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Doctor Who’s Delia Derbyshire honoured with posthumous PhD

Delia Derbyshire, the electronic music pioneer and co-creator of Doctor Who‘s iconic theme, has been awarded with a posthumous honorary doctorate of arts from Coventry University.

Her work during the 1960s and ’70s – including her time with the Radiophonic Workshop where she played a vital role in the eerie and highly experimental transformation of Ron Grainer’s theme for Doctor Who – helped to pave the way for women working in music production.

Struggling to obtain a job in the male-dominated industry after her graduation from the University of Cambridge, Derbyshire made a brief foray into teaching before finding work at a studio manager at the BBC, and later at the Radiophonic Workshop. Despite her role in realising Doctor Who‘s iconic theme during her ten-year stint there, she went uncredited on the show itself due to the BBC’s policy of keeping members of the Workshop anonymous.

Derbyshire’s talents and her role as a pioneer in electronic music have been more widely acknowledged in recent years. Although Grainer’s initial attempts to secure her a co-composing credit for the Doctor Who theme were met without success, Derbyshire’s name was finally seen on-screen for the first time during the credits of the show’s 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor. Her hometown of Coventry has also proudly recognised the achievements Derbyshire made during her lifetime, naming a road in the city after her in 2016 and unveiling a blue plaque at her childhood home earlier this year.

Of the composers latest honour, Mark Ayres, composer and sound designer at the Radiophonic Workshop said:

“Any composer of my generation with an interest in electronic sound and music cannot fail to have been influenced by Delia’s talent. And of the incredible work produced by her and her BBC Radiophonic Workshop colleagues that became the soundtrack to our own childhoods.

“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 deeply affected by the damage wreaked upon it during the Second World War, though much inspired by the sounds she heard around her during that time.”

Clive 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 1960s using the most rudimentary of equipment.

“Delia would have been so proud if she had been here to receive this honorary degree in person. Coventry is where she grew up and where her roots were and the place meant an enormous amount to her.”

Derbyshire’s honorary doctorate was awarded during a ceremony yesterday – Monday 20th November – at Coventry Cathedral.