Delia Derbyshire at the BBC

Delia Derbyshire has long enjoyed legendary status among fans and creators of electronic music. Her standing among fans has continued to grow since her death in 2001.

She is most famous for taking Australian composer, Ron Grainer's score for the Doctor Who theme tune and realising it into the instantly recognisable tune we know and love today. Not bad going considering Grainer’s original score had been described as “a scribble on top of a piece of manuscript paper”.

Derbyshire studied mathematics and music at Cambridge University and after brief stints at the United Nations in Geneva and a primary school in her hometown of Coventry, she joined the BBC in 1960 as a trainee assistant studio manager.

Delia Derbyshire with Desmond Briscoe
Delia Derbyshire with Desmond Briscoe, co-founder and original manager of the Radiophonic Workshop (1965)

Two years later she was working in the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop and before long had given Doctor Who producer, Verity Lambert, the piece of music that would secure her legacy.

Derbyshire can be seen recording vocal sounds in World of Sound from 1962. The Radio Times described it as "a recollection in sound and vision of the life and quality of radio in Britain as it developed and met the challenges of war and peace, and a look at radio today, in the age of television".

In 2018, the BBC Proms celebrated Pioneers of Sound from the Radiophonic Workshop including work from Delia Derbyshire and Daphnie Oram, who co-founded the unit and created the 'Oramics' technique of producing electronic sound. Here the musicians involved explain how this pioneering work has influenced them.

Composer Anna Meredith introduces the opening performance of the evening, The Delian Mode, which illustrates how far ahead of her time Derbyshire was. It is easy to see her influence on ambient and electronic music which came much later.

The Delian Mode first appeared on the compilation album BBC Radiophonic Music in 1968 and Desmond Briscoe, head of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, said it was "without parallel in our output".

Derbyshire worked on more than 200 BBC programmes, often uncredited as happened with her work on Doctor Who. It was BBC policy at the time that only the Radiophonic Workshop was credited, and no on-screen credit or royalties were given to individuals.

One example is French Eyes on the Future, where it is clear how her music adds to the narrative of the piece and even takes centre stage. The ominous and foreboding score heightened the peril suggested in the documentary about France's nuclear expansion.

Today, Delia Derbyshire Day is celebrated by music lovers around the world on the 23 November each year, which marks the day Doctor Who first appeared on our television screens and the day that the unforgettable theme tune first entered the public's consciousness.