Flatpack Festival
Film for all the senses

Delia's gas mask

Ian Francis
Friday 11th January, 2013 Posted by Ian Francis

On the eve of Delia Derbyshire day in Manchester, we're reminded of the day we found her childhood gas-mask.

Derbyshire's neglected musical legacy has had a good dusting-off in the years since her untimely death, and people are a lot more aware of the amazing sound-worlds she created at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and as part of White Noise. (If you're not, check out Martin Guy's Audiological Chronology, or if you're in a hurry just watch this youtube clip.) There's barely a trace of her in her hometown though, so when we had the opportunity to put on a music/film event in Coventry, Delia was the natural focus.

A bit of digging in the local library revealed the address where she grew up, and a week before the gig I popped over there just to get a photo of it. While I was standing outside with the camera a man came outside to see what I was up to, and mentioned that there were some boxes in the attic that might be of interest. (Delia's mum had carried on living in the house right up until the 1990s.) Heart thumping, I went in for a cup of tea and a gentle rummage through Delia Derbyshire's childhood: school homework (including an essay bemoaning "the low standard of broadcast programmes"), doodles, cuttings, Girl Guide membership card, and a rusty round tin containing a gas-mask for a small child, with 'Delia Derbyshire' scratched on the lid. Her early years coincided with the bombing of Coventry, and given that the family lived just up the road from the Alvis armaments factory their neighbourhood took quite a battering. They temporarily relocated up north part way through the war, but the blitz left its mark on Derbyshire and can be heard in her work.

Three hours in that house flew by, and I remember being very late to pick the kids up from school. A little scrapbook of our findings went on show at the event the following week, and some of them can also be browsed on the 7inch website. I'm not sure what happened to the boxes, but I hope they've found their way to a good archive.

Sheet music

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