Thecustard Chats with Ruth Jones star of new Sky Comedy Stella

by | Jan 5, 2012 | All, Interviews

This Friday sees the debut of a new Sky1 comedy. This new 10-part comedy series comes from the pen of Ruth Jones (Gavin & Stacey). Jones stars as Stella a  40-something mum who earns a living doing the locals’ washing and ironing. And, most of the time, she’s relatively happy with life as she juggles the ups and downs of her family, amid the chaos of her eccentric friends, relatives and children’s fathers. Her brood consists of eldest son Luke (Craig Gallivan), a lovely boy who starts the series in prison; beautiful 16-year-old Emma (Catrin Stewart) who’s smitten with her first love Sunil (Rory Girvan); and the brains of the family, 12-year-old Ben. We spoke to Ruth about what we can expect from the new series and life after Gavin & Stacey.

So can you tells where Stella came from what the inspiration for the series was?

Stuart Murphy, Head of Sky 1 used to be controller of BBC 3 so he commissioned Gavin and Stacey and I knew him from Nighty Night and Little Britain. Anyway, we’d always stayed in touch and when he went to Sky, he’d heard that my husband (David Peet) and I had set up our own production company and he wondered if we’d be interested in making a kind of “British Roseanne” with me playing the main woman in it. Originally he was thinking six half hours filmed in front of a studio audience… Well we went away and had a good think about it, and I started thinking about who this “British Roseanne” might be. No idea where the name Stella came from, it was pretty instant. And I thought about her life and I wanted her to be a woman my age (handy seein as I was going to play her!) whose life had taken a different direction from the one she thought she was going in when she got pregnant at 16. The more David and I talked about who Stella was, the more we realised it wasnt going to work in front of a studio audience, and that it felt like a 60 min comedy drama rather than a 30 min one studio sitcom (it’s actually 46 minutes on Sky!). And it kind of went from there really. I really enjoyed working out who the people in Stella’s life were. But it’s no longer a British Roseanne I can safely say that.

How much of Stella is in you or based on your life?

A lot of the dialogue I get from eavesdropping! And there are certain details in the series are from real life. Like in episode one Stella gets into a fight with an old school friend – a woman she’d had a fight with outside the bouncy castle on a school trip to Doddington when she was a teenager. Well that’s based on real experience… And the neighbours across the road, they have a horse which often goes in the house. My sister told me about a doctor friend of hers who’d done a house visit once, and there’d been a horse in the front room! I don’t think Stella herself is based on me or on anyone I know. But there are elements of Stella in me – I often get the wrong end of the stick and can be a bit suspicious like her. I also love curry and my family. Though not altogether ie not a curry made from my family. I’m really glad it was set in Wales now. It’s set in the valleys and although I’m not from there (I’m a Porthcawl girl) – I have friends from there, and I love the rhythms of the accent and the melodrama and the way people are with each other. Originally, David and I thought about setting it in Bristol to get away from the Gavin and Stacey/South Wales thing. But I soon realised that Wales is what I know, so why try writing about something I know nothing about? I’ll leave that to Bristolian writers.

How would you describe the tone of the comedy?

It’s a lighthearted comedy drama I guess. Very warm – y’know me and my love of warmth ha ha and observational.! The people in Stella’s world tend to just get on with life – it’s not massively plot driven and there aren’t any essentially evil people in there. There’s an ‘event’ in each episode and an over-riding storyline which spans the ten episodes when something from Stella’s past comes back into her life and knocks her off kilter!

Stella is a mother who lives for her family. Is she happy?

I don’t think she ever has time to ask herself that! – she’s a lioness of a mother – she’d do anything for her kids. Her eldest son Luke (!!) is in prison at the start of the series, and her other two Emma 16 and Ben 12 are still in school. Stella is really keen for Emma to do her GCSEs and maybe do things that Stella herself didn’t do with her life. But things don’t always turn out as we want or expect them to. And because her kids mean so much to her, and because she’s not got loads of money, Stella tends to forget about herself and how she looks. She’s seldom out of her lovely array of rugby tops and her roots are in serious need of dyeing! But out of the blue someone shows a bit of interest in her and this sends her into a right spin. I guess the story of the series is this blossoming of Stella as a woman in her early forties. 

When you wrote Gavin & Stacey you had James Corden as a writing partner and I know you’ve written episodes of the Chase and Fat Friends did you find it daunting writing ten half hours on your own?

Well they’re ten Sky hours (46 mins) and I didn’t write them all on my own… Basically I wrote episode 1 and then David and I got together with our script executive Rob Gittins and we came up with the storylines for the rest of the series. We then got other writers involved. So I wrote eps 1, 2, 6 and 10 and co- wrote ep 4 with Rob Evans and ep 7 with Rob Gittins. Ep 3 was written by Rob Evans, ep 5 by Steve Speirs (who also plays hapless lollypop man Alan) and eps 8 and 9 were written by Ben Edwards and Simon Ludders. It was a great bit of teamwork I reckon!

Did you feel the pressure writing something new after the success of your other work?

Yes I’d be lying if I said there was no pressure. But what d’you do – do you just go “oh I’d better not try writing something else in case it’s not as good”? people are bound to make comparisons and that’s fine. I’m not saying Stella will be another Gavin and Stacey. Gavin and Stacey was Gavin and Stacey, Stella is Stella. Some people will like it, some won’t. All I know is, we loved making it!

What can you tell us about the people around Stella? Did you have any input on the casting??

Yes we were really involved in the casting and it was such an enjoyable part of the process! The cast are fantastic. We’re so proud of them and the world they’ve created.

What do you hope for  with Stella?

I just want this series to go out and for people to enjoy it… It’s been a joy to make and if there’s any more then that’s a bonus but if not, then I think the series ends in quite a good place. 

I couldn’t speak to you and not ask you about Gavin & Stacey I might be burned at the stake if I ignored it. You’ve been coy about the Christmas Special and possibly a Musical of the series. Is anything on firm ground yet? What can you tell us about its possible return?

Well it’s what we’ve always always said. We’ll do a special but not a series. But because of time pressures I can’t see us doing a special this year – James is off to the States for a few months and I’ve got other writing projects that are underway… but maybe next year? As for the musical, I really enjoyed me and James just doing a spur of the moment off the cuff thing, making up a song for G and S the musical! I think in fact it WOULD work on stage, but again, when would we have time to write it? I dunno… we’ll see. I watched some of the last series the other day. I’d never seen it go out on telly cos i was on holiday when it first transmitted. It was lovely watching it with a bit of distance. I felt quite emotional seeing it again, and remembering some of the lines. Dave Coaches – what a star.

What has been your biggest surprise since the huge success of the series?

I’m continually amazed at how people still talk about it. I guess that’s largely down to the fact that it gets repeated on Dave and channels like that. But it’s a huge compliment. And I’m just really touched by how much people enjoy it!

What do you love and loathe on Television?
Am not nor never have been that much of an X factor fan or Strictly. Though I did like the first series of the Skating one.. But I’ve ADORED Downton Abbey, and am really into Enlightened at the moment on Sky Atlantic. I really got into The Cafe and Mount Pleasant and also Miranda is genius. I’m really looking forward to the return of Grandma’s House, – I love Him and Her and also where would we be without Modern Family? Oh and I do hope there’s going to be more Mad Men!

What are you working on at the moment?

Well I’m developing more scripts for a second series of Stella in case they want more – though we won’t know until end of jan when a few episodes have gone out… 

Stella begins Friday 6th January at 9pm on Sky1

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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