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Arena: The Very Strange Story of the Legendary Joe Meek (BBC 1991)

Joe Meek

Completely fascinating this Arena documentary The Very Strange Story of the Legendary Joe Meek told the short and turbulent life of pioneering record producer Joe Meek beginning with his farming background (he was always obsessed with recording and would record his family but would also rig up speakers in the orchards to keep the pickers happy) through to his determination to break into the record business and setting up his own recording studio above a Leather Goods shop on to big hits from the likes of The Tornados, The Honeycombs and even politician Screaming Lord Sutch.

After Meek’s huge success of the early 1960’s his career hit a major crisis when he was arrested by the police for importuning, he had long been a closet homosexual and his protege Heinz admitted that Meek lusted after him for years. Meek was also a big lover of the occult and spiritualism and would often say that he had been visited by the likes of Buddy Holly as well as visiting graveyards with his tape recorder hoping to capture the sounds of the supernatural but as his career faltered he became increasingly paranoid that his studio was bugged and was convinced the big record companies were out to get him.

Becoming increasingly reliant on pills and barely making records any longer on February 3 1967 Meek finally tripped over the edge, shooting his landlady and then himself. It was the 8th anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly. Pop star Heinz had been living with Joe as a lodger but had moved out sometime before and it was his shotgun that was used by Meek.

Full of brilliant archive footage from lots of Meek acts including breakthrough artist John Leyton appearing on Harpers West One and there were also contributions for Meek’s brothers as well as Humphrey Lyttleton, Lonnie Donegan, Mickie Most, John Leyton, spiritualist Geoff Goddard (the composer of Johnny Remember Me), Screaming Lord Sutch, Clem Cattini (the drummer on Telstar), the fabulous Jess Conrad who tells of a big fight with Heinz who thought he was stealing his act, Jonathan King and Heinz.

In a dramatised opening segment actress June Barrie played Meek’s mother and the inspiration for the documentary was the book ‘The Legendary JM’ by John Repsch.

production details
UK | BBC-2

RUNNING TIME: 60 minutes | NUMBER OF EPISODES: 1 | AIRDATE: 8 February 1991

DIRECTOR: Alan Lewens | NARRATOR: Pete Murray | NEWSREADER: Andrew Crawford