Telstar: The Joe Meek Story is a film about a murder – or, rather, the events leading up to it. Same concept as Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero, I suppose, though it would be hard to imagine two more different stories. And one reason for this is that the Joe Meek story is taken from real life. It’s a story that I’ve always found macabre, poignant and extraordinary.
Meek was a record producer with a very distinctive style who was responsible for the first records I ever liked – Telstar and Globetrotter, the chart-topping instrumentals recorded by The Tornados just before the Beatles came on the scene in a big way. He had many successes, and his cover version of the Bacharach-Hilliard classic Please Stay, performed by Duffy, plays as the final credits of the movie roll. He was a deeply troubled man, and of course therein lies the fascination of his story, probably the most remarkable of Sixties pop music.
A good many years ago, a TV documentary based on John Repsch’s excellent book The Legendary Joe Meek made a huge impact on me, and influenced my approach in writing a Harry Devlin novel about the 60s pop scene, Yesterday’s Papers (which remains a personal favourite.) The stranger-than-fiction story of Meek’s life and death makes it perfect material for a movie.
And yet. I must confess that, although Telstar has received some good reviews elsewhere, I was disappointed with it. The comic book tone of most of the screenplay contrasted weirdly with the tragic later scenes, and I’m afraid I didn’t think the transition was well handled. Similarly, I found Con O’Neill’s portrayal of Meek, though energetic, to be a bit random and unconvincing. And as for the great Kevin Spacey, bizarrely miscast as Meek's business partner, don't get me started. So, a film that I regard as a missed opportunity – but an utterly fascinating story. If you don’t know it, read Repsch’s book, which is packed with intriguing period detail.