Film - Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and the Legendary Tapes


Tony Cross watched Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and the Legendary Tapes at London Film Festival...


Written and directed by Caroline Catz – who also plays Delia Derbyshire – this is a fantastic docu-dramatic telling of the story of Delia Derbyshire, whose pioneering work with electronic sound and music has started to get the attention it deserves. This was originally a shorter documentary [see Steve's review of that here - Ed] screened back in 2017 but Catz has expanded it to feature length for 2020.

Indeed, until recently, Delia Derbyshire was best known, if she was known at all, for her arrangement of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme. It was Derbyshire who created that original tune in 1963. Shamefully she only, finally, got a credit for that work in 2013.

It begins with the discovery of 267 tapes in her attic, plus – astonishingly – the discovery of her childhood notebooks in a house in Coventry when it was being redeveloped and on that hook Catz builds her film.

Catz has created something here that does justice to Derbyshire’s work and life whilst also feeling like an artwork. Using Derbyshire’s own music and sounds to bring her to life. I was, for reasons you do not need to know or understand, watching this in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning. That meant headphones, which I think really helped envelope me in the auditory landscape. If one can be enveloped in auditory landscapes [one can - Ed].

There are contributions from people she knew and worked with: Brian Hodgson and David Vorhaus in particular. There is contribution from the performance artist Cosey Fanni Tutti, which helps cement in the viewer’s mind the influence of Derbyshire. Then there are dramatic sections, which feature Catz herself as Delia Derbyshire, Julian Rhind-Tutt as Brian Hodgson, and Tom Meeten as David Vorhaus. Vorhaus comes across in the dramatic bits as a bit of an arse to be honest, but far less so in the interviews. We also hear and see Derbyshire herself.

The film talks about the issues she faced and how the stress she was under affected her. Obviously, being a woman in this field during the late-50s and early-60s was not going to be anything but stressful. Her success bought further stress. She was addicted, weirdly, to snuff and then probably drank too much for her own good. Whether she cared about that or not is moot. Her career seemed to drain quietly away. The film makes you wonder what might have been. But what was is damn impressive.

Catz has done a fantastic job with this film. I hope it leads to many other opportunities, if there are other stories she wants to tell. I, as those who read my stuff will know, came at it from the Doctor Who angle, but there is so much more to Derbyshire than just that. Even if, in its way, that theme tune is her most lasting tribute. Go back and listen to the original 1963 theme tune. It is spectacularly nothing like anything else that existed at the time.

But there is so much more. So much more.