Like all the best comedies, Gavin & Stacey became a cultural touchstone in Britain after it launched in 2007.
There are easy ways to measure this, like the hatful of awards it took home, and the step ladder it provided creator James Corden on his way to stardom in the U.S. But there are also the intangible things that swirl around great comedies, like the catchphrases that infiltrate everyday conversation, or the memes that flood your timeline.
Either way, what started as a simple show about a blind date that brings together people from two bewilderingly different backgrounds, has grown into a cherished landmark in UK television history.
It was why, even 12 years on, Corden and Gavin & Stacey‘s co-writer Ruth Jones were still regularly asked if they would ever return to the split worlds of Barry Island and Billericay they created for BBC Three. They found many ways to say “no” — until May 2019 that was, when they suddenly said “yes.” Corden tweeted a picture of the script, with the caption: “Ruth Jones and I have been keeping this secret for a while.”
His revelation that the show was returning for a one-off special lit-up the internet (his tweet alone got nearly 300,000 likes) and provided BBC One with the jewel in the crown of its Christmas Day line-up. But getting to that point, and keeping the plans under wraps, was no easy task, as Jones explained at a screening in London to celebrate the return of Gavin & Stacey.
“The intention was always there [to bring the show back], even though I always used to lie in the press and say, ‘No, we’re not doing anymore.’ Because until we absolutely knew we had something, there was no point in telling anybody,” she explained. “We wanted to be sure it was going to be good.”
In the years that Gavin & Stacey was off-air, Corden and Jones would regularly exchange messages with lines and ideas for characters, she said. In one message, Jones adapted the lyrics to Adele’s song Hello for her character Nessa Jenkins, changing the word “hello” to “alright” to suit her thick Welsh lilt.
“Every now and again, one of us would say, ‘Shall we do another one?'” Jones said, but it was not until last year that their conversations became serious and they found time in their diaries to create a special episode after quickly dismissing the idea of doing a fourth series.
They first came together in September 2018, with Corden emptying his schedule by recording back-to-back episodes of his CBS show, The Late Late Show With James Corden, and Jones flying out to Los Angeles for a long weekend. Over that handful of days, they broke the back of a plot for the hour-long episode. Five months later, Jones was out in LA again to get writing — this time for a week.
Jones deflected questions from friends about her U.S. jet setting, telling them it was for a vacation. The truth was somewhat different. “We weren’t lapping up the LA sunshine, we were stuck indoors writing. We spent that whole week, and got to the end. It was a bit of a journey, there was some times where we thought this isn’t happening, let’s not do it,” she recalled.
In the end, their decision to push ahead hinged on one crucial scene in the Gavin & Stacey special. Featuring the title characters, it’s the glue that sticks the whole thing together, giving the show purpose and a gut-punch of emotion for anyone who knows about keeping the flame of romance alive in a long-term relationship.
“Every time I see that scene, the acting by Mathew Horne and Joanna Page is just superb,” Jones said of the two stars who bring her and Corden’s words to life. “That’s what we realized was the heart of the show. Once we got that, everything else was just a joy and a bonus. Every time I watch that scene I cry or get goosebumps. “
Filming took place over a two-week period in the summer, with Jones having to make a discreet pre-production visit to a house in Wales to see if it was still available to be the home of Gwen (Melanie Walters), the setting for much of the special. She and Corden personally phoned the cast to get them all on board.
The special — produced by Corden’s Fulwell 73 Productions, Baby Cow and Jones’ Tidy Productions — is like a greatest hits at times, with each character lining up to do their turn as they come together for Christmas dinner in Wales. But it’s all carried off with a lightness of touch that will make fans feel like the show has never been away.
Several members of the cast were present at the November screening and some were overcome with emotion having seen the episode for the first time. It was an unashamed love-in, as they reflected on reuniting after a decade and stepping into the shoes of their characters again.
“I think it’s the best episode we’ve ever done,” said Horne. Rob Brydon, The Trip star who plays the irrepressible Uncle Bryn, summed up the mood neatly when he said: “It was the happiest job I’ve ever done.”
Whether this is the last time they get together remains to be seen. The show’s dramatic conclusion will certainly leave people wanting more, but Jones was enigmatic about going again. “Obviously there is room for it to move on, but all I’m going to say now is, who knows?” she said. Fans can rest assured that if Gavin & Stacey‘s Christmas special is the last hurrah, it will be a fitting farewell to a national treasure.
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