One of Britain’s finest working directors, Shane Meadows has crafted a distinctive niche telling personal stories embued with wit, warmth and the odd gas mask-wearing vigilante. His CV now boasts its first TV project, a four-part serialised sequel to This Is England, picking up with the much loved Woody, Lol, Shaun, Milky and co three years later in the midst of 1986 World Cup fever. Down at the BFI to talk This Is England ’86, the ever-friendly Meadows took time to look back over his filmography with us and share a tale or two.
"On my films you become friends with people and sometimes you stay friends, but not generally as a whole. But when Thomas Turgoose’s mum passed away, me and the cast of This Is England all got on a minibus and went to the funeral to support him, and there was this feeling that there was something special there. I said to Channel 4 from the beginning, I’m not going into This Is England '86 to make it as good as the film, I’m going to try to make it better. I know I probably won’t be able to, but if I try to go better I might get close to where the film was. So all the way down the line [I was] trying to do better than I did first time around, rather than think that people would cut me a bit of slack because they love Woody. I tried my hardest to make it as good as it could be. So if people don’t like it, that’s fine, but I gave it 110%."
Left: Watch two clips from This Is England 86.
"When I started on This Is England ‘86 the main worry was TV spin-offs that had happened before. I couldn't think of one that’s worked. Without naming names, when I looked at the ones that had happened, the original creative team, the nucleus that made something great, tend not to have had a hand in it – they either pass it off or put themselves in as an exec. I said from the beginning that if I’m going to do This Is England for TV, I’m not going to disrespect the characters by saying, 'These people I knew, you have ‘em.' It was always about my life and the people I grew up with, so I’m going to at least write it and I want to direct as well. In fact, there was potential that I may have directed the whole series [Meadows directs two episodes, The Scouting Book For Boys' Tom Harper the other two]. But there had to be a new angle, a new story..."
"Twentyfour Seven was a real baptism of fire. I remember the hardest moment as clear as day. We were filming on a park in a rough part of Nottingham, the Bestwood estate, and they’d brought me down in a car from my hotel. I walked on set – and when you think that when I’d made Small Time the year before we’d had a transit van and a boom mic and a camera and that was it – and suddenly I was on what appeared to be a miniature city. There were trucks and people sawing wood and lights... there were four people who just wanted to make me a cup of tea! It was insane and I was petrified. I was absolutely shitting myself. For the first half of the day I completely busked it. When the cameraman was talking about setting up quite a complicated track, I was like,'Yeah, yeah, do that,' just to get some breathing space, because I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, not the faintest idea. As the weeks progressed I started to twig. By the end of it I’d got a bit of nous and some visual ideas..."
"Romeo is me, and Knock Knock, his next door neighbour was my next door neighbour, the guy I wrote it with [Paul Fraser]. Romeo Brass was the most autobiographical thing I’d done until This Is England. The whole ‘taking chips out of the chip packet on the way home’ was me. The chippie my mum worked at in Uttoxeter was my favourite. That’s got a special place in my heart. We didn’t have a lot of money so in the summer holiday as a kid I’d have to have my tea there, and when my mum wasn’t working I’d take my friends there and put it on her tab. At the end of one week she had to give *them *money just to pay for the food I’d eaten, so she didn’t earn anything. She wasn’t happy."
"Me and Paul Fraser were writing a different film when this came to us. I think we were in Wales or maybe Ireland, I can’t remember, the Tia Maria was so brutal. We used to go away for two weeks to write and we’d spend the first week playing mini-golf and getting hammered. Midlands is not my favourite film, but it was the reason I made Dead Man’s Shoes, so for that I’m eternally grateful. By the second draft I knew it was going wrong, and there was one moment when the insurance company told us we had to lose 25 pages of the script, when I should have said, 'Close it down.' The reason I didn’t was because my dad and lots of people I knew locally had jobs on it, so I thought about them rather than the next five years of me hating it.
"I’d like Midlands more if I could go and re-edit it and put on the music I originally wanted to use. Clayhill's score for it made it feel really different, but it was taken off because they were always trying to make it into a rom-com. It’s never going to be my best film but maybe when I’m having a quiet year I could do a director’s cut - a proper director’s cut, not one of those where they’ve made it a bit more boring because they’ve put an extra scene in that probably shouldn’t have been there. It’s probably a pipedream, but I’d love to go back and make it feel more like part of the family."
"A lot of people had lost faith in me after Midlands – I’d lost my kudos a little bit – and Paddy [Considine] was the one who told me to go back to shooting from the hip. He was at a peak in his career, I was at a trough in mine, and there was a moment that was equivalent of Michael Powell telling Scorsese that Boxcar Bertha was a piece of shit - although he probably didn't put it like that - and that he should make a film that meant something to him, something personal. Paddy said, “You’ve got to get off your arse and make this.” It was the most important film of my career because it made me realise that I can never, ever step away from making films how I started making them, which is with my heart."
"I wrote TwentyFour Seven completely with Bob Hoskins in mind. [Producer] Stephen Wooley said, 'Well, I worked with him on Mona Lisa so I can at least get him to read it, but he’ll probably want to meet you.' He was doing a piece of theatre in the West End and I went backstage where he met me and shook my hand. He didn’t even talk about the film for about an hour and I just sat with him getting pissed on this wine in his dressing room with all the lights around the mirror and all that. He always said that because when I walked in I was the same shape as him, this little, short, slightly receding guy with stocky shoulders, he saw a little bit of himself in me. At the end he said, “I don’t care about the money, I love the script, I think you’re great, let’s do it.” And his word was his bond. They offered what I think was a day’s pay on the other things he could have done, but it was one of the best thing’s he’d done in that period of his career. I was really proud of that."
"I was mortified by This Is England's 18 certificate because it was the first time in my life that I looked like getting some box office to help me get films made. Then [the BBFC] did that and I thought, 'I’m knackered.' But, weirdly, it became a cult classic because of it. It’s that whole thing of any news being good news. It ended up being used in schools and becoming one of the most important films of that time for kids to see, because it was the one film that actually reflected maybe what was going on in their lives and their schools. So I was petrified but weirdly it had the reverse effect. It became a success because they tried to stop it being seen. When will I let my son see it? It'll depend on him. I've met 12 year-old kids that are like 25 year-olds and I've met 18 year-olds that are like ten year-olds. I would say 14 or 15 is a perfect age to see it, because by that time you've probably witnessed some of the things go on in it a number of times in your own life."
"I loved shooting in London. It was noisy, especially with planes going over every five seconds and all of that, but I loved it every minute of it and for something that was meant to be a 20 minute short film, it really blossomed. It was a really nice to get to work with Thommo [Turgoose] and get out of Nottingham. And since Somers Town I've filmed in London, made a film with Paddy for nothing, and shot in Sheffield [for This Is England ‘86], so I think it was a turning point for me. Weirdly, it’s the only thing I’ve ever made money off because Eurostar promised us a chunk of the back-end if it made any money. I get cheques through the door for a film that was 68 minutes, that was made as a short film. This Is England sold nearly a million DVDs and I’m still owed wages from that."
"The problem with Five Day Features was that if we were going to fund it ourselves we needed Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee to do well in the cinema so we could build a pot of money. But it just didn’t take off. I haven’t given up on it but for it to work it needs some money behind it – not a lot, but if you want to let give people £50,000 to make something similar, you need a certain amount of £50,000s. I have an idea for Le Donk Does Derby which may get reborn. If one of them takes off then I can launch it and get some backing..."
This Is England '86 begins on Tuesday, September 7 at 10pm on Channel 4/HD. Visit www.channel4.com/thisisengland86 for more information.**