Bookmark and Share The Alchemists of Sound

10/20/2003 03:46:00 am - Reported by Shaun Lyon


October 20, 2003  •  Posted By Shaun Lyon
A new hour-long documentary about The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Alchemists of Sound, has made its debut. Says the BBC press release: "In the Sixties, Delia Derbyshire frightened thousands of children every week, forcing them to hide behind sofas, cover their ears, and run crying to daddy. She did it by twanging strings, fiddling with wobbulators, and sticking tiny bits of tape together to create the theme tune to Doctor Who. Delia was part of a dedicated band of ground-breaking experimenters in the electronic manipulation of sound who laboured quietly behind the door of Room 13 in the BBC?s Maida Vale studios. They went by the name of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and received regular calls from members of the public who thought they repaired wirelesses. They were unsung pioneers in the field of electronics, whose strange inspiration was rooted in the curious constraints of the available equipment, and the combination of mathematical, musical, electronic and manual skills that their work required. Alchemists Of Sound is a lovingly crafted documentary in which those involved in the Radiophonic Workshop tell the story of this creative, and occasionally haphazard, group. It contains original footage of the team and the amazing machinery that created some of the best-known sounds of the times. It also reveals that the entire output of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, from 1983 onwards, would have been lost to posterity had it not been for a series of legendary mishaps. Their work added intense dramatic impact to productions such as Quatermass, The Hitch-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy, The Body In Question and countless children?s television programmes, including Blue Peter. It was a style particularly suited to sci-fi and, in many respects, these 'alchemists' shaped the future of sound. The airing of this documentary coincides with the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who?s first transmission, which the BBC and BBC Worldwide will be celebrating with various activities." The programme contains archive footage and clips, and interviews with numerous Radiophonic Workshop luminaries including Delia Derbyshire (on archive film), Brian Hodgson, Dick Mills, Desmond Briscoe, Paddy Kingsland, Peter Howell, Roger Limb and Malcolm Clarke. A certain Radiophonic Workshop 'associate' by the name of Mark Ayres also features...and one segment in particular should be of interest to fans of the Doctor Who theme. The documentary was broadcast today in the UK (October 19) at 9pm, on BBC4, and will be repeated Monday 20th at 1.10am, Tuesday 21st October at 8.30pm, and Wednesday 22nd October 3.30am; it's hoped that a BBC2 replay will happen soon. Click here for the BBC4 webpage and full details. (Thanks to Mark Ayres)