Doctor Who theme’s co-creator honoured with posthumous PhD

Career of Delia Derbyshire, an under-appreciated electronic music pioneer, recognised by hometown university

The under-appreciated electronic music pioneer behind the Doctor Who topic is to be honoured posthumously with a doctorate from her hometown university as the programme gears up for the debut of its first female leading.

Largely dismissed in life and barred from working in studios because she was a woman, Delia Derbyshire, will be awarded an honorary PhD from Coventry University on Monday.

Mostly unknown and uncredited during her lifetime, she generated a new wave of audios and arrangements in music during the 1960 s and 70 s, and paved the way for more females to work in the music production business.

Born in Coventry in 1937, Derbyshire’s unique sonic palette was shaped by audios of the Blitz and the air raid sirens that surrounded her as small children. Highly academic, she won a scholarship to study maths and music at the University of Cambridge, where she immersed herself in sound.

After graduating, Derbyshire fought in what was predominantly a man’s industry, being told by Decca Records that it did not employ women in its studios. She turned to teaching but refused to give up and eventually found run as a trainee studio manager at the BBC.

It was here, in 1962 that she gained access to the experimental Radiophonic Workshop, developing an entirely new type of music by playing notes on tape and then speeding them up or slowing them down.. She went on to transform a written rating by Ron Grainer for a new Tv series, Doctor Who, into an iconic piece of electronic music.

Due to BBC policies at the time, Grainer- unwillingly- is still officially credited as the sole writer.

Derbyshire stayed at the workshop for 10 years, recording audio for Inventions for Radio and Cyprian Queen- all in the working day before modern synthesisers and machines. She was later approached by Paul McCartney to work on a backing way for the Beatles reached Yesterday.

But despite her talent and credit from her peers, Delia failed to gain widespread recognition during her lifetime, eventually becoming disillusioned with the industry and find a job as a radio operator in Cumbria. She subsequently ran in a museum in the field, before taking up a position in a bookshop in Northampton where she gratified her partner, Clive Blackburn.

She died aged 64 in 2001, and had now been been widely acknowledged as a innovator in electronic music, having inspired the likes of the Chemical Brothers and Sonic Boom.

Mark Ayres, a composer and sound designer at the Radiophonic Workshop, said:” Any composer of my generation with those who are interested in electronic sound and music cannot fail to have been influenced by Delia’s talent. It is very fitting that Delia is receiving this posthumous honorary doctorate from Coventry University. Delia was proud of her roots in the city and profoundly affected by the damage wreaked upon it in the second world war, though much inspired by the voices she heard around her during that time .”

Blackburn, Derbyshire’s partner of 21 years, said:” Delia would be really excited by the developments in electronic music. Digital technology is finally catching up with what she managed to achieve manually in the 1960 s use the most rudimentary of equipment .”

Coventry University will launch a series of school workshops in Derbyshire’s name on Friday to try to inspire a new generation of children- especially girls- to seek maths and music. Linked to a touring play about their own lives, Hymns for Robots by Noctium Theatre, existing cooperation project will share the story of Derbyshire and her creations at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

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