Here co-creator Ruth Jones looks back on the making of the Gavin & Stacey Christmas special – and fills us in on what’s been happening to her character Nessa since the series ended…
How did the idea of a Christmas special first come about? Was it you and James Corden who went to the BBC with an idea, or did they come to you?
If I remember rightly, we didn’t have time to write a new series after series two, but a Christmas special was viable. We had a couple of weeks in the middle of summer to write it and filmed it the following October.
We always knew getting the Wests and the Shipmans together at Christmas would be a joy, and we’d get to bring to everyone’s attention all those little Christmas foibles that everyone recognises: like white Toblerone – does it really exist? – Christmas cards that only contain the sender’s name, and wrapping Christmas presents being such a pain. Why not just use tin foil?
Were there any ‘festive foibles’ that were drawn straight from real life then?
The Christmas card issue was a particular annoyance. Like, you know, everyone gets cards every year ‘from John’. Who’s JOHN? Which John? I know four Johns! What’s the point of even spending money on the stamp just to say ‘from John’?
And also the stress around the turkey prep: whose instructions do we follow? Jamie’s? Nigella’s? Delia’s? And then there’s always the really awful present, like ‘talc’. What actually is talc? One of my favourite moments is when Nessa and Dave give everyone a solitary Celebration chocolate. And Gwen gets the Bounty. No comment.
Did you do anything to get into the Christmas spirit on set?
We filmed it in October and I remember everyone got struck down with flu so we had to have an on-set doctor. But for the most part it was really good fun. The Christmas dinner was actually a proper dinner cooked in Pam’s pretend kitchen! And it was lush.
Writing it was really weird though: we were in a really hot hotel in the West End in the middle of summer and we tried to save money by not ordering room service, and tried to make boiled eggs by putting two raw eggs in the insulated ice bucket and filling it with boiling water hoping they would cook. They didn’t and they were disgusting. And Christmas seemed a very long way away.
Can you remember whose idea it was for Smithy to sing Do They Know It’s Christmas in the car? Nice to see James is still making use of his car singing voice in the States…
Yeah but I don’t think it’ll catch on!
I honestly can’t remember whose idea it was. I remember us laughing about Midge Ure and the idea that Smithy would think his name was actually Mature. Like Mature Cheddar?
Have you watched the episode back since?
I’ve seen it a couple of times. It makes me feel proud, silly, sad, happy, old and very very Christmassy. Such happy times writing it, and a joy to film because by then we were a big happy family and it was like we were all getting together for Christmas.
On a personal level I love the Santa’s grotto scenes because my nephew Zakk played the little boy sat on Nessa’s lap. Zakk is now 18 and drives a car, but he was this cute little kid back then!
Nessa is working down the slots and training Neil the Baby to follow in her footsteps, showing him how to weight the pennies in the penny falls and fix the grabbing machine. She’s still got the Santa’s Grotto going, of course she has. But Dave Coaches is no longer involved. He’s in prison doing 18 months for fraud. He’s been replaced by Bryn, who dresses up as Joseph. Or a sheep sometimes.
Smithy has got FOUR Christmas dinners to eat this year: as well as his own mother’s he’s got Pam and Mick’s, Lucy’s AND Lucy’s Nan’s who’s now in a home. He actually goes to the Home.
And finally, we’re sure you’re not going to tell us but we can’t help asking: what really happened on the fishing trip?
I couldn’t possibly say… but be assured it was legal. In this country.
Watch the whole of Gavin & Stacey series one and the Christmas special on BBC iPlayer