Between Ourselves, Radio 4<br/>Archive on 4: The Sculptress of Sound: The Lost Works of Delia Derbyshire, Radio 4

Life in the dark, and new light shed on stuff in the attic

Chris Maume
Sunday 28 March 2010 02:00
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Is it better to be blind from birth or to go that way later? The lifelong blind tend to think the former is better: otherwise it's too difficult to make the adjustment, they reckon.

For a few years now in Between Ourselves Olivia O'Leary has been bringing together pairs of people with similar experiences, and the new series began with two women who went blind: Jill Daley at 19 through diabetes, Julie Coakley at 42 through meningitis.

How did they learn to cope? Coakley couldn't bring herself to say the word "blind" for a long time. Daley floundered for a while, but turned things round when her young brother, devastated, held her tight and told her: "You'll never see me win a race, you'll never see me shave and you'll never see me as a man." At that point she decided that she would, at least, make him proud of her.

She has not been helped, though, by some of the men – sorry, lowlife scum – she's encountered. Boyfriends have stolen from her, tricked her into signing their debts over to her. She was subjected to a two-hour attack by two men who followed her home and kicked her door in. It makes you despair of the species.

Both women seem to have adjusted well, eventually – Daley is now a presenter on Insight Radio, which broadcasts to the blind, Coakley is an artist working in glass. But, said Daley: "There isn't a day when I don't wake up and say, 'please let me see'." Still, they can hope for some medical miracle. "Maybe in 10 years' time we'll be looking at each other," Daley said, "doing a programme on what it's like to get your sight back."

Delia Derbyshire saw music in her head, saw sound as pictures. Everybody's heard at least one Derbyshire piece – the Dr Who theme tune (which was developed from a few notes by Ron Grainer). From 1960 to the mid-1970s her extraordinary work adorned hundreds of BBC programmes, then suddenly she gave it all up. When she died in 2001 her tapes were found in the attic, hundreds of them stuffed into cereal boxes, and they're gradually being explored and catalogued at Manchester University.

In The Sculptress of Sound: The Lost Works of Delia Derbyshire, Matthew Sweet (of this parish) spoke to friends and colleagues from the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop. Derbyshire was, it became clear, a bit of a character. "We were either great friends or great enemies," said one. "Very intelligent, very analytical, but very fiery and also a bit crazy," said another, before invoking the fine line between genius and insanity. The programme could have done with more music, but what we did hear made it plain that, oddball or not, Derbyshire deserves to be ranked as one of the pioneering figures of 20th-century music.

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