Hit sitcom Gavin & Stacey returned to the BBC last Christmas – and was so good the special will be repeated this Christmas Eve in a primetime slot at 8:40pm.
As well as making stars of cast members such as James Corden and Ruth Jones, it was the Barry Island and Essex locations have become just as iconic, with the Welsh setting so important that several cast members will be reuniting for a festive BBC Radio Wales show on Christmas Day.
But did you know that in reality, almost all of Gavin & Stacey is filmed in Wales, even those scenes supposedly set in Billericay? And that the houses used are actual real-life homes in South Wales? And it’s fair to say that becoming the home of Gavin & Stacey has changed the face of Barry forever.
“The first time we ever filmed in Barry, we were only doing a travelling shot, and there were kids throwing rocks at us,” star Larry Lamb recalled during a Q&A for the 2019 Christmas special. “The police had to give us an escort.
“By the next time we were filming in Barry it had all moved on, so we wanted to film on the Bank Holiday weekend on the beach, and they said we could have the beach.
“The next time we went there was for the Christmas special and we were so inundated with people. Every time you moved there were people there. There were like 300, 400 people at both ends of Trinity Street (where Gwen’s house is located) every time we did it. It was quite extraordinary.
“What it’s done for them is extraordinary, and they really appreciate it, they love it, they feel a part of it. It’s been good for me, it’s been good for everybody.”
Check out our locations guide below for more details…
Pam and Mick’s house in Billericay, Essex
The big surprise for many about Gavin & Stacey is that Essex scenes aren’t actually shot in Essex, with various South Wales locations standing in instead.
The most notable of these locations – Gav’s family home, the house owned by Pam (Alison Steadman) and Mick Shipman (Lamb) – is actually in Dinas Powys, Wales, making it easier to move between various key locations.
Previously in the series other Essex locations – for example the Colcot Arms, where Smithy (James Corden) does his pub quiz – were also actually in Wales, so anyone driving round Billericay looking for photo opportunities will be disappointed.
Gwen’s house in Wales
The most important filming location for the Welsh portion of Gavin & Stacey is Trinity Street, Barry Island, which boasts the real-life terraced houses used by Gwen (Melanie Waters), Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) and foul-mouthed neighbour Doris (Margaret John).
“I think all the people on the street, they were very, very welcoming,” co-creator Ruth Jones said at a screening of the 2019 Christmas episode.
“I mean I’m sure there will be one or two people who weren’t happy we were there, that’s understandable, but genuinely speaking, we had a really lovely welcome back to Trinity Street.”
And when it came to shooting the 2019 Christmas special, co-creator Ruth Jones had to do some very subtle location scouting to see if one key location on this road was still available…
“We’re very lucky that Glenda, who owned Gwen’s house, was still there and she let us in again,” Jones said.
“I went down to see her actually, before anybody knew we were doing this, I thought, I’m going to have to find out what’s happening in Barry because are we going to be able use those houses again?
“I feel ashamed of myself – I took my niece as a decoy, because when I’ve been back to Barry sometimes there are people who are taking photos of the outside of the house and if they see me on my own, it might start suspicions going. So I took my 9 year old niece, who doesn’t know anything about it – ‘let’s show you where Auntie Ruth used to film a television programme’.
“So, I took her and had some photos taken outside so I could just say, I’m just showing my niece, and Glenda was there, and she invited us in. So, we went inside and I was just saying, ‘So you’re still here then, oh be great to stay in touch Glenda, you got your mobile number?’.
“Cos I was thinking at some point somebody is going to want to get in touch with her and ask if we can do it – and what a star she is, because she did let us into her house again, and it was fantastic.”
Traditionally, the real-life interior of Glenda’s house had been shot for the interiors of Gwen’s, though this time for the 2019 Christmas special the sheer size of the cast meant that an additional studio set had to be built.
“Gwen’s house, we had to build a set, in the studios, because we had 13 people and presents and it was just too small, so we built Gwen’s house,” Mathew Horne said.
“Obviously we used the outside and the corridor and they used the toilet.”
“We didn’t really use the set much,” added Jones.
Various scenes in the series are also filmed on “the island” portion of Barry itself, specifically the seafront beach, amusement arcades and cafés popular with tourists, and the spot where Gavin and Stacey memorably first declare their love for each other in season one (specifically “The Square”, Barry Island) and rekindle their romance in the 2019 Christmas special.
Filming there was a bit trickier than the cast imagined…
“I don’t know whether you’ve been on Barry Island on a Friday night at 1am, but trying to film an intimate scene there is not easy,” Horne laughed.
“We were so flipping tired and there were lots of people who had come to watch and they were shouting things out and everything, and we were both quite nervous because we thought, we want to get this scene right,” Page agreed.
Jones, however, came up with a novel way of shooing away the fans…
“Lots of people would come and watch us film in Barry, but sometimes you couldn’t get up the road or we needed someone to be quiet or something, especially when we were filming in the arcade, on that very last day,” she said.
“I was able to go out there, and rather than like as Ruth Jones go, ‘Would you mind ever so being quiet while we film this?’ – I was able to go out and go, ‘Oh! We’re trying to film in there now come on have some respect’ [in Nessa’s voice].
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“Because I think sometimes what happens is that sometimes people want to get photos with you and because they get excited they put their arms around you and what’s great is as Nessa I can go, ‘Oh love, don’t manhandle me, who do you think you are?’.
“And I remember one guy coming up to me, completely topless in the heat of Barry Island, and he wanted to put his arm around me and I happened to know him, I won’t say his name, but I was able to go ‘Oh love, back off’.”
In-show locations like Marco’s Café, the “Nessa’s slots” arcade (actually called Island Leisure) and many more are actually real businesses and can be visited by fans, with many offering photo opportunities and merchandise.