Cultural Phenomenon; How Is Welshness Represented in Gavin & Stacey? and What Is the Secret of Its Success? Dr John Jewell of Cardiff University Asks Why We Loves It
THERE is little doubt that Gavin & Stacey has become the British comedic phenomenon of recent years.
Instantly acclaimed by influential broadcasting figures when series one was broadcast in 2007, it went on to win numerous accolades at the British Comedy Awards and the Baftas.
Before the second series was aired in 2008, a Guardian leader lavished praise on the show stating it was the nearest the BBC had come in years to a home-grown sitcom that was both modern and funny, proclaiming it to be the "true successor to Only Fools and Horses".
Recently, Tory leader David Cameron has revealed himself to be a fan. In a collection of conversations with GQ editor Dylan Jones, Jones stated that one morning he met Cameron who "had just finished watching the last episode of the first series of the BBC3 hit comedy Gavin & Stacey and had not only fallen in love with it but had started talking to people in the strong Welsh accent used by one of the show's main characters".
Last year, when Barry-born Olympic swimmer David Davies won his silver medal in Beijing, he said to the BBC, minutes after the race: "If anyone is listening, I'd love a cameo role in Gavin & Stacey".
When told that this might happen, Davies proclaimed that it was the best thing to happen to him that day!
It is incidents such as these, together with reports that the show is to be remade for American television, that have led commentators to suggest that the programme has gone from being a minor comic classic to cultural phenomenon.
Indeed, when series two began its airing on BBC3 in March 2008 it received the channel's second highest ratings for a comedy ever, some 1.7 million viewers, behind Little Britain, which attracted 1.9 million in October 2004.
And great things are expected from series three.
Moreover, Gavin & Stacey exists within a climate where according to The Times, there has been a "Welsh renaissance within Wales - the Millennium Stadium, the Assembly, the film crews on every street corner. And suddenly, it is not just the Welsh who are excited about Wales. It is everybody".
Rob Brydon, who plays Uncle Bryn has said: "What (Gavin & Stacey) has done is create a version of Wales that's palatable to everyone, something which I don't think anyone's managed before.
"Along with that, Doctor Who, Torchwood and winning the Grand Slam, I don't think there's ever been a better time to be Welsh since the mid-1970s."
Much of the comedy in Gavin & Stacey derives from the representation of Wales and Welshness and then the cultural differences between Barry and Billericay. And though, as Raymond Williams pointed out some time ago, in terms of the relationship between England and Wales, we have moved on somewhat from the old perspectives of England as conqueror, coloniser, exploiter and big neighbour, some tensions still exist.
Welshness cannot exist in a vacuum and must be defined in relation to another culture - and that culture is usually English culture.
With this in mind, there are various aspects of Gavin & Stacey which employ traditional aspects of Welsh life contrasted with English life - such as egalitarian social attitudes, love of locality, strong kinship ties, scattered and small scale close knit communities and good neighbourliness.
This is established at the very beginning of series one: a screen caption states that this is "Barry Island, Wales" and in the next scene we are told we are in "Essex, England".
In these opening scenes, the idea of a Welsh working class community is established - we have the terraced housing, neighbours talking to each other in the street, entering houses through unlocked doors and helping themselves to food on the table.
When the two families meet in Billericay the cultural differences are celebrated and serious issues tackled, at least initially, in very gentle ways. …