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Joe Meek

The UK’s most successful independent record producer of the 1960s, Joe Meek was also a gay man whose troubles ran deep. Jon Savage examines the short life and long legacy of this pioneering outsider
1 Market Square, Newent: the Gloucestershire birthplace of the future hitmaker
GETTY IMAGES X1, SHUTTERSTOCK X1

On Tornados’ the it that 22 would top December year’s of stay the single Christmas for US 1962, three Telstar charts, The number weeks: rose where to one. It was only the fourth British record to achieve such heights and, like Vera Lynn’s Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart, Laurie London’s He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands and Acker Bilk’s Stranger On The Shore, it would prove a one-off. Like their compatriots, The Tornados would never break the Top 40 again.

For a short while, Joe Meek was on top of the world. At the age of 33, he was the top independent producer in the UK and had cracked the holy grail of transatlantic success.

At the point Telstar reached the summit of the US charts, it was still in the UK Top Ten, after 17 weeks in the charts, including five at number one. Their follow-up, Globetrotter, was ready for release and would, along with another Meek production, Mike Berry’s Don’t You Think It’s Time, quickly rise up the UK charts. By late January, Meek had three singles in the Top 20.

Telstar remains Joe Meek’s best-known tune -an instrumental that seemed to exemplify the promise of the new technological age, taking its name from the recently launched Telstar communications satellite. Composed by Meek and arranged by The Tornados from a crude, home-sung demo, Telstar saw Meek’s fascination with technology and sound manipulation find its perfect expression. It was a compelling, compressed fusion of excitement, longing and innocence – but with a haunting and otherworldly undertow that reflected the tortured psyche of its creator.

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About BBC History Revealed

“Don’t let every little feeling be read in your face and seen in your manner.” Queen Victoria certainly took her own advice. But her personal feelings have since been revealed through her diaries and letters, and this issue we ask the celebrated historian Lucy Worsley how these private words have shed light on Victoria’s life and deeds. Plus: the tale of how modest Oxford don JRR Tolkien was inspired to create Middle Earth, an ancient Athenian whodunnit, our A-Z of executions, the most brilliant beards in history, and more.