Whilst browsing some back issues of the Radio Times recently, I found a listing for an early collaboration between the playwright Barry Bermange and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Bermange is perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work with Delia Derbyshire on the Inventions for Radio series (BBC Third Programme, 1964-5), but it seems that at least one of his earlier radio programmes also benefitted from radiophonic treatment.
Barry Bermange’s Times Remembered was produced by David Thomson and broadcast by the BBC Home Service on 26th August 1963 at 10.30pm. It featured recordings of old people recalling the holidays of their youth, arranged by Bermange against a musical backing from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. As far as I can tell it’s not known who composed the music for Times Remembered, or if Delia Derbyshire was involved. It was BBC policy at the time to publish only a departmental credit for the Radiophonic Workshop where appropriate, rather than an acknowledgement of the individual composer.
As the master tape of Times Remembered appears to be lost, I guess the composer credit will remain a mystery (the programme master is indicated as missing in this detailed catalogue of surviving Radiophonic Workshop tapes, which Ray White has made available to download as a PDF on his White Files website). I have been unable to find any further information about this programme, but the Radio Times listing and introductory comments by Bermange give a good impression of its content. The following clippings were scanned from the relevant issue of the Radio Times in my personal collection (published 22nd August 1963).
The theme of Times Remembered follows on from some of Bermange’s earlier BBC radio programmes, including Freedom Hours (broadcast by the BBC Home Service on 20th July 1962), which featured old people talking about how they spent their time. This programme was also produced by David Thomson, but its Radio Times listing does not indicate any contribution by the Radiophonic Workshop; a review of Freedom Hours on the Sutton Elms Diversity website explains that the voices were recorded at an old people’s club, and that “sometimes a piano is heard behind the voices, but the music is not identifiable.”
Barry Bermange would later work with David Thomson on the Inventions for Radio series, whose final instalment (The Evenings of Certain Lives, broadcast 15th September 1965) concerns life in old age.
A quick update… in researching Delia Derbyshire’s classic track ‘Blue Veils and Golden Sands’, I’ve found that the BBC documentary she composed it for was adapted from 16mm colour footage shot for René Gardi’s 1967 film Die Letzten Karawanen [The Last Caravans]. This German-language film ran for approximately 90 minutes, with an orchestral score by Klaus Sonnenburg. It had previously been shown in cinemas and on several television channels across continental Europe.
In preparation for its broadcast as part of BBC 2’s World About Us series, producer John McFadin called on film editor David Thomas to condense Gardi’s footage to fit the series’ 50-minute time slot, and commissioned Christopher Venning to write English narration (read by the actor Gary Watson). Klaus Sonnenburg’s original music was also dropped, and Delia Derbyshire was asked to create a new score at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The completed film was broadcast by BBC 2 on 30th June 1968 at 7.25pm. Delia’s incidental music for the programme (the haunting Blue Veils and Golden Sands) became some of the most acclaimed in her career, and was later included on an album of BBC Radiophonic Music released in 1968.
Both documentaries are unavailable on home video, but there is a brief clip from the BBC’s version (at around 6m 15s) in Kara Blake’s 2009 documentary, The Delian Mode. René Gardi also published a book detailing his expedition to the Sahara, which is lavishly illustrated with photographs taken during the production of his original Last Caravans documentary.
I’m working on a more detailed article about Delia’s music for this documentary, but the research is taking longer than I anticipated. It’s proving a slow process, but hopefully there will be some more updates to follow soon.
Last year I bought a back issue of the Radio Times on eBay containing what I believe to be Delia’s first composer credit for BBC television. It was for an episode of the natural history series The World About Us called ‘The Blue-Veiled Men’, broadcast by BBC 2 on 30th June 1968 at 7.25pm.
Prior to this, Delia’s music was credited solely to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, with no individual composer credit. But by the late ’60s her colleague John Baker had helped to bring about a change in BBC policy, when he successfully applied to the Performers Rights Society to claim authorship over his compositions. As Louis Niebur notes in his book Special Sound, Baker’s win ensured that “after this point, Workshop composers retained the “intellectual” copyright over the material, while the BBC kept the mechanical (and financial) exploitation rights. It was a small victory, but shifting to a system of individual credit for compositions had a profound effect on morale within the studio.” (Niebur, p. 111).
This change was reflected in the ‘The Blue-Veiled Men’, for which Delia was credited on-screen and in the Radio Times. Her incidental music for the programme (the haunting Blue Veils and Golden Sands) was some of the most acclaimed in her career, and was later included on an album of BBC Radiophonic Music released in 1968. The documentary itself has never been repeated or commercially released, but there is a brief clip from it (at around 6m 15s) in Kara Blake’s 2009 documentary, The Delian Mode.
The broadcast info for ‘The Blue-Veiled Men’ is available on BBC Genome and reproduced below are scans of the Radio Times, taken from the relevant issue in my personal collection.
(Article © David Huggins, 12th December 2016)
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On this day in 1965, Delia appeared on the BBC’s popular science programme Tomorrow’s World to explain the basis of electronic music. Clips from this episode have appeared in previous radiophonic documentaries such as BBC Four’s Alchemists of Sound and Kara Blake’s The Delian Mode, but as far as I know this is the first time since the original broadcast that the complete report has been shown. It’s great to see the BBC Archive sharing this rare clip.
The Tomorrow’s World report shows Delia working on a track called Pot au Feu, which was later released on the 1968 album BBC Radiophonic Music. It’s fascinating to see how she uses a complex mixture of acoustic ‘found sounds’ and pure electronic tones to create each layer.
Some of these tape loops are later reworked to great effect in Way Out, one of Delia’s tracks on the Standard Music Library’s album of electronic music. The ascending, three-note phrase heard from 4.34 in the Tomorrow’s World video is also reminiscent of the haunting intro to The Delian Mode, another of her acclaimed tracks from BBC Radiophonic Music. I guess it might be the same source sound, re-pitched and treated differently for an equally atmospheric effect.
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Welcome to the site! There are just a few pages to begin with but I hope you enjoy them. More to follow in the new year.
I took the above photo at a concert of Tristram Cary’s music at Diss church hall on 9th April 2016. I added some monochrome effects to try to evoke the era of 60s radiophonic music, the heyday of Delia Derbyshire at the BBC…