The return of Gavin & Stacey to our TV screens after ten years away will be one of the must-see shows on Christmas Day.
But it nearly didn’t happen after its stars and writers, James Corden and Ruth Jones, deemed an early draft of the script so ‘awful’ that they decided to pull the plug.
In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday’s Event magazine, the pair reveal that they had an awkwardly subdued dinner together after making the decision to abandon the comeback – but over the meal they came up with an idea to save the show.
The stars and writers of the show, James Corden and Ruth Jones, deemed an early draft of the script so ‘awful’ that they initially decided to pull the plug
Jones, 53, who plays Nessa, says: ‘When we did our first read-through it just wasn’t working. We just stopped everything. It was a horrible feeling… it felt absolutely awful.
‘We both had to admit it was over. So we sat down to dinner with our partners after making the decision to stop. Obviously the mood wasn’t great, and we had this very pedestrian conversation as we sat around the table.
‘But within two or three hours, we’d worked up that exact pedestrian conversation into this perfect Gavin and Stacey scene. Then James started crying because it was a completely unexpected breakthrough and it was just perfect. I cried too.
‘It was very emotional because somehow we’d got it back. We knew we could make it happen. And then – bang! – we were on a roll. Everything just worked and we had that spark back.’
Gavin & Stacey will return to television screens on Christmas Day after a ten-year hiatus. Pictured: Stacey (Joanna Page) and Nessa (Ruth Jones) in a scene from the Christmas special
Corden, who plays Smithy, adds: ‘There was a moment, a very long moment, when we thought there was absolutely no way we could bring it back.’
The show’s return was a surprise given that Cordon, 41, is now a successful daily talk show host in America.
And he refused to be drawn on whether the Christmas special would be the last we will see of the show, replying: ‘Let’s just see what people think.’
Trying to rekindle the comedy magic of Gavin & Stacey after a ten year break left the pair in floods of tears.
‘We thought we’d blown it,’ admits James Corden to Event Magazine, as he revealed the details of the traumatic rebirth of Gavin & Stacey as a Christmas special.
Corden had just finished filming for his hugely successful chat show, The Late Late Show With James Corden.
The pair have so far refused to say whether the Christmas special would be last ever episode of the Gavin & Stacey series
They said that trying to rekindle the comedy magic of Gavin & Stacey after a ten year break left the pair in floods of tears
He is now a Hollywood star, but today there are two rather less glamorous corners of the United Kingdom on his mind – Barry in South Wales and Billericay in Essex. There are hints of tears in his eyes.
It is clear how important this hour-long Christmas special is to him and co-writer Ruth Jones, who is sitting beside him today.
It is the show about Welsh girl Stacey (Joanna Page) who falls in love with Essex boy Gavin (Mathew Horne) and the hilarious coming together of two sets of friends and families that Corden and Jones created 15 years ago when they were both single, jobbing actors thinking of ways to get themselves work.
It became a British institution and a Bafta-winning comedy phenomenon, kick-starting both their careers and spawning a Gavin & Stacey vocabulary – ‘lush’, ‘cracking’, ‘What’s occurring?’
It led to Jones becoming a major comedy actress, writer and producer, while Corden is now of the biggest British stars in the US, and the Carpool Karaoke segment from his chat show – featuring him singing pop songs while driving a car with A-listers such as Paul McCartney, Céline Dion and Michael Bublé – has been watched hundreds of millions of times.
But Gavin & Stacey became a victim of the success of its two biggest stars, who completed the third and final series of the sitcom in 2009 and refused to bow to pressure to write any more.
Ruth Jones as Nessa and James Corden as Smithy in the first series refused to bow to pressure to write any more after series three in 2009
That is, until they got together in secret earlier this year to see if they could rekindle the old Barry Island magic.
Jones, 53, who went on to write and star in the critically acclaimed comedy Stella and co-found Tidy Productions, says, ‘We’d never really stopped thinking about it.
‘Over the past ten years we had these conversations, or sent each other lines that one of the characters would say, or came up with a Gavin & Stacey situation and have a laugh together, but we never really committed to anything.
‘Every time we were asked if there would be any more – and we have been asked thousands of times – we would say no.
‘And then we were talking one day – at this point ten years had passed since we finished the show – and we thought it was time to see if anything was still there.’
In almost military secrecy, they got together in February at the £7.5million Los Angeles mansion Corden shares with his wife, Julia Carey, and their three children, to thrash out a script. ‘We didn’t even tell our mums,’ says Jones.
‘And I had to keep inventing reasons why I was going to Los Angeles to see my friends. We couldn’t be pictured together because the whole world would start thinking, “Oh yes… Gavin & Stacey is back”. We said absolutely nothing to anyone.’
The cast of the Christmas series (from left to right): Rob Wilfort, Joanna Page, Mathew Horne, James Corden, Ruth Jones, Alison Steadman, Melanie Waters, Rob Brydon and Larry Lamb
The luxurious backdrop of the five-bedroom home where Corden now lives – complete with swimming pool, fire pit and rolling lawns – was a far cry from the dingy hotels in Leeds where the pair had first worked on scripts.
We are sitting together on a large sofa tucked away in the corner of the studio. Corden – looking groomed and expensive in a perfectly fitting suit – has just come from recreating a scene from Fight Club with one of the film’s original stars, Ed Norton, and tomorrow he has to be up at the crack of dawn to wait at LA airport for Kanye West to pick him up in a plane for an interview and an ‘Airpool Karaoke’.
‘If he turns up,’ jokes Corden wrily. (We discover the following day that indeed he did.)
Jones, hair in rollers, listens as Corden speaks, laughing at his tales of crazy celebrities like a proud older sister.
Outside, the weather remains relentlessly stifling and totally at odds with the festive props and baubles decorating the studio. The mood inside is, as Nessa would say, ‘absolutely cracking’.
‘I’m really nervous about it, terrified,’ laughs Corden.
It feels as if very little has changed in the world of Gavin and Stacey despite the episode taking place a decade on. Pictured: Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) battles with a domestic crisis in a scene from the new episode
‘Of everything I have ever done in my career, this means the most, because this was really the start of everything. I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m going to be back in England on Christmas Day watching the show with everyone else, just waiting for all the texts and messages to come in.
‘Me and Ruth will be texting each other non-stop as it goes out on air. All we want is for people to love it as much as we do.’
The show will fast-forward ten years to the present day to catch up with lovebirds Gavin and Stacey alongside Gavin’s best mate Smithy (Corden) and the fearsome, leather-mini-skirted Nessa (Jones), as well as original characters Mick and Pam Shipman (Alison Steadman and Larry Lamb), Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon), Stacey’s mum Gwen (Melanie Walters) and brother Jason (Robert Wilfort).
Although the episode takes place a decade on, it feels as if very little has changed in the world of Gavin and Stacey – bar the fact that there is now a new generation of Shipmans and baby Neil is ten years old.
With Christmas coming, the Essex crew are preparing to descend upon Barry for the big day, which means Smithy and Nessa are reunited once more.
Alcohol is flowing, spirits are high and it’s not just the fairy lights that are sparking electricity through those gathered in the pub. But where it really sparks is a closely kept secret only to be revealed on the day itself.
After writing the scripts, Corden and Jones set about contacting the original cast, but the calls often went unanswered as the actors had long since given up hope of the show ever returning.
Corden’s calls to Walters (Stacey’s mum) were dismissed by the actress as a scam from a foreign mobile, and she only phoned back when he left a voicemail.
Jones’s calls to Joanna Page likewise went unanswered. When she finally responded, she thought Jones was calling her to warn about naked pictures online. (‘I have no idea why I thought that as there aren’t any. I just had no clue why Ruth would be calling me,’ she later recalled.)
Jones adds, ‘And then she just started screaming ‘F***, F***, F***’ down the phone – it was the funniest response.’
A Gavin & Stacey WhatsApp group was set up under the code name ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’; Steadman came up with the pseudonym when she ran into Brydon at an awards ceremony.
‘She came up to me asking me if I could believe it, and she was so excited about Gilbert and Sullivan,’ the actor recalls.
‘I’m a bit thick so I didn’t get it at first. I thought she’d been in a drama that I’d missed so I actually told her I’d seen it and hoped she’d get an award. It was only a few minutes later I realised what she meant. I think we were all so stunned and so desperate to keep everything quiet.’
If this Christmas special captures the public’s imagination it will be testament to Corden and Jones’s 15-year friendship.
The more we talk, the more it becomes clear that for them the real significance of Gavin & Stacey is their unique bond, the confidence they gave each other, and the reliance they still have on each other.
‘It’s the reason why it means so much,’ says Corden.
‘I have a relationship with Ruth that is like no other. We can say terrible things to each other, laugh at each other, get cross and impatient with each other. We are like brother and sister. But we have each other’s back, which is such a rare thing in this business. If anyone did anything to Ruth I would walk through fire to sort them out.’
The pair met on the set of the Kay Mellor TV series Fat Friends. Jones played Kelly Chadwick, who worked in a fish-and-chip shop but was desperate to lose weight; Corden played Jamie Rymer, a schoolboy pushed to attempting suicide after being bullied about his size.
They became friends one night after finding themselves at the hotel bar with no other member of the cast to talk to.
‘I had just been to a wedding in Barry where the bride had married a guy from Essex, so I started telling Ruth about it because, obviously, she’s from Wales,’ Corden recalls.
‘We just started talking and laughing about it, and then she said, “We need to write this.” Honestly, I didn’t think about it but she kept on at me, and in 2005 we started writing an eight-page proposal for a one-hour, one-off show called “It’s My Day”. We wrote it in hotel rooms in between working and then sent it off to Stuart Murphy [the former controller of BBC Three]. We got a letter back saying, ‘Write it as a series. If you do that this could be one of the best things the BBC has ever done.’ Corden still has the letter to this day.
Murphy was right. With its hilariously familiar characters – the omelette-making Gwen, the pedantic optimist Uncle Bryn, eternal teenager Smithy and grumpy rocker Nessa – the show took off like a rocket.
Corden and Jones – along with the rest of the cast – became overnight stars and two of the most in-demand writers and actors in the country.
But both handled fame in an entirely different way. While Corden ran towards the acclaim and stardom with open arms, Jones, who is now married to the producer David Peet, remained in Wales.
‘I remember at the first Baftas that we won an award, James was so excited about the after-show party with all these stars, and I drove back home to Wales in my car.’ She laughs. ‘That just about sums us up.’
Corden went on to host The Brit Awards and A League Of Their Own, but then faced a backlash after a critical mauling was given to Horne & Corden, a comedy sketch show with Mathew Horne.
He then turned everything around again by winning huge acclaim for the West End show One Man, Two Guvnors, which he took to Broadway in 2012, winning a Tony award for his role and propelling him to stardom in America.
Guests on his show have included Elton John, Mariah Carey and Adele. But it also spelled the end of Gavin & Stacey, with Corden and Jones too committed to other work to do a fourth series.
There were also difficult times, especially when Corden was constantly snapped falling out of nightclubs with the likes of Horne, Lily Allen and Liam Gallagher, but Jones steps in to defend him. ‘It wasn’t a drama,’ she says.
‘James was really young and having a good time. It’s been so exaggerated.’
Corden nods. ‘It’s just a phase you go through, like your university years.’ He pauses.
‘I do remember one night when things got really crazy. I knew there was one place I had to go. I turned up in Cardiff, a bit all over the place and Ruth lay me down on her sofa and I slept for nine hours straight. I needed just to be with her, away from everything. It was a massive thing for me to have her there.’
They describe each other as their best friends and therapists. Jones is often questioned about whether she has ever felt jealous of Corden’s stellar success but she says the opposite is true.
‘I feel proud of him,’ she says. ‘I have the life I want. I love being in Wales, I love my family, I love my work and I always knew James could conquer the world and that he would. And it all started with this little idea we had that night in the hotel bar.’
They are incredibly protective of each other and their show. No spoilers slip from their lips, but Jones reveals a few nuggets about filming the show in Barry Island.
When they shot the first series, local kids would throw stones at the cast, but the show has now become a tourist attraction, with coaches turning up to watch the filming.
‘It was a bit crazy,’ she says. ‘We were filming in the middle of the heat of summer, we had so much to get though and every day more and more people would turn up.’
Corden laughs. ‘And she came up with a way to deal with everyone.’
Jones says, ‘The best thing about getting the leather mini-skirt and the Nessa tattoos back on is that I could actually become Nessa. I would walk over to the crowds when we needed them to be quiet and shout “Back off! Can’t you see we’re busy here?” Everyone loved it and it actually worked.’
More to the point, the show has worked. The magic is back. It’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s warm, it’s filled with cracking one-liners and leaves you wanting more. And this is now the question: will there be more?
Corden smiles. ‘Well let’s just see what people think.’
‘Gavin & Stacey’ is on BBC1 on Christmas Day