demonstrating why Delia’s music

was so important.

“As the saying goes, writing about music is like dancing about

architecture: the only way to allow people to really appreciate

something is to let them experience it for themselves.

“When I have played her music to audiences in the past it has had

such an effect on them – people are often taken aback at the music

she was able to create with the resources available to her at the

time she was working – so it’s fantastic to be able to share it with

more people.

“Her music is so full of creativity that it feels as if she is still here;

it’s not dated at all, which I think makes what she did even more


“We still have to solve a few issues, there are security factors which

have to be resolved as there are still a lot of copyright restrictions

around Delia’s music, but we hope that the listening posts will be up

and running by the end of the year.”

To find out more about the Delia Derbyshire archive at Deansgate,

click here.

To read about her life and listed works, click here.

A celebration of Delia’s life and work, hosted by the Delia Darlings,

will take place this Saturday from 7.30pm at the Anthony Burgess

Institute. For tickets, click here.


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