1. From Radio Sonic to Radio Phonic

Delia Derbyshire, John Baker and I were wartime babies, all from cities which were heavily bombed, she in Coventry, John near London, and I in Liverpool, so we were accustomed at an early age to weird sonic episodes in our lives, the sound of bombs falling, nearby explosions and air raid sirens. Of course, the BBC was central to all our lives as the main source of information and entertainment, and for me my first professional acting experiences, from the age of 12 until 14, in Children’s Hour, a regular one-hour Radio programme for children, broadcast each day from 5pm up until the news at 6pm.

In 1958, I was coming to the end of my National Service, at RAF Ballykelly in Northern Ireland, as an Air Wireless Mechanic in the Radio Sonic unit of the Radio Servicing Flight, servicing Sonar Buoys for submarine detection from the air. My first encounter with the Radiophonic Workshop was in October of that year, when Private Dreams and Public Nightmares was broadcast. I was fascinated by the production, but thought no more about it, as I intended to return to the theatre when I would be demobbed that December.

After demob, I toured as an actor in the final run of a play – celebrating my 21st birthday with an after-show party onstage at the Hippodrome Theatre, Stockton-on-Tees – and performed a minor role in a production of Macbeth at the Liverpool Playhouse, then becoming Stage Director at the Grand Theatre, Swansea, where I saw a BBC ad for trainee Studio Managers and applied.

The season at Swansea ended, and I was invited to rejoin for the next year’s season. I then joined Bolton Rep as an Actor and Stage Manager, and began a series of interviews with the BBC. I would leave Bolton on the overnight train, get the first interview and then the next train back to Bolton in time for the matinee. I was then selected to attend an Appointment Board. That year, 400 applications had been made for twelve vacancies. I made a date on a day when there wasn’t a matinee. The Board was frightening.

When I arrived, I was ushered into a very small room in the basement, painted red and lit by a naked light bulb. In the centre of the room, and almost almost filling it, was a table and chair: behind the chair was large loudspeaker and over the table hung the old large traditional BBC microphone. The door closed behind me and I sat in the chair. Suddenly, a voice boomed from the loudspeaker, instructing me to pick up a script from the table and read it.

I began to read, but suddenly got ‘mic fright’, and dried up. Acting experience clicked in; I took a deep breath and uttered the old cliché, ‘I’m sorry I’ll begin that again.’ After a few minutes the voice said ‘Thank you, you may stop now.’ The door opened and I was taken up several flight of stairs, convinced I had already screwed up, and shown into a room containing six severe-looking gentlemen, all wearing collars and ties.

The questioning began, and I had the feeling that one particular gentlemen was gunning for me, an impression I later found out to be false – he was actually just trying to draw me out. When I left, I told myself that I was not going to be accepted, and consoled myself with the thought that I at least had the job in Swansea for the next season.

The following Monday, I received a telegram saying I had been selected and, that as a vacancy on the next course had occurred, could I start next Monday? So that Saturday I took my final bow as an actor, and on the Monday reported to the BBC Training Department in Marylebone High Street. After twelve weeks training, I was sent to the Overseas Service at Bush House, where Studio Managers also made Programme Announcements.

After three months, we were then sent to Broadcasting House and the Domestic Service for a further three months, after which we would be given various tests and, if successful, be appointed. After surviving the tests, I soon found myself, coming from the Theatre, being put into the Radio Drama team of Programme Operations.

In those days, the BBC was a very formal organisation. One was expected to wear a collar and tie at all times, even weekends. One Saturday, I arrived wearing a blazer, flannels, white shirt and an RAF Cravat. Nothing was said, but the following Monday I was summoned to the Assistant Head of Programme Operations and informed that if I wanted to get a reputation as a ‘snappy dresser’ I would do well to get a professional reputation first, and until then I was expected to observe the formal dress code. A few weeks later, John Baker was sent home for wearing ‘winkle picker’ shoes, a style with very pointed toes.

Experiment was frowned on, and when I attempted to insert a response selection amplifier [a type of filter] into a microphone circuit, and complained that there was no way of doing it, I received a memo from Head of Studio Engineering that the BBC had not spent thirty years ensuring a level response throughout the broadcast chain to allow a junior member of staff to interfere with it.

Whilst in the Drama department, I worked with legendary producers like Val Gielgud (the original Head of Radio Drama), Martyn C Webster, Archie Campbell, Audrey Cameron, John Gibson and H B Fortuin, and on several productions involving the immensely talented Maddalena Fagandini of the Radiophonic Workshop, notably Living Time and Cocteau’s Orphée, both produced by Michael Bakewell.

Tape recorders were rare in the studios in those days, and Maddalena ‘played-in’ her contribution on an EMI TR90, one of the early ‘portable’ tape machines, which had to be specially booked. Apparently, most of the early ‘radiophonic’ contributions to programmes had to be recorded on shellac discs, and played-in on the studio’s gramophone turntables.

In those days, after two years as a Studio Manager, you were sent to the Engineering Training Department in Evesham, run by a rather formidable Dr Sturleigh, where the girls were housed separately in Pear Tree Cottage and the boys in a special block, guarded by a Warden, to make sure there was no ‘hanky-panky’. Engineering and Technical operator trainees were housed in old barrack blocks from WWII. Although fraternisation with the engineers was not forbidden, it was not actively encouraged.

After six weeks of training, mostly to do with the theory of magnetic recording, we were then sent on a tour of all the Radio Departments, and that’s when I first went to the Radiophonic Workshop. Maddalena had created a Television Interval Signal for use in breakdowns, somewhat frequent in those days. This had been heard by George Martin, of later Beatles fame, and became the first record to be released by the Workshop, Time Beat by ‘Ray Cathode’. This had led to Desmond Briscoe being invited to do a demonstration at the Radio Show, then an annual event, and our visit was his opportunity to try it out.

After the tour, we were then able to apply for attachments and I, together with John Baker, requested one to the Radiophonic Workshop. I joined the Workshop in December 1962, shortly after Delia, and was followed in early 1963 by John. The staffing at that time consisted of Desmond Briscoe as Senior Studio Manager, with Norman Bain, Maddalena Fagandini and Jenyth Worsley as Studio Managers and Richard ‘Dickie’ Bird as Senior Engineer, assisted by Dick Mills and John Harrison as Technical Operators.

Maida Vale Studios, the 'Mildewed Wedding Cake'
Maida Vale Studios, the ‘Mildewed Wedding Cake’

Daphne Oram had been very involved in the early experimental action, and in setting up the Workshop, but had always wanted it to be a proper ‘electronic music studio’, as had been set up by continental broadcasters. Unfortunately, the Music Department was not interested, and had informed her that the BBC employed six orchestras to provide all the music they required. The Drama Department, on the other hand, were very interested in experimental drama and the emergence of new writers, so provided the impetus for setting up the Workshop. When Desmond was appointed head of the department, Daphne, who had led the experimental work, left the BBC to set up her own Oramics Studio in Kent.

With hindsight, Desmond, with his experience in Radio Drama and familiarity with the management of Programme Operations Department, was probably the best choice. Like most basically insecure people, he was inclined to take himself very seriously and be somewhat pompous on occasion, but without his leadership, determination and, most importantly, his eye for creative talent, it is doubtful that the department would have survived for long: the composers of the Workshop owe him a great debt for his kindness, tolerance and encouragement over the years.

Although the traditional tension between Studio Managers and Engineers was evident, even at the Workshop, Dick Mills was very welcoming and quickly made me feel at home, a kindness that he repeated throughout his long and distinguished career to everyone who joined the department.

Equipment at that time, ie late 1962 …

Looking back, the equipment was somewhat primitive. The department was set up on a budget of £2,000, most of which was spent on half (they couldn’t afford the other half) of an Albis third-octave filter and a Muirhead reference oscillator.

Most of the other equipment came from BBC Redundant Plant, a sort of graveyard of equipment considered too old to be worth repairing, and thrown out of other studios. The amazing ‘Dickie’ Bird was allowed to rummage through this collection and salvage anything he thought might be useful and repairable.

There were two rooms – 12 and 13:

Room 12 had a professional EMI BTR/2 tape recorder, the BBC standard machine for recording channels – at that time studios had no dedicated recording machines. There was mixing desk specially built by Radio Projects. There was a bank of twelve sine/square wave oscillators, linked to a primitive ‘keying unit’, built in-house and offering control of the attack and decay decay times of each note.

There were several semi-professional Ferrograph tape recorders and a Levers-Rich so-called 8-track – it only recorded one track at a time, so you had to ‘bounce down’ onto the other tracks. It was also supposed to be a continuously-variable speed machine, though it tended to be continually variable, so it spent months back at the makers who tried to stabilise it, and was then modified by our own engineer to allow the speed to vary over a range of semitones.

There was also a trolley-mounted EMI TR90 tape machine, which was soon to become the recording workhorse in Broadcasting House studios. Fortunately, as part of re-equipping of the studios there, each room at the Workshop was later equipped with three Philips professional tape machines, which had instant starts and ran in sync with each other.

Echo came from an echo room in the basement corridor of the building, and could not be varied. However, it had to be frequently checked that it was working, as there was a tendency for it to get damp and fungus to grow on the loudspeaker, or to find the room full of bits of carpet and other junk stored in there by House Services, who did not understand the main purpose of the room.

Room 13 was the original room, and had another small room attached, which was used as a studio for recording sounds, containing an old piano frame removed from an upright piano, Desmond’s drum kit, an old copper hot water tank and various bits and pieces of junk used for making noises.

The mixing desk had been in the Albert Hall during WWII, and was a passive mixer, so if you faded up another channel the output fell by 3dB, and the main fader had to be adjusted to compensate.

The recording equipment consisted of a linked pair of Motosacoche tape recorders, allegedly built by the Swiss motor cycle manufacturer during the war. They took about fifteen seconds to get up to speed, but once there, could stay at speed and in sync perfectly, which was more than you could say about most other machines of the period. A very special feature of the machines was incorporated in the linking console, whereby the recording decks could rise into the air, allowing an engineer to access the mechanics of the machine by opening a gate at the rear of the cabinets. This could be operated even during playback, which could disconcert inexperienced producers if you stood in front of the machines and pressed the lift button behind your back, and enjoyed the look on their face as the music for their programme rose majestically into the air.

Rooms 13 and 14 in 1961, featuring the huge Motosacoche machines
Rooms 13 and 14 in 1961, featuring the huge Motosacoche machines

There was also an aged Ampex trolley-mounted machine and, of course, more Ferrograph machines. In addition, there was a variable-speed Reflectograph machine: its capstan was run from a conical drive mechanism, which could be tilted to change speed. Unfortunately it could only change speed from 3¾ to 7½ inches per second, whereas the standard speed in normal use was 15 inches per second.

There was also a bank of eight kit-built sine/square wave oscillators, and a simple keying device and, most importantly, the Wobbulator, an oscillator that could sweep from very low frequencies to very high frequencies on a single control, and which incorporated a frequency modulator.

Echo was available from the basement echo room, or from an amazing in-house one-off device, which consisted of a revolving metal drum, around which various playback heads were arranged, so that varying the speed of the drum would allow a degree of control. The problem with this was the mechanical friction between the revolving drum and the playback heads, resulting in frequent crackles. It was advisable to switch the device on the evening before you intended to use it, so the recording and playback heads had time to ‘bed in’ overnight. Even so, it was ‘touch and go’ that it would be crackle-free, so it was seldom used. However, the revolving drum was housed in a sliding drawer that made a satisfying movement and clunks for the sounds of space ship sliding doors.

There was also the Multicolourtone organ, a disastrous purchase by another department, which had been ‘donated’ (dumped on us), presumably to hide their embarrassment, and which was housed in a large room in a gap between the main MV1 and MV2 studios.

With this motley collection of stuff, it was no wonder that only the engineers were expected to go in each Monday to maintain and repair the equipment.

Studio Managers were responsible for the creative output, and had tended to be replaced every three months, as a senior member of management had been told by a doctor friend that exposure to electronic sound sources might cause serious mental problems. This system was replaced early in 1963, as it became obvious that people were being replaced just as they were becoming proficient with the equipment and the techniques. Delia, John and I were on three-month attachments, but I stayed ten years and Delia and John for longer.

With the lack of facilities and space, overnight working soon became an essential part of life. The success of Quatermass had made it obvious that the Workshop was soon being thought of as the ‘goto place’ for space noises, so I was not surprised that my first job was to provide a rocket ship take-off for Music Movement and Mime. This programme was a regular client of the Workshop and very popular with the Schools Department.

Often a local school would be invited to to come into Maida Vale to try out the programme on a bunch of children. Jenyth Worsley had been asked to create a ‘magic carpet’ ride, involving flying through a storm. Before the visit, the producer considered that the children might find the storm too frightening, and asked for it to be ‘toned down’. After the session with the children, they came back and reported that the children had liked the storm best, but would like it to be more violent, so it had to be ‘beefed-up’.

These children’s programmes were a large part of the Workshop’s early output, and were probably the first time the young had been exposed to these strange sounds: they loved them, even though adults at that time thought them strange and usually unpleasant. It is probably true that we were unwittingly responsible for changing that generation’s perception of sound, so that when they were later exposed to Bleep and Booster and Doctor Who, they were already accustomed to enjoying new sounds. Indeed, over the years, many composers have told me that it influenced them in later life. Many years later, the creator of the Fairlight Music Computer, Kim Ryrie, told me that the Doctor Who music and sounds were his inspiration for getting into the industry.

Another of my early projects was to work on a programme called Giants of Steam, a John Read documentary about the growth of railways in England. Ron Grainer was to write the music, and a lot of vintage film of engines would be used. In this country there are loads of knowledgeable railway enthusiasts, who, if we used the wrong sound for certain engines, would be complaining in their hundreds, so I was tasked with providing a range of rhythms sounding roughly like engines (I used the old hot water cylinder and filtered white noise), for Ron to write his music over, and to be used as effects over certain sequences. The film was a great success and Ron’s music was later released by Decca Records.

Shortly afterwards, I was asked to do the sounds for a series called Sword from the Stars. This involved a butler called Jones, who was a robot, and was my first foray into modulated voices – and it provided material for another robot voice later. I used my own voice and the delivery was very English, polite and deferential. The modulation was fairly fast and not too deep, so as to preserve intelligibility. Little did I realise at that time that the treatment, using a different delivery by the master of voices Peter Hawkins, and a different modulation depth and frequency, yelling ‘Exterminate!’ would soon be echoing around playgrounds throughout England.

My next job was to provide sounds for a play called The Survivors, which also foreshadowed a commission soon to come. The play was set in the hold of a ship, which had run aground on rocks. I used the old piano for the first time, and found that scraping the bass strings and slowing the tape down by several octaves produced a convincing sound of the hull moving against the rocks. These early commissions were still in the first six months of my attachment, and I was still learning.

In early 1963, Desmond had a visit from Verity Lambert. She was about to start a science fiction serial about a Doctor who travels through Time and Space in an old-fashioned blue police box. She had been referred by Lionel Salter, who was then Head of Television Music. Originally, she had wanted a Ron Grainer signature tune played by Structures Sonore, who played their music on their self-designed musical instruments made from glass and sheets of metal. Unfortunately, she had hit several snags. Firstly Structures Sonore were were too expensive to use, and secondly Ron Grainer had announced he would no longer write signature tunes for Television.

Desmond knew Ron, and Ron had always wanted to write a piece for the Workshop, so he rang Ron, who agreed to write a signature tune specially for the Workshop. Ron, Delia and I went to see the original titles, which featured various experiments with ‘visual feedback’. Ron appeared a few days later day after a recording session and, ripping off a piece of manuscript paper from his previous session, jotted this piece down – it contained several instruction, like ‘clouds’ and ‘wind bubbles’, but little else.

Delia set to work with Dick Mills, whilst I in the next-door studio began work on the effects, beginning with the TARDIS. Immediately I found a problem. Where does a Time Machine go? Does it go up or down, or even sideways? I decided it goes forwards and also backwards, but what sort of sound would it make? A phrase ‘the Rending of the Fabric of Time and Space’ came into my mind. I don’t remember where it came from, as the concept seems to date from ‘string theory’ of 2010, and this was 1963. However, the rending reminded me of The Survivors sound of the ship on the rocks, using the scraping of the key on the bass string of the piano. So I had a sound source and a technique of feedback, which makes the sound appear to go away, and reverse feedback, which makes the sound appear to arrive.

I was at the Kensington Odeon that evening, and in the interval drew a graphic score of the piece on the programme, with accelerating rending sounds, tiny electronic notes and whiffs of filtered white noise coming and going. I felt that a rising note would be a bit too cliché, so did not include it. The ‘switch on’ would feature a massive bang, which was done by hitting the piano soundboard with a microphone stand, causing all the strings to resonate at once. I simply played the piece backwards with more feedback and turned the bang around. When Waris Hussein, Verity and Ron came to hear Delia’s realisation of the signature tune they were knocked out. ‘Did I write that?’, asked Ron. ‘Most of it’, replied Delia.

When they first heard the TARDIS, they were somewhat less enthusiastic. I explained my reason for not including a rising note, which they appreciated, but they felt it was needed, so the rising note with backwards and forwards feedback was added that afternoon – and has survived all the changes that have taken place since.

That began my association with Doctor Who, which endured until late 1972.

Delia, John and I seemed to become a core team, but people still came on attachments, and the workload continued to increase, but few improvements in equipment were forthcoming – although Dave Young, the new Engineer, kept producing magic gadgets like scanners, reverberation springs , spring loaded ‘loop stands’, etc, mostly mounted in old radio set cases, with the exception of the 'Crystal Palace', which looked so fascinating we insisted on him mounting it in clear Perspex.

Most of my work centred round Doctor Who and Bleep and Booster for Blue Peter, whilst John produced loads of catchy signature tunes. Delia produced amazing work for Radio Drama, and worked with Barry Bermange to create Inventions for Radio, consisting of The Dreams, Amor Dei, The Afterlife and The Evenings of Certain Lives.

The department became more and more involved with Television series, such as Out of the Unknown and Chronicle. In the mid sixties, Barry Letts asked if we could add some treatments to some music written by Dudley Simpson, which I did, and soon we were working on music he had prerecorded, adding a Radiophonic ‘gloss' for his work on Doctor Who – and this became a regular commitment. In 1965, John Baker was the first Workshop composer to involve outside musicians in his jazz score for Suivez La Piste. The opening of Local Radio stations in the late sixties produced loads of demand for station idents – one of the most inventive was for Radio Sheffield, composed by David Cain and played on knives and forks.

Desmond had always been keen that we did not become too introspective, and encouraged our involvement in outside interests. I had done pieces for the kinetic sculptor Peter Logan, and odd shows for Hampstead Theatre Club, the Greenwich Theatre and the Arts Lab.

Brian and Katy arriving at the Whitechapel Gallery for the September 1972 opening of the Peter Logan exhibition, alongside a new version re-posed by Patrick Mulkern for a 2015 Radio Times article called Time Travellers
Brian and Katy arriving at at London’s Whitechapel Gallery for the September 1972 opening of Peter Logan’s exhibition, alongside a new version re-posed by Patrick Mulkern for a 2015 Radio Times article called ‘Time Travellers’

I also tried to keep in touch with what was going on in the studios at our universities, and, now with the benefit of hindsight, am amused by some of the attitudes back then. One weekend conference on ‘Computers and Music’ mainly consisted of a bitter argument between the computer specialists, who declared the no composer should be allowed to use computers unless they were prepared to use ‘machine code’ as a language first, and the music students who just wanted to get ‘hands on’. I remember the late Jonathan Harvey explaining how frustrating it was that at Southhampton it would take weeks of work, only to have to send the program up to City University to complete, and then find the mistakes.

Delia and I were also involved with Peter Zinovieff in Unit Delta Plus, at his studio in Putney, West London, where Delia first met Paul McCartney. It later became the home of EMS, the first British synthesiser company, producing the VCS 3 in 1969. At Unit Delta Plus we created the sound score for Paul Schofield’s Macbeth, performed at Stratford on Avon, and put on one of the first Electronic Music Concerts at the Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, near Newbury. This featured experimental light projection by the Hornsey College of Art, although they had to start thirty minutes before the rest of us to allow the temperature in the projectors to reach where the oils were of the right viscosities, and an electro-magnetic kinetic sculpture by Paul Takis, kindly loaned by the Signals Gallery, whilst the whitewashed interior of the theatre was covered with colourful paintings by Peter Zinovieff’s talented four year-old daughter, Sofka. It looked and sounded amazing.

Click here to see the ‘Concert of Electronic Music’ programme.

In that year, Desmond was invited to Wisconsin University to do some workshops on electronic music – whilst there he met Robert Moog, the creator of the Moog Synthesiser. While he was away, Delia and I met Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, who informed us that they had just acquired a Moog, but it was hanging round their studio, with nobody quite sure what to do with it. He said he would arrange for us to visit and get access to it. Unfortunately, he died shortly afterward and the trip never materialised.

Our association with Peter Zinovieff then finished, but we remained on friendly terms. Peter showed us a VCS 3 prototype, so Delia and I bought one of the first production models for our own use. We were working on odd evenings on An Electric Storm, released in 1969, with David Vorhaus at his Kaleidophon Studio in Camden Town, but used to take the synth into the Workshop to use in our BBC work.

On one of those days we were visited by Duncan McEwan, who had just been appointed as Chief Engineer Radio. We showed him the VCS 3, and were complaining about the lack of equipment in the Workshop. He said ‘But you’ve got this new synthesiser’, and was acutely embarrassed when we explained that it belonged to us, and not to the BBC. A few days later, two more VCS 3 synthesisers arrived at the Workshop.

The original VCS 3 had a three-octave monophonic keyboard. Although it was ‘state of the art’, the tuning of the oscillators was temperature sensitive, so frequent retuning was vital if the room temperature varied, as was the octave spread. Once we had these synthesisers, the producer Barry Letts asked if we could use them on Doctor Who – we agreed, and Dudley and I had to devise special arrangements to create chords using several oscillators linked to the keyboard and tracked together. This produced a certain style, which characterised Dudley’s music at that period and up until polyphonic keyboards arrived some years later. Peter Howell describes this ‘parallel chord’ system very well in his excellent new book Radiophonic Times.

In 1970, we had also been given a Film Viewing machine, which was surplus to the requirements of the Film Department. This proved invaluable, as more and more Television jobs were coming our way, and at the time 16mm film was being used for most programmes, as VT [videotape] was not yet in general use.

Of course, we still had no multitrack recorders, so three tracks had to be recorded on three separate machines, which had to be started in sync, and the output recorded on a different machine.

Desmond had returned from Wisconsin very impressed with Moog and, taking advantage of the new atmosphere in Radio Engineering, began pushing for a large Moog synthesiser, which by that time also featured an eight-event analogue sequencer. Meanwhile, Peter Zinovieff had been approached by Radio Belgrade to develop a large synthesiser featuring three VCS 3s. His team decided to create a new machine, with more oscillators and filters, a better attack and decay system, a five octave keyboard and a 256-event digital sequencer on three levels. It was to include a polyphonic keyboard, which, although promised, was a bridge too far and never materialised.

The proposal to purchase a large synthesiser was proceeding through the BBC at its usual glacial pace. Desmond favoured the Moog, but Delia and I were able to convince him to change, and to favour the Belgrade machine, later known as the Synthi 100 – with our version christened the Delaware, after the road in which we were located. The decision was made in late 1970. I was charged with liaising with EMS and monitoring the progress of the machine. The cabinet constructed to hold all the new modules was big and deep, but the room into which it was to be installed was small with a single door, and the corridor in which it had to swivel was at its narrowest. It was decided that double doors were needed, which would need a small iron joist – but then it was discovered that the whole weight of the building’s roof was distributed along this wall, so a much larger joist was required. In the end, the building works probably cost more than the synthesiser.

Meanwhile, the department continued to increase its output, and David Cain managed miraculously to produce the wonderful Long March of Everyman for Michael Mason, in spite of not really having the sort of equipment the show needed.

In late 1970, the Synthi 100 was delivered and christened the Delaware. The day it arrived it was accompanied by David Cockerell, who was EMS’s Chief Engineer and resident genius. I turned to him and asked for the manual. ‘I’m afraid there isn’t one’, he replied, so I sent out for beers, and we somehow got hold of steak sandwiches – and we spent that evening writing a manual, which turned out to be full of mistakes and misapprehensions, but at least sufficed for us to get it into service.

As we began to understand it better, it became obvious that certain modifications were needed, especially the clock speed of the sequencer, which needed to be increased to get rid of tempo drift, vital as we were often working to sync with the recordings of a soundtrack. Once the mods had been done, it was soon in service on a regular basis, mainly for Doctor Who.

There are some ideas, especially late in the evening after a few too many beers, that should be forgotten the next morning. Unfortunately, the idea to try to recreate the Who signature tune on the Delaware was one of those that survived. The result was dreadful, and compared with the original was terminally anaemic. Nevertheless, the producers used it on one story, before it was removed by popular request. We destroyed the tape to hide our embarrassment, but the one episode that had used it surfaced in Australia years later, and still exists somewhere. I think that episode marked the beginning of Delia’s disillusionment with synthesisers.

In 1971 the Chief Engineer of the BBC, James Redmond, became President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. Their building in Savoy Hill had been the BBC headquarters before the building of Broadcasting House. That year marked IEE’s centenary, and it was decided to host an exhibition and celebration in the Royal Festival Hall in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen, featuring a presentation by Desmond Briscoe, which was to conclude with a Celebratory by Delia, allegedly created on the Delaware. I was told, as an ex Stage Director, that I was to produce it and Delia was told to create this Celebratory work.

Details of the Radiophonic Workshop in Concert event, held on 19 May 1971 at the Royal Festival Hall to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE)
Details of the ‘Radiophonic Workshop in Concert’ event, held on 19 May 1971 at the Royal Festival Hall to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE)

As the date began to approach, Delia became more and more worried about it, and her ‘reverse adrenaline’ began to creep in, and her inspiration to creep out. In desperation, I had an idea, and began to search the sound archive for recordings to do with electricity, and produced a list of recordings, starting with the recording of Gladstone congratulating Edison of the invention of a recording machine (yes, I know it did not involve electricity, but I plead poetic license on the grounds that it involved recording), a recording of Lord Reith locking-up Savoy Hill for the last time (actually restaged years later), lots of other stuff, and ending with the recording of Neil Armstrong’s landing on the Moon, suggesting that she could use it as a sort of scaffold. She was distinctly unimpressed, but tried it.

I was worried in the week preceding and worked, encouraging her each evening, until the night before the presentation, as I had to be up at dawn to supervise the ‘get in’ to the Festival Hall. I left her with Richard Yeoman-Clark, and, having had a nasty premonition, secretly told him to run a duplicate recording machine in the next studio and deliver the tape to me the following morning. (Years later Delia said she had been left alone with a complete stranger but she had known Richard for several months earlier).

The ‘get in’ to the hall was fraught, as the IEE organiser proved extremely unhelpful, and seemed to delight in putting every obstacle he could in our way. The Delaware was set up on stage purely as a decoration, as the inserts for Desmond’s presentation were being ‘played in’ from tape by Dick Mills on the balcony, whilst Malcolm Clarke operated the laser, showing waveforms and film inserts. And actually it was not the Delaware, as we needed it the next day at Maida Vale, so Peter Zinovieff had kindly lent us his Synthi 100 for that evening.

Delia arrived about 11 o’clock in floods of tears and announced she had erased the tape. I told her that I had arrange a secret duplicate of the tape and it was OK. She looked horrified, and I’m not sure I was ever forgiven. What she thought we could do without the announced climax of the presentation I shall never know.

We were then informed by the IEE organiser that we had to pause the presentation half way through, in case Her Majesty was bored and wanted to move on. I was below the Royal Box and he would send me a message, either to continue or wait until she had left the box. The presentation began and paused, as arranged. No message arrived, and there was an awkward silence, until there was a round of applause, and I assumed she had left the box, so signalled the team to continue, and it did, receiving applause at its conclusion. Later, I was told that in the pause HM looked confused, and eventually stood and left the box before we continued – another problem caused by the IEE organiser!

After the presentation, the audience left the hall to proceed to their banquet, and we were able to de-rig. I ran down the steps to the stage, not realising the last step was shallower then the others, and spent the rest of the evening in casualty with a sprained ankle.

In early 1972 Delia began work on the Egypt series. She had researched and planned it completely and was full of enthusiasm – which rapidly waned when she found out that the order of each episode had been changed, and was often still working on an episode as the dub was commencing at Television Centre.

By mid 1972 we had managed to acquire an 8-track machine, together with a home-built mixer interface for the Delaware, and a wall-mounted air conditioning unit for the room – it was very noisy, but at least it stopped everything going out of tune each time the door was opened. I was working with Dudley Simpson on the signature tune for the series Ascent of Man, and came up entirely by chance with an amazing sound for the theme. We rapidly made notes of all the settings and connections, but were never able to create that sound again. Recreating a sound was difficult on those early synthesisers, and until the entry of Japanese manufacturers and MIDI many years later, was almost impossible.

Video: The Ascent of Man
© British Broadcasting Corporation

At the end of that year, I was tired of struggling with getting studio time (we still had only four rooms), and the rising number of commissions meant frequently working through the night, and a growing feeling that if I did not leave the BBC at that age, 34, I would end up a grey old alcoholic, bemoaning the fact that I did not get out when the opportunity arose.

Rodgers Studio Equipment, who made the VCS 3, had offered to help me set up a new studio. Delia also felt she couldn’t cope with all the pressures, and said she would join me, so I resigned, and withdrawing my BBC pension contributions and finding space costing only £7 a week in a corner of a warehouse rented by a friend of Delia’s, we set up Electrophon Music Ltd. Rodgers had acquired an agent by then and he seemed keen, and so a new chapter in my life began.

The agent had contacts with Polydor Records and a three-album deal had been agreed, starting with a Walter Carlos manqué disc for synthesiser and orchestra called In a Covent Garden, to be followed by a film, Legend of Hell House. Delia had become more and more disinterested in joining me, and during work on the film decided to leave London and go North.

© Brian Hodgson 2021