Gavin & Stacey is coming back, and this is big news. After almost a decade of pleading from fans, and denials and downright refusals from the writers, James Corden and Ruth Jones are taking us back to Barry and Essex at the end of the year for a one-off Christmas special; back to a sitcom populated by families we have come to know and love as our own – even if they are all named after serial killers (the Shipmans, the Wests and Dawn and Pete, the Sutcliffes).
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One hungover Sunday during a recent bank holiday weekend, me and my wife re-watched the entire series back-to-back on Gold, where it is regularly repeated alongside other British comedy classics like Fawlty Towers and The Office – and, yes, it is of as high a calibre, and as endlessly re-watchable, as both of them.
While we were watching, we didn’t dare consult the programme guide because we didn’t want to find out that the current episode was the last of the day. That meant that every time the announcer told us there was a new one coming there was a small cheer and an excuse to top up the G&Ts. And it strikes me now that that is pretty much the perfect way to watch G&S – a little worse for wear and with a drink in hand.
You might say alcohol is at the heart of the show. After all, it played a big part in bringing Gavin and Stacey together; it led to Nessa, Smithy and that toilet brush’s unspeakable first time together, and to Neil the baby (via an evening bonding over a chicken bucket and salivating over the last corn on the cob, dripping with butter and sexual tension).
It also featured heavily in the impromptu house party that saw the Shipmans and the Wests coming together as they danced around the living room to Madness’s House of Fun, and in Bryn’s first night out since the late 1970s. And it was drink that Pete turned to after he and Dawn’s ill-fated meet-up with young Seth, who decided the couple’s 15-year-old photos had been misleading and that a threesome was not on the cards after all.
But of course it’s not really the booze that Gavin & Stacey is about. It’s the big moments in life, and the small ones, the joys and sorrows (but mostly the joys), the exquisitely drawn characters and the brilliantly observed foibles of British life – the zed beds, the ritual ordering of the family take-away, the heat-proof oven gloves that can change a man’s life.
That’s why Gavin & Stacey returning is such big news – and such a big responsibility for the writers. Because so far it’s perfect, and that includes the ending.
The final series saw ups and downs for Gavin and Stacey – Gavin’s move to Barry, their problems getting pregnant (then, 36 pregnancy tests later, actually getting pregnant) – while all-out war between Nessa and Smithy slowly turned to a grudging respect and then to a kind of affection as they realised how much they had in common.
And it ended with the four of them sitting on the wall at Barry beach, eating fish and chips, making fun of Smithy for turning Welsh and laughing together as the camera pulled slowly out and away, leaving Barry Island behind.
If you’re going to mess with perfection like that, you have to get it right, so the pressure is on Corden and Jones. But Christmas feels like the ideal time to bring the clans back together. True, it’s already been done once (between series two and three) but family festivities offer so much material that a second go feels like it could work without the need to repeat the same jokes.
And there are lots of questions we need answering (and some that should probably remain a mystery*): did Gavin and Stacey have a girl or a boy? What did they call it? What is Neil the baby like at 11 years old? And is he still called Neil the baby? How are Smithy and Nessa getting on? What really happened between Bryn and Jason on that fishing trip?* And did Pete ever get his own oven gloves?
In the end, we have to trust the people who gave us three series of heartwarming comedy to deliver again one more time.
Corden and Jones say “bringing the characters back has been a joy” and that feels like a good sign. After all, it’s joy, not alcohol, that’s really at the heart of Gavin & Stacey.
Gavin & Stacey returns to BBC1 for a one-off special this Christmas