It’s unbelievably sad to say goodbye to Stella. The world right now could do with more shows founded on such deep-rooted kindness and such an easy way with a laugh.
Over six series and 58 episodes since 2012 we’ve followed the ups, downs and sideways moves of Stella Jackson née Morris (Ruth Jones), her extended family, friends and other inhabitants of fictional Pontyberry in south Wales.
The larger-than-life, eccentric pobol y cwm are all written and played with huge affection, and over the years we’ve seen actors of the calibre of Steve Speirs, Owen Teale, Maggie Steed and Joanna Scanlan come and go, not to mention celebrity cameos from Neil Kinnock, Robert Plant, Jonathan Ross and, hilariously, effing-and-jeffing rugby international Scott Quinnell.
This final season alone has seen Matt Lucas, Darren Day and Frank Williams (Dad’s Army’s Vicar) head for the happy valley… and what a season it’s been. Creator/head writer Ruth Jones has put us through the wringer over Stella’s crumbling marriage to solicitor Michael (Patrick Baladi). Not to mention the Baby Holly conundrum, the real identity of Aunty Brenda’s father and Stella’s ongoing angst over the recently deceased Rob.
One of Stella’s great strengths has always been to stack up the big laughs right next to the heart-rending drama – without that juxtaposition ever jarring. And the finale delivers both in spades, with the central relationship finally resolved, the truth about Rob’s brother Will (Darren Day) exposed and one “will they/won’t they” question finally answered.
It’s a satisfying, beautifully structured conclusion, darting from hilarious to heartbreaking in the blink of an eye, and if there’s any justice in the world it will win awards.
If a show can create a handful of memorable characters that stay with its audience, then it has done well; Stella had dozens, for whom spin-off series could easily be justified. Apart from the selfless, lovable lead there’s perma-tanned valleys princess Nadine (Karen Paullada); Stella’s centre-of-calm first flame Rob (Mark Lewis Jones); her tipple-toting best friend Paula (Elizabeth Berrington); camp, salt-of-the-earth undertaker Bobby (Aled Pugh); eager-to-please publican Jagadeesh (Pal Aron); epically lazy man-catcher Beyoncé (Remy Beasley); unsuccessful but eternally cheerful Yanto (Russell Gomer); Pontyberry’s profanity-spewing Mother Hubbard, Rhian (Maxine Evans); and of course the formidable Aunty Brenda, played with such comic vim by Di Botcher. The list goes on…
The show’s younger cast has been excellent, too, with plenty for Stella’s kids to get their teeth into: Catrin Stewart as Emma, Justin Davies as Ben and Craig Gallivan as Luke. Gallivan’s scenes with Jones in the final episode are stunningly well acted.
And for its many admirers, watching an episode of Stella is like catching up with members of their own family.
At a special screening of the finale in central London on Monday, Ruth Jones and her husband David Peet who created the programme referred to that close-knit atmosphere as they thanked their cast and crew.
“In just seven years,” Jones told them, “we’ve shared in each other’s joys and sorrows, we’ve made friends… we’ve celebrated numerous engagements and marriages, we’ve rejoiced in babies born and mourned the loss of loved ones. We shared all this like a family.
“David and I are blessed to have enjoyed this wonderful journey with you and we look forward to the next time. It’s been stunning, presh. So long for now.”
Goodbye Stella: we’ll miss you.
Stella concludes on Sky 1 at 9.00pm on Wednesday 18 October