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  • Date: 7 September 2009
  • Artform: Theatre
  • Area: South East

Telstar, one of the summer of 2009’s big UK movie releases, might not have seen the light of day if it hadn’t been for a small theatre company in Brighton – and a little help from Arts Council England, South East.

The film, written and directed by Nick Moran of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels fame, is a biopic of Joe Meek - the tragic 1960s pop producer who worked with Bill Fury and Eddie Cochrane, turned down the Beatles and committed suicide after shooting his landlady. The roots of the production go back to 2002, though, when Moran was touring through Brighton with the West End production of Four Nights in Knaresborough and passed the original script to Tony Milner of the theatrical creative agency New Vic.

Says Milner, ‘He’d obviously done a lot of background research. There was something about the arc of it – it wasn’t just a show about rock ‘n’ roll – it was the story of a driven, tortured man who went to the top and destroyed himself. We worked on it and developed it and did workshops on it. Then there was a reading with Con O’Neill at the Gardner Arts Centre. It was given its first light of day there.’

After receiving funding for the script development, New Vic applied to the Arts Council for funding for a regional tour of the production. With Judith Hibberd, then Theatre Officer, fighting their corner, the company received £97,252 from Grants for the arts in February 2004. The play toured all over the country, performing in Eastbourne, Guildford, Manchester and Cambridge.

The turning point for the script and its writer was when the Guildford performance of Telstar received a favourable review from The Telegraph reviewer Charles Spencer.  ‘He gave it a review to die for,’ said Tony Milner. ‘That set the seal to take it forward and it justified the work we’d done and our belief in it.’

Tony adds, ‘The most important thing is the risk taking that Arts Council England are prepared to undertake. We’re in such a slide culturally, and we’re the most famous country for literary culture. Arts Council has always been my first port of call for support for page to stage. It’s a door I hope never closes.’

The New Vic, now based in Eastbourne, continues to run writer workshops and produce original plays by new writers. Telstar, starring Con O’Neill, Kevin Spacey and James Cordon, was released in the UK on 19 June 2009.

Visit the Telstar website at