England rebooted: Shane Meadows is revisiting This Is England on the small screen

It's all part of his plan to invigorate 'appalling' British television, he tells Gerard Gilbert

Blazing his own gloriously parochial and unpredictable low-budget path through the dispiriting landscape of post-millennial British cinema, with all its Harry Potters, Bridget Joneses, mockney geezers and Full Monty knock-offs, Shane Meadows has come from nowhere (in cinematic pedigree, at least) to make himself the indigenous film director to watch. The bleak housing estates of the East Midlands are now as firmly on the movie map as the bookshops of Notting Hill.

In recent years, Uttoxeter's most famous son has been showing signs of moving away from his pet subjects – his own youth and his own backyard – so it came as something of a surprise to learn that Meadows' latest project was going to be a sequel, revisiting the skinhead characters from his most personal and successful film to date, This Is England, and that it was going to be for television.

The resulting four-parter, This Is England '86, which begins on Channel 4 on Tuesday, takes place three years after the violent climax to Meadows' acclaimed box-office hit set at the height (or depth) of the Thatcher era. It reassembles the same cast and characters, including the semi-autobiographical teenager Shaun Field (geddit?), played by the director's great discovery, the wonderful Thomas Turgoose. In the film, Shaun was a fatherless 12-year-old who finds a sense of belonging within a gang of ska-loving Humberside skinheads, and we now meet him again as a reluctant GCSE student. The characters, and their relationship to each other, may take some working out for TV viewers unversed in the original, but for Meadows, revisiting Shaun, Woody, Lol, Smell et al was a labour of love. And in true Meadows manner, the germ of the idea came to him in a minibus travelling to a funeral in Grimsby.

"Tommo's [Turgoose's] mum passed away a few months after This Is England finished and we all went up to her funeral to show support," he says. "And although I didn't think at the time, 'hey, let's do this again', I do remember that leaving a bit of a mark on me. And then when I started doing Q&As at festivals, people would ask me, 'What happened to the gang? Were the gang okay?' And it got me to thinking. When you've got such great characters, it's a shame to just cast them aside."

Meadows' films come in all shapes and sizes, from the relatively big budget, 2002 Sergio Leone-flavoured Once Upon a Time in the Midlands and the 71-minute Somers Town, a crypto-advertisement for the joys of travelling by Eurostar, to his witty 2009 mockumentary, Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee, which was shot in just five days on £50,000. But television? Doesn't Meadows, like so many in the movie business, look down his nose at the small screen?

"The problem has always been in people's heads," he says. "There was a big snobbery and I think it came out in the Eighties when people were forced to work in telly – which was to the benefit of telly in a huge way. I mean you got Stephen Frears, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Alan Clarke making banging films for telly – because they couldn't get them made as films."

Frears, Loach, Leigh and Clarke – if there ever was a film-making lineage from which Meadows is descended, it's this school of British social realism, one that traditionally finds irrelevant the schism between cinema and television. "I was brought up on that amazing telly. I mean I remember the first night of Channel 4 [in November 1982] as though it was yesterday, and it making a mark on me for the rest of my life. If I went to the cinema back then I could probably catch ET, Bedknobs and Broomsticks... you know, there wasn't anything great being shown in my cinema. Everything I saw that touched me I saw on telly.

"But I think UK telly's gone to shit, it really has. It's appalling. What's happened in America, with The Sopranos and The Wire... so much stuff coming out of there is so good. The viewer actually wants to watch an event, whether it be cinema or something else. People are saying 'I want to watch a 12-hour film back to back, I want to watch 24 with the missus, all the way through'."

The director's "missus" is new partner Joanne, who works in a surveyor's office in Nottingham. Meadows split from his wife Louise, who was also his long-time co-producer and collaborator, during the exhausting production of This Is England in 2006, a shoot that had Meadows checking himself into a clinic in order to recuperate. The divorce itself has "worked out much better than these things sometimes do and we are all still friends," he says. Meadows and Joanne now have a son, Arthur (named after Meadows' dad, a long-distance lorry driver; his mum worked in a chip shop), and it was the need to be around for young Arthur that also propelled Meadows towards television, with its faster pace of production.

"I'd just had my son, and I'd been brought up in a house with this father who wasn't there very much because of his job – and that was the last thing I wanted," he says.

Meadows directed half of This Is England '86, while Tom Harper (The Scouting Book for Boys), helmed the rest. His co-author is Skins writer Jack Thorne, a self-confessed "Shane Meadows nerd". "I knew for someone who wasn't me to write these people it would take someone who fell in love with them from the film, and that was Jack," says Meadows. Thorne himself admits that the responsibility of taking them on "was really scary – I sent Shane 15 pages very early on because I was really scared of doing the whole thing and it being a disaster."

Adisaster it absolutely isn't – This Is England '86 is great fun, and should be a perfect fit for the Shameless audience who are usually catered for in this slot. The discipline of collaboration and a television schedule certainly seems to have worked wonders on Meadows' post-production technique. "I was quite scared because on This Is England and Dead Man's Shoes, just the edits alone were nine months each," he says. "And then you've got a month of mixing, a month of grading... you're looking at two years. We shot this in April, and it's going on screen in September."

Whatever you think of Meadows' films, and there are some agnostics around, what just about everybody agrees on is that you're always going to hear (to dip into Meadows speak) a banging soundtrack – not all of it necessarily from the period in question. "When I was a kid in the late Seventies I'd whack my dad's records on from the Fifties, you know, rockabilly, Motown records. The only rule was that we didn't put anything after '86 in there.

"Tom and I had editing suites next door to each other; sometimes I'd go round and say, 'Have a listen to this' and vice versa. Tom used "English Rose" by The Jam in one of his episodes and it was the only time I pulled rank and said, 'I'll have that... ' I'll give you this wonderful track by Toots and the Maytals in return... "

The period detail is, as usual, unobtrusive and not in the least bit slavish. "This wonderful lady came in to do the haircuts and this incredible thing happened where everyone designed their own hair. It was amazing – it was like a 24-hour hair salon. It was the same with costumes. I bet if you actually analyse the actual items and the haircuts, I haven't got the faintest idea whether any of the things were popular at the time – they just felt right."

This Is England being, at heart, Shaun's story – Meadows' story – the director can envisage a further series, "This Is England '90". "The next really big turning point in my life was 1990, with the Hacienda, the rave, The Stone Roses, ecstasy, the whole shambolic thing," he says. "I'd seen a lot of friends get into heroin off the back of that, so in a kind of way, Shaun's journey, if there is to be a second series, will continue in 1990."

Shaun, however, is somewhat peripheral to the opening episode of This Is England '86 and, gratifyingly for those who say that Meadows' films are too macho, it centres on the character of Lol (the excellent Vicky McClure). "It's been said that my work has been male-dominated – as my childhood was male-dominated – and luckily, in the wings, I had this very macho lady waiting, with a Ben Sherman on. She looked pretty tough and I thought, I can still have my man and she's a lady."

'This Is England '86' starts on Tuesday at 10pm on Channel 4

For further reading:

'Thatcher's Britain' by Richard Vinen (Simon & Schuster, £8.99). Order for £8.54 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Arts and Entertainment
The new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Jardin d'Acclimatation in Paris
architecture

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album