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BBC Radiophonic Workshop

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The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, one of the sound effects units of the BBC, was created in 1958 to produce effects and new music for radio, and was originally closed in March 1998, although much of its traditional work had already been outsourced by 1995. The Workshop was revived in 2012, however none of the team involved in the original incarnation will be involved.[1] It was based in the BBC's Maida Vale Studios in Delaware Road, London, growing outwards from the then-legendary Room 13, but from 2012 it is based entirely online.

History[edit source | editbeta]Edit


The Workshop was set up to satisfy the growing demand in the late 1950s for "radiophonic" sounds from a group of producers and studio managers at the BBC, including Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram. For some time there had been much interest in producing innovative music and sounds to go with the pioneering programming of the era, in particular the dramatic output of the BBC Third Programme. Often the sounds required for the atmosphere that programme makers wished to create were unavailable or non-existent through traditional sources and so some, such as the musically trained Oram, would look to new techniques to produce effects and music for their pieces. Much of this interest drew them to musique concrète and tape manipulation techniques, since using these methods could allow them to create soundscapes suitable for the growing range of unconventional programming. When the BBC noticed the rising popularity of this method they established a Radiophonic Effects Committee, setting up the Workshop in rooms 13 & 14 of the BBC's Maida Vale studios with a budget of £2,000. The Workshop regularly released technical journals of their findings - leading to some of their techniques being borrowed by sixties producers and engineers such as Eddie Kramer.[citation needed]

Early daysEdit

In 1958, Desmond Briscoe was appointed the Senior Studio Manager with Dick Mills employed as a technical assistant. Much of The Radiophonic Workshop's early work was in effects for radio, in particular experimental drama and "radiophonic poems".[citation needed] Their significant early output included creating effects for the popular science-fiction serial Quatermass and the Pit and memorable comedy sounds for The Goon Show. In 1959, Daphne Oram left the workshop to set up her own studio, the Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition, where she eventually developed her "Oramics" technique of electronic sound creation. That year Maddalena Fagandini joined the workshop from the BBC's Italian Service.

From the early sixties the Workshop began creating television theme tunes and jingles, particularly for low budget schools programmes. The shift from the experimental nature of the late 50s dramas to theme tunes was noticeable enough for one radio presenter to have to remind listeners that the purpose of the Workshop was not pop music. In fact, in 1962 one of Fagandini's interval signals "Time Beat" was reworked with assistance from George Martin (in his pre-Beatles days) and commercially released as a single using the pseudonym Ray Cathode. During this early period the innovative electronic approaches to music in the Workshop began to attract some significant young talent including Delia DerbyshireBrian Hodgson and John Baker, who was in fact a jazz pianist with an interest in reverse tape effects. Later, in 1967. they were joined by David Cain, a jazz bass player and mathematician.

In these early days, one criticism[citation needed] the Workshop attracted was its policy of not allowing musicians from outside the BBC to use its equipment, which was some of the most advanced in the country at that time not only because of its nature, but also because of the unique combinations and workflows which the Workshop afforded its composers. In later years this would become less important as more electronic equipment became readily available to a wider audience.

Doctor WhoEdit

In 1963 they were approached by composer Ron Grainer to record a theme tune for the upcoming BBC television series Doctor Who. Presented with the task of "realising" Grainer's score, complete with its descriptions of "sweeps", "swoops", "wind clouds" and "wind bubbles", Delia Derbyshire created a piece of Elektronische Musik which has become one of television's most recognisable themes. Over the next quarter-century the Workshop contributed greatly to the programme providing its vast range of unusual sound-effects, from the TARDIS dematerialisation to the Sonic screwdriver, as well as much of the programme's distinctive electronic incidental music, including every score from 1980 to 1985.

Changes[edit source | editbeta]Edit

As the sixties drew to a close many of the techniques used by the Workshop changed as more electronic music began to be produced by synthesisers. Many of the old members of the Workshop were reluctant to use the new instruments, often because of the limitations and unreliable nature of many of the early synthesisers but also, for some, because of a dislike of the sounds they created. This led to many leaving the workshop making way for a new generation of musicians in the early 1970s including Malcolm ClarkePaddy KingslandRoger Limb and Peter Howell. From the early days of a studio full of tape reels and electronic oscillators, the Workshop now found itself in possession of various synthesisers including the EMS VCS 3 and the EMS Synthi 100 nicknamed the "Delaware" by the members of the Workshop.

In 1977, Workshop co-founder Desmond Briscoe retired from organisational duties with Brian Hodgson, returning after a five-year gap away from the Workshop, taking over.

By this point the output of the Workshop was vast with high demand for complete scores for programmes as well as the themes and sound effects for which it had made its name. By the end of the decade the workshop was contributing to over 300 programmes a year from all departments of the BBC and had long since expanded from its early two room setup. Its contributions included material for programmes such as The Body in QuestionBlue Peter and Tomorrow's World as well as sound effects for popular science fiction programmes Blake's 7 and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (in both its radio and television forms) by Richard Yeoman-Clark and Paddy Kingsland respectively.

Latter days[edit source | editbeta]Edit

By the early 1990s, BBC director John Birt decided that departments were to charge each other and bid against each other for services and to cut those which couldn't make enough revenue to cover their costs. In 1991 the Workshop was given five years in which to break even but the cost of keeping the department, which required a number of engineers as well as composers, proved too much and so they failed. Dick Mills, who had worked on Doctor Who since the very beginning, left in 1993, along with Ray White, Senior Engineer, and his assistant, Ray Riley. In 1995, despite being asked to continue, organiser Brian Hodgson left the Workshop, closely followed by Malcolm Clarke and Roger Limb. By the end, only one composer, Elizabeth Parker, remained and the Workshop closed in March 1998. Mark Ayres recalls the Workshop's tape archive being collected on April 1, exactly 40 years after the department had opened.

Legacy[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Following the decision to close the Radiophonic Workshop, Mark Ayres and Brian Hodgson were commissioned to catalogue its extensive library of recordings.[citation needed]

In October 2003,[citation needed] Alchemists of Sound, an hour-long television documentary about the Radiophonic Workshop, was broadcast on BBC Four.

The Magnetic Fields titled the first track of their album Holiday, after the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

[1][2]Dick Mills, BBC Radiophonic Workshop reunion live at the Roundhouse in 2009.===Live reunion 2009[edit source | editbeta]===

In May 2009, Dick Mills reunited with former BBC Radiophonic Workshop composers Roger LimbPaddy Kingsland and Peter Howell with archivist Mark Ayres for a live concert at The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London, performing as "The Radiophonic Workshop". The composers, backed by a small brass section and a live drummer, performed a large number of their BBC-commissioned musical works including sections of incidental music from The Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy and Doctor Who (including a medley of Mark Ayres's work) as well as some collaborative compositions written specifically for the Roundhouse concert.

The live performances were mixed in surround sound and interspersed with musical video montage tributes of deceased members of the Workshop including Daphne OramDelia Derbyshire and John Baker. The two and a half hour event climaxed with live performances of the Derbyshire and Peter Howell arrangements of Doctor Who, segueing into a new Radiophonic version of the theme tune. Celebrated attendees included actor/writer/composer Peter Serafinowicz and satirist/writer/broadcaster Victor Lewis-Smith. Multiple cameras recorded the event but it has yet to be broadcast or released in any form, although amateur footage of the event can be seen on YouTube.[citation needed]

2012 revival[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The BBC announced in September 2012 that the Workshop would be revived as an online venture, with seven new composers and musicians. The new Workshop will be based online at The Space, a joint venture between the BBC and Arts Council England. Composer Matthew Herbert has been appointed the new Creative Director, and he will work alongside Micachu, Yann Seznec, Max de Wardener, Patrick Bergel, James Mather, theatre director Lyndsey Turner and broadcast technologist Tony Churnside.[1] None of the original Workshop members have been announced to be involved in the revival.


The techniques initially used by the Radiophonic Workshop were closely related to those used in musique concrète; new sounds for programs were created by using recordings of everyday sounds such as voices, bells or gravel as raw material for "radiophonic" manipulations. In these manipulations, audio tape could be played back at different speeds (altering a sound's pitch), reversed, cut and joined, or processed using reverb or equalisation. The most famous of the Workshop's creations using 'radiophonic' techniques include the Doctor Who theme music, which Delia Derbyshire created using a plucked string, 12 oscillators and a lot of tape manipulation; and the sound of the TARDIS (the Doctor'stime machine) materialising and dematerialising, which was created by Brian Hodgson running his keys along the rusty bass strings of a broken piano, with the recording slowed down to make an even lower sound.

Much of the equipment used by the Workshop in the earlier years of its operation in the late 1950s was semi-professional and was passed down from other departments, though two giant professional tape-recorders (which appeared to lose all sound above 10 kHz) made an early centrepiece. Reverberation was obtained using an echo chamber, a basement room with bare painted walls empty except for loudspeakers and microphones. Due to the considerable technical challenges faced by the Workshop and BBC traditions, staff initially worked in pairs with one person assigned to the technical aspects of the work and the other to the artistic direction.

Influence on popular music[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The Radiophonic Workshop regularly released free journals of its experiments to the public, complete with instructions and wiring diagrams. Amongst those who studied the journals and learned from their techniques was sound engineerRoger Mayer, who supplied guitar pedals to Jeff BeckJimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. In 1997 the electronic dance music magazine Mixmag described the Workshop as, "the unsung heroes of British electronica."

Members of the Radiophonic WorkshopEdit

1958–1998[edit source | editbeta]Edit

2012[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Associate Members:

  • Lauren Hayes
  • Jo Apps
  • Barnaby Smyth
  • Yuri Suzuki
  • Anna Meredith

Discography[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Albums[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Title Notes
1968 BBC Radiophonic Music LP, Mono/CD
1969 The Seasons (David Cain) LP/CD
1973 Fourth Dimension (Paddy Kingsland) LP
1975 The Radiophonic Workshop LP/CD
1976 Out of This World LP/CD[a]
1978 Through A Glass Darkly (Peter Howell) LP
1978 BBC Sound Effects No. 19 - Doctor Who Sound Effects LP, Mono/CD
1979 BBC Radiophonic Workshop - 21 LP
1981 BBC Sound Effects No. 26 - Sci-Fi Sound Effects LP, Mono/CD[b]
1983 Doctor Who - The Music LP
1983 The Soundhouse LP
1985 Doctor Who - The Music II LP
1993 Doctor Who: 30 Years at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop CD
2000 Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 1: The Early Years 1963–1969 CD
2000 Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 2: New Beginnings 1970–1980 CD
2002 Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 3: The Leisure Hive (Peter Howell/Dick Mills) CD
2002 Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop Volume 4: Meglos & Full Circle (Paddy Kingsland/Peter Howell) CD
2003 Music from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop LP 4x10"
2008 The John Baker Tapes - Volume One: BBC Radiophonics LP/CD
2008 BBC Radiophonic Workshop - A Retrospective CD
2013 Doctor Who - The Caves of Androzani (Roger Limb) CD/Download
2013 Doctor Who - The Krotons (Brian Hodgson)[3] CD/Download/10" vinyl

^a Reissued on CD in 1991 as Essential Science Fiction Sound Effects Vol. 2. ^b Reissued on CD in 1991 as Essential Science Fiction Sound Effects Vol. 1., reissued on CD under the original title in 2013.

In 1994, BBC Enterprises also licensed out material, by members of the Radiophonic Workshop, to the Cavendish Music Library for release on CD.[citation needed] Five themed compilations of material were released under the titlesPoisoned PlanetUndersea WorldAfricaTime And Space and Ethnic Impressions. They featured various works by Elizabeth Parker, Peter Howell, Roger Limb, Malcolm Clarke and Richard Attree.

Singles[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Year Title Notes
1962 Time Beat / Waltz in Orbit Ray Cathode (a pseudonym used by Maddalena Fagandini and George Martin)
1964 Doctor Who / This Can't Be Love Original Arrangement by Delia Derbyshire / Brenda & Johnny
1973 Doctor Who / Reg New Arrangement by Delia Derbyshire / Paddy Kingsland
1978 The Astronauts / Magenta Court Peter Howell
1980 Doctor Who / The Astronauts Peter Howell
1982 K-9 & Company / Doctor Who Ian Levine and Fiachra Trench / Peter Howell

Selected other works[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Radio dramas[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Sound effects and music contributions[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Doctor Who incidental music[edit source | editbeta]Edit

The Doctor Who theme music was provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop from 1963 to 1985. From 1986 to the programme's demise the theme was provided by freelance musicians. Between 1980 and 1985 the complete incidental scores for the programme were provided in-house by the Workshop. Below is a complete[citation needed] list of incidental music provided by the Radiophonic Workshop for the programme.

Programmes about Radiophonic Workshop[edit source | editbeta]Edit

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