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Contemporary Wales
Contemporary Wales

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9.2.3 Gavin and Stacey

Although not made in Wales, the BBC comedy series Gavin and Stacey (2007) offers one representation of Wales and the Welsh that has reached the highest possible profile. Rob Brydon, one of the show’s leading actors said of Gavin and Stacey, ‘What it’s done is create a version of Wales that’s palatable to everyone, something which I don’t think anyone’s managed before’ (Jewell, 2009, p. 62).

Brydon’s comments probably stem from what most have seen as the unusual warmth and generosity of a show within a genre that has grown increasingly cynical and dependent on aggressive satire. If that makes Gavin and Stacey seem a little anodyne, it is worth also considering this view of perhaps the best known of the show’s Welsh characters:

Large and masculine, sexual and feminine, Nessa’s Welshness is overt and tangible, with her upper arm decorated with a tattoo of a Welsh dragon. It can be reasonably argued that Nessa is a breakthrough character in British situation comedy history – here is a woman who is unconventionally attractive, sexually voracious and clearly independent of any male influence.

(Jewell, 2009, p. 63)

In some ways, the creation of Nessa (Ruth Jones) typifies Gavin and Stacey’s ability to subvert expectations. If conventional situation comedy has traditionally used larger women exclusively as objects of derision, then Gavin and Stacey places one at the controlling heart of the action. Arguably perhaps, Nessa’s Welshness is secondary to what she has to say about gender, but the fact that the overtly Welsh Ruth Jones not only plays the character but is the co-writer of the series makes a powerful contribution to changing perceptions not only of the range of possibilities for women in situation comedy, but for Welsh identity as well.

Gavin and Stacey offers a vision of Wales through the vehicle of a spectacularly successful comedy that takes many traditional features of Wales – strong local community, close family ties and so on. Indeed, the characters in Gavin and Stacey offer representations of Welsh life that are by turns warm, generous and outrageously subversive.

Doug Peters/Empics Entertainment/Press Association Images
Figure 23 Ruth Jones, Rob Brydon, and Joanna Page in a photograph for Comic Relief 2009. This event featured a cover version of ‘Islands in the Stream’, retitled ‘(Barry) Islands in the Stream’, by Brydon and Jones after its appearance in Gavin and Stacey, further increasing the profile of the comedy hit.