Delia Derbyshire is most famous for the Doctor Who theme. Although she did not actually compose the music, it was her arrangement of the piece that has made it one of the most instantly recognizable TV theme tunes of all time:
In 1963, soon after joining the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Delia Derbyshire was asked to to realize one of the first electronic signature tunes ever used on television. It was Ron Grainer’s score for a new science fiction series, Doctor Who.
Grainer had worked his tune to fit in with the graphics. He used expressions for the noises he wanted - such as wind, bubbles, and clouds. It was a world without synthesizers, samplers and multi-track tape recorders; Delia, assisted by her engineer Dick Mills, had to create each sound from scratch.
She used concrete sources and sine- and square-wave oscillators, tuning the results, filtering and treating, cutting so that the joins were seamless, combining sound on individual tape recorders, re-recording the results, and repeating the process, over and over again. When Grainer heard the result, his response was “Did I really write that?”
“Most of it,” Delia replied.
She was also in an avant garde pop group (using electronic sounds long before Kraftwerk) called Unit Delta Plus:
Perhaps the most famous event that Unit Delta Plus participated in was the 1967 Million Volt Light and Sound Rave at London’s Chalk Farm roundhouse, organised by designers Binder, Edwards and Vaughan (who had previously been hired by Paul McCartney to decorate a piano). The event took place over two nights (January 28th and February 4th 1967) and included a performance of tape music by Unit Delta Plus, as well as a playback of the legendary Carnival of Light, a fourteen minute sound collage assembled by McCartney around the the time of the Beatles’ Penny Lane sessions.
She was in later group called White Noise and they recorded an extremely strange, harsh and very futuristic album in 1969 called An Electric Storm—it’s pretty evil sounding—that’s been embraced by today’s electronic music fans. She also contributed music to the classic British 70s sci-fi series, The Tomorrow People, but by the 70s she was starting to show signs of depression and left the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. She worked in a few other soundtrack factories, then a bookstore, then an art gallery but generally drifted away from her musical career, becoming a severe alcoholic. She died in 2001 as her earlier recordings were were beginning to come out on CD and as her influence on modern electronic music was at last being acknowledged.
Lost tapes of the Dr Who composer includes several audio samples and a proto “dance” track from the 60s