Shane Meadows' eagerly-awaited first feature is based on the director's own youth. He talks to James Mottram
On the face of it, Shane Meadows is a series of bewildering contradictions. Sitting comfortably in media hang-out Soho House in a pink Ben Sherman shirt, he carries a copy of Which Motorcycle. Gold sovereign ring on finger, his patter a hyper-kinetic Ken Loach, he's the self-made man who could just as easily take you down a dark alley as buy you a pint.

Brought to attention two years ago at the Edinburgh and Toronto film festivals with his 60-minute petty thieves-and-their-wives story Smalltime, Meadows' first feature, TwentyFourSeven, is one of the most anticipated debuts for years.

Providing Bob Hoskins with his finest role since Mona Lisa, the East Midlands-set story traces the good-natured Darcy, `a forgotten thirty- something in the Eighties', and his attempts to unify the community's apathetic and unemployed youth by encouraging them to join a boxing club.

"It was about the fallout from the YTS," explains Meadows, checking himself and adding "I'm not political in any way" before launching into a typically passionate tirade.

"It was about people saying, `Kids have got no respect these days, I can't understand them.' What you've got is a government that said we want you to work for 2p a week and in two years time you'll have a ruddy great job. And when you install something like that to a fuck of a lot of people and say this is what's going - and people worked for dog shit, they really did - what happens is, with the nature that the Conservatives work, when this short-term YTS contract of two years was up, the employers thought that the job he was doing anyone could do, so let's fuck him off and get another two-year guy in. How are you supposed to have faith in government plans? It was just getting the numbers down."

With incomplete sentences rapidly falling by the wayside, he pauses. "It's not that I think about this all day long."

Shot in black-and-white for just pounds 1.5 million, TwentyFour Seven's poetic narration cut to street dialogue encapsulates Meadows' own youthful exuberance. As charmingly naive as it is damning, the film throbs with hope and the pulses of a community he knows as his own.

"This was one group of people who I grew up with, who ended up on the streets seeing kids who'd done nothing taking over their jobs, and they would then work for pittance. This film for me is a celebration of these people we would normally be unsure of approaching. I like to give screen time to people that would never normally get a chance. "

Meadows embodied the teenage tearaway. Growing up in Uttoxeter, he killed time, like his characters, skipping school ("I'd only go if I fancied a girl"), and "tapping out shops". Thrown out of school before his GCSEs, Meadows nevertheless experienced an epiphanic moment there. Watching Robert Powell in Jesus of Nazareth "changed something inside of me" and directed him to his calling.

Interested in painting, photography and acting, he combined the disciplines and took to making short films on borrowed camcorders and dole cheques.

Twenty-five short films later, over just two years, and he's the new British hope. His 15-minute gangster homage Where's the Money, Ronnie? won him a Channel One/NFT short film award, attracting the attention of Neil Jordan's collaborator (and TwentyFourSeven's eventual executive producer), Stephen Woolley.

With sensibilities beyond its years, TwentyFourSeven is the film that Trainspotting and Twin Town could never be, deliberately lacking the commercial killer instinct of Danny Boyle or Kevin Allen. Meadows puts personal experience on-screen.

"That was my life. You don't see it as a rut. All you've got is those people around you. When your life's been stripped back to the basics, it can be pretty black and white. If you can get a job, you're working six days a week. There isn't time for the things we take for granted [in Meadows' case, a Sony Playstation].

"TwentyFourSeven is about life that's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a social worker came up and said `I don't want you to do this', it'd show that they have no understanding of what you're living in, so social workers don't have a lot of sway around our way."

Remaining as prolific ever, Meadows intends to remain based in the Midlands: "I lived in Soho for three months while I was editing TwentyFourSeven and it put me right off. There's a warmth you can't get in London that you find in a small community."

Having written a Western called Birdhill (a project he estimates as costing 9 million and one he plans to sell on), he also plans to shoot A Room for Romeo Brass, a project set again in his home country spanning three different lives, and time periods, of inhabitants of the said abode.

"I'm looking next at people like bookshop keepers and newsagents, kids in bed with bad backs. The people that I didn't bang around with when I was a kid. The people I trod on, the way you do with your loud actions - the `we are the town' stuff. I'm looking at people who would've been affected by people like me."

Does Meadows see himself as championing the unsung heroes of this world?

"I've got quite a strong idea over what I want to make over the next 10 years. I think the framework's there for me to be Shane Meadows but the point is I've only gone in one direction so far, looking at the working class in the same way as Ken Loach may have done. Making films is about exorcising parts of me, celebrating parts of my life and community that would have otherwise been looked down upon."

With a defiance that can only have been cultivated years of teenage rebellion, Meadows' spirit remains intact. "People can stop me from making feature films because they cost a lot of money, but I'll make them on High-8 if I have to."

`TwentyFourSeven' is released on 27 March.