When Gavin & Stacey first aired on BBC Three back in 2007, it heralded a quiet comedy revolution. Here was a modern sitcom full of warmth and love, compassion and charm, positivity and laughter (it’s surprising how little actual laughter there is in TV comedy).
What began as a show about the long-distance romance between its title characters morphed into a joyous coming together of their families. The characters, created by writers Ruth Jones and James Corden, embraced their differences and revelled in each other’s eccentricities as a bridge between Billericay in Essex and Barry Island in South Wales was forged out of the love stories at the show’s heart.
Nine years since 10 million of us watched the finale on New Year’s Day 2010, which ended with Gavin and Stacey, Nessa and Smithy together on Barry beach, Gavin & Stacey is back with a Christmas special to warm the coldest of hearts. We caught up with co-creator Ruth Jones about the return of a comedy classic.
The Big Issue: You and James Corden continued to invent possible scenarios for the characters over the last nine years. How did you go from that to firming up plans?
Ruth Jones: It was all about finding time we could both set aside to actually sit in a room together and write! Until we could do that, the whole thing was beyond our reach. So we were thrilled when we found a long weekend last September to map out a story and then a week in February when we could actually write it. We didn’t want to tell anyone about it till we knew we had a story, and we couldn’t do that until we had the chance to spend time together.
Did writing it to see if it worked before going to the BBC take the pressure off?
Yes, absolutely. Neither of us told ANYONE we were writing it except our partners. So we always knew that if we didn’t feel 100 per cent happy about what we’d written, we could quietly put the idea to bed and pretend it had never happened!
How do you feel about it airing on Christmas Day and these beloved characters being part of our family celebrations in 2019?
Well I hope it’ll feel like a nice Christmas present. The great thing about Gavin & Stacey is that it’s about extended family – water is just as thick as blood when it comes to the Shipmans and the Wests. Does that sound a bit wrong? You know what I mean! Nessa and Smithy aren’t blood relatives but they’ve become part of Gavin and Stacey’s family. The show’s very, very Christmassy too. The BBC have been brilliant at supporting us – three cheers for public service broadcasting.
James Corden described the return of the show as “a nostalgic joy-bomb”. Sometimes we just need to be around the people we love – did it feel like that for the cast?
Absolutely. Even though we haven’t all been in the same room together over the past 10 years, we’ve stayed in touch. And when we met up for the readthrough, it was like we’d never been away from each other. We all fell back into our characters so easily. It was gorgeous.
These characters really know how to celebrate Christmas – could that be a reminder of the things that matter at this time of year?
Yes, they all love Christmas. And not because of any grand presents or posh meals, but because of each other’s company. They just love being together. Sometimes they row, but at the heart of it is the big love they have for each other.
Right from the start Gavin & Stacey has been about communities coming together – does that feel like an important message right now?
Absolutely. And one thing I can guarantee is that this year’s Gavin & Stacey Christmas special is 100 per cent Brexit free. It’s also uncynical which is quite refreshing.
Do you feel the warmth of this show is needed?
The two families aren’t families in the conventional sense, and what’s lovely is that these two groups of people only came together because of Gavin and Stacey falling in love with each other. It’s quite random when you think about it. And that’s probably what gives it that warmth. The great thing about comedy is that it’s such a broad church – tastes in comedy vary massively and we’re lucky to have so many different genres and styles of comedy available to us. It’s whatever floats your boat. A satirical political comedy or a daft slapstick comedy may be more someone’s cup of tea than Gavin & Stacey. Aren’t we lucky to have a choice? I do think people warm to, forgive the pun, the warmth in Gavin & Stacey, and hopefully they’ll feel the same about this new Christmas episode.
Were there discussions between yourself and James Corden about the possibility of the characters interacting with the big political issues of the time?
I think it would’ve been a mistake to mention Brexit, because the situation is changing on a daily basis. Also, surely people want a break from it – especially on Christmas Day. Gavin & Stacey has never been political. It’s not that type of show.
Did you speculate on how people would have voted?
We did see a tweet after we’d announced the special, where someone cleverly guessed at how the characters would have voted. And we thought it was quite spot on: Gavin – REMAIN, Stacey – LEAVE, Nessa – REMAIN, Smithy – LEAVE, Mick – REMAIN, Pam – LEAVE, Bryn – REMAIN, Gwen – OMELETTE. Haha!
Are there situations in everyday life when unleashing your inner Nessa comes in handy?
Yes! I remember in particular last summer I was heading up to the Lake District to visit my friend Emma and had to change trains at Manchester. I popped to Marks & Spencer and there was a woman behind me in the queue getting really impatient with me as I packed my reusable bag. She was huffing and puffing. I don’t know why it annoyed me so much but she was so unnecessarily grumpy. I mean, seriously, there are worse things in life than having to wait three minutes in a queue. I found myself calling after her in a really strong Nessa voice, “Oi! Love! Calm down and get a life, alrigh’?” It felt quite liberating.
How has your friendship with James Corden evolved since Gavin & Stacey?
Our friendship is more important than the show. But making the show together is a lovely bonus. We have a very brother/sister relationship and can annoy each other like all brothers and sisters do, but we have a huge love for each other. We’ve watched each other’s lives move along their different courses and we’re always there for each other – albeit usually on the end of the phone.
Now you two have written one special episode, are you and James sharing new scenarios for the characters even more – it’s an open-ended opportunity for you to announce another series if you like!
Ha. Can’t we just enjoy THIS special for now rather than leaping ahead to a possible next one? It’s like if someone gives you a present, do you pull off the wrapping paper then toss it aside looking for the next present to open, or do you enjoy what’s been gifted you? Having said that, I’m sure James and I will keep sending each other possible scenarios or lines of dialogue well into our dotage! I think it’s because secretly we think these characters really do exist.
Gavin & Stacey airs on Christmas Day on BBC One