Film Review: Delia Derbyshire – The Myths & The Legendary Tapes

Delia Derbyshire was a musician and composer of electronic music. She was born in 1937 and best known for her pioneering work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop during the 60s, including her arrangement for the theme tune to Doctor Who. Delia was a talented, curious composer who “carried round reams and reams of paper” who had always been drawn to abstract sounds. Delia Derbyshire: The Myths & The Legendary Tapes premiered at the BFI London Film Festival this month and I had the genuine pleasure of watching a sneak preview. I’ve been a fan of Delia Derbyshire for a long time, her ground-breaking work and visionary use of sound is inspiring and goes on inspiring – the likes of Aphex Twin and Orbital, to name a few. Cosey Fanny Tutti, performance artist and musician, is another who “shares language with Delia” and provides the soundtrack to the film.

Written and directed by actor Caroline Catz (Doc Martin, DCI Banks), who also plays Delia in the film, Myths & Legendary Tapes started as a short documentary in 2017 and now expanded into a feature-length film. It begins as if from Fanny Tutti’s perspective, but then evolves into more of “a phantom collaboration”, as Fanny puts it. It’s an exchange between the posthumous ‘Attic Tapes’ (archival recorded Derbyshire interviews), Fanny Tutti’s live soundtrack, talking heads from friends and colleagues, and the actors playing the parts of the Radiophonic Workshop members. I’m not sure having the different segments works all the time, but then when I read that director, Catz, wanted the film to be a portrait of Derbyshire told in a way that fitted her style, it made sense. It’s a poetic, artistic film. Catz describes it as “a collage” and it is.

I loved the dramatized sections of the film, the actors are brilliant. My favourites being Catz herself, Saskia Reeves (having just enjoyed her part in the BBC’s Us) and Julian Rhind-Tutt, playing BBC Radiophonic composer and technician, Brian Hodgson, also a friend and collaborator of Derbyshire. The scenes they create seem very realistic, the mansplainy moments I imagine are spot on. Derbyshire’s ‘Dr Who’ moment is obviously a highlight. I found myself so engaged in the acted scenes, that I forgot we were also tuned into the documentary part of the film with the talking heads and then Fanny Tutti’s artistic sections. It was like repeatedly turning the dial on the radio, picking up different sounds, which given the subject matter, makes absolute sense.

Listening to Derbyshire on the tapes, you’re left wanting more. This is Catz’s directorial feature film debut, and her passion and respect for the subject is present throughout. With the directors self-confessed interest in forgotten, unsung forces of creativity, I can’t wait to see what story she tells next. As I write this review, it occurs to me that we are nearing the end of 2020, a dark year for humanity and so I’ll leave you with a quote from Delia Derbyshire – a great artist, ahead of her time, who certainly experienced the darkness; “When economies collapse, it’s the best thing to happen to humans, because you’re left with original values. Good, human values.”

Review by Jo Overfield

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