The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

It Started With A Mix

The Best Of The BBC Radiophonic Workshop On One Side Of A C90
David McNamee , January 19th, 2009 08:43

David McNamee compiles a Quietus mixtape of choice selections from the BBC Radiophonic Archive

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop

From: BBC Maida Vale studios, London

Genres: Electronic; experimental; avant-garde

Years active: 1958-1998

Associated acts: White Noise; Ray Cathode; Ron Grainer; Dudley Simpson; People Like Us; Unit Delta Plus; Anthony Newley; Sonic Boom; Agincourt; Ithaca

Members: Desmond Briscoe; Daphne Oram; Dick Mills; Maddalena Fagandini; Delia Derbyshire; Brian Hodgson; John Baker; Malcolm Clarke, Paddy Kingsland; Roger Limb, Peter Howell; Richard Yeoman-Clark; Elizabeth Parker; David Cain; Jonathan Gibbs; Richard Attree; Mark Ayres; Glynis Jones

Albums: BBC Radiophonic Music (1971); Fourth Dimension by Paddy Kingsland (1973); The Radiophonic Workshop (1975); Out Of This World (1976); Through A Glass Darkly by Peter Howell & The BBC Radiophonic Workshop (1978); BBC Sound Effects No. 19Doctor Who Sound Effects (1978); BBC Radiophonic Workshop – 21 (1979); BBC Sound Effects No. 26 – Sci-Fi Sound Effects (1981); Doctor Who – The Music (1983); The Soundhouse (1983); The Living Planet – Music From The BBC TV Series by Elizabeth Parker (1984); Doctor Who – The Music II (1985); Doctor Who: 30 Years at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (1993); Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 1: The Early Years 1963-1969 (2000); Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 2: New Beginnings 1970-1980 (2000); Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 3: The Leisure Hive (2002); Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 4: Meglos & Full Circle (2002); Music From The BBC Radiophonic Workshop (2003); The John Baker Tapes – Volume One: BBC Radiophonics (2008); BBC Radiophonic Workshop – A Retrospective (2008)


1. 'Oranges & Lemons (Radio London)' by John Baker (appears on The John Baker Tapes – Volume One: BBC Radiophonics, 2008)

Last year's Trunk-released John Baker compilation was a finger-poppin' revelation. Two CDs of swinging, explicitly fun music, mixing jazzy motifs with traditional arrangements, it cast a different light on the popular conception of the Radiophonic Workshop as purveyors of murky analogue gloom for Doctor Who.

2. 'Tamariu' by Paddy Kingsland (appears on Fourth Dimension, 1973)

Paddy Kingsland was one of the first Radiophonic composers to embrace synthesizers, in particular, the gorgeously-intricate routing matrixes of the EMS-produced VCS 3 and Delaware Synthi 100.

3. 'Moogies Bloogies' by Delia Derbyshire (unreleased)

Possibly the single oddest artefact in the extended Radiophonic canon, 'Moogies Bloogies' was performed once, by Delia Derbyshire's Unit Delta Plus supergroup (featuring Brian Hodgson and EMS visionary Peter Zinovieff) in 1966, and remained lost until 2001. A sort of novelty, with Delia's burbling, parping electronics cushioning a shockingly lascivious (if hallucinatory) perv-vocal from, erm, Anthony Newley!

"I'd written this beautiful little innocent tune, all sensitive love and innocence," Derbyshire explained of their proposed single, "and he made it into a dirty old raincoat song. But he was really chuffed! Joan and Jackie Collins dropped him off in a limousine at my lovely little flat above a flower shop, and he said 'If you can write songs like this, I'll get you out of this place'!"

4. 'The Visitations' by White Noise (appears on An Electric Storm, 1969)

Unit Delta Plus may have been a short-lived electronic experiment, but it was enough to attract the attention of American composer David Vorhaus, who recruited Hodgson and Derbyshire into his White Noise project. The result was the undisputed masterpiece of early avant-pop, An Electric Storm. Darker and stranger than anything the Workshop-proper attempted - outside of that theme tune - this was inter-dimensional pop music belched from the void itself.

5. 'Fourth Dimension' by Paddy Kingsland (appears on Fourth Dimension, 1973)

This music is bright-moulded plastic and a happy future.

6. 'Talk Out' by Delia Derbyshire (appears on BBC Radiophonic Workshop – 21; 1979)

Delia orchestrates umms, aahs and various vocal tics into a 26 second symphony.

7. 'Doctor Who (original theme)' by Delia Derbyshire (appears on BBC Radiophonic Workshop – 21; 1979)

Everything about Delia's musique concrete arrangement of Ron Grainer's theme still sounds majestic and weird. It perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Doctor Who in a way that its actual writers and producers have struggled to in the decades since. In the 1983 anniversary special, The Five Doctors, Derbyshire's theme would itself 'regenerate' halfway through into Peter Howell's painfully 80s-sounding synthesizer rendition. She would express dismay at every subsequent tarting up of the classic tune which, despite Grainer's protest, the BBC refused her a co-credit for.

8. 'Tardis Takeoff' by Brian Hodgson (appears on Out Of This World, 1976)

If I told you that it's actually the sound of Hodgson's house keys being scraped up and down the strings of an old gutted piano would it drain any of the otherworldly magic from this most iconic of all noises?

9. 'Quest (Fast)' by Delia Derbyshire (appears on Electrosonic, 1972)

10. 'Dance From Noah' by Delia Derbyshire (appears on EMS LP 1, 1971)

Outside of the Workshop, Delia would moonlight (as "Li De la Russe") for the Standard Music Library and ITV Who-rivals such as The Tomorrow People and Timeslip. Her 1964 audio-collage collaboration with playwright Barry Bermange, Dreams, is also essential.

11. 'Mattachin' by Delia Derbyshire (appears on BBC Radiophonic Music, 1971)

The Workshop's spacescape-faring Queen of the Unheimlich gets kitschily melodic.

12. 'The Chase' by John Baker (appears on BBC Radiophonic Music, 1971)

13. John Baker Interview (Radio Nottingham) (appears on The John Baker Tapes – Volume One: BBC Radiophonics, 2008)

14. 'The Two O'Clock Spot' by John Baker (appears on The John Baker Tapes – Volume One: BBC Radiophonics, 2008)

The Radio Nottingham interview is a fascinating description of how, pre-sampling and synthesizers, the Workshop used tape-splicing to manufacture melodies.

15. 'Sutekh Time Tunnel' by Dick Mills (appears on BBC Sound Effects No. 19 – Doctor Who Sound Effects, 1978)

Equally as important to the psyche-penetrating aura of Doctor Who as the incidental music, was the ambient background noise. This synapse-swirling sound-effect from a Tom Baker episode clocks in at two minutes, but you want it to last for two hours.

16. 'Brio' by John Baker (appears on The Radiophonic Workshop, 1975)

17. 'La Grande Piece de la Foire de la rue Delaware' by Malcolm Clarke (appears on The Radiophonic Workshop, 1975)

18. 'Colour Radio' by Paddy Kingsland (appears on Fourth Dimension, 1973)

19. 'Flashback' by Paddy Kingsland (appears on Fourth Dimension, 1973)

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was a public-funded bunker dedicated to envisioning sounds that no one had ever heard before, and infecting them into the most mainstream of all culture like a strange, beautiful dream. It makes me wrenchingly sad that this will never, ever happen again.


  1. Morton Subotnick – 'The Wild Bull' (Part B)
  2. Ron Geesin – 'Syncopot'
  3. Alvin Lucier – 'I Am Sitting In A Room'