“It’s Not Barry’s Island!” Gavin and Stacey and Great British Blokedom Part 2 of 2

Written by Peter Jachimiak
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“Come sleep on the beach / Keep within my reach / I’m feeling high with you here / I just want to die with you near” (The Who, ‘Sea and Sand’, Quadrophenia, 1973).
“Other beach-lovers arm themselves with tents, windbreaks and other accoutrements so they can be private in public” (Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale, Welcome to Britain – A Celebration of Real Life, 2005, p.66).

Gavin and Smithy – Seaside Mod versus Townie Chav? (Continued)

As I’ve already termed it in Part 1, the Brit Roadcom that is Gavin and Stacey (2007 – 2010), is populated with many fine examples of Great British Blokedom. However, it is the series’ lead male character of Gavin (played by Mathew Horne) that I consider to be a classic case of ‘Nerd Mod’. Gavin’s wardrobe, throughout the entire series, is Mod through-and-through: plain and checked Ben Sherman shirts, fine-knit John Smedley long-sleeved tops, slim-fit Penguin cardigans, Harrington jackets in a range of pastel colours, suede desert boots, and so on. Gavin, then, is – as he leaves Billericay for Barry (and back again) – the very personification of Mod breaking out of the Home Counties; a subcultural tendency since the emergence of the so-called National Runs of the mid-1980s, whereby – according to Gareth Brown in Scooter Boys (the 1996 reprint) – “the mobile scooterists of Britain could no longer be content with the confines of their own home towns and counties” (p.57). Indeed, Francis Wheen’s 1982 book The Sixties – A Fresh Look at the Decade of Change, making particular reference to the notion of “seaside mods”, noted that – even as early as 1964 – “it had become common practice for mods to visit the seaside on bank holiday weekends”, whereby “they would play in the amusement arcades, sit in cafés or walk along the beach” (p.32). Gavin, then, as the rather gangly, Caesar-cropped Home Counties Mod, continued this tradition of a Mod daytripping to British seaside towns such as Brighton, Clacton and Margate, by pursuing a relationship with the Barry Island, kiss-me-quick-girl, Stacey.

In his narrow-legged jeans, rib-crushing cardies, and button-down shirts buttoned right up to the neck, he is the epitome of the angular, uptight Mod. So much so, that – at the time that Gavin and Stacey was being broadcast – several on-line Mod communities, such as Modculture.com and Modrevival.net, debated at length not only the pros-and-cons of the minutiae of the fastidiousness of Mod (such as should you do up your top button or not), but Gavin’s apparent adherence to a Mod look. Here are two forum members, from Modrevival.net, who are debating Series 2 of Gavin and Stacey in relation to Gavin’s Mod-like buttoned-up-ness:

“Lad who plays Gavin is either a little bit moddy himself or they’ve decided to put Gavin in the slightly ‘laddish/moddish’ category – every time I’ve seen an ad for the show he’s been in a Fred Perry polo, Harrington jacket, cardy, desert boots, etc., etc., and I recall he wore similar threads in the first series” (David S, March 25th 2008).

“Matthew Horne looks like a Ken doll that has been dressed by Fred Perry” (Spring Heeled Jack, January 5th 2009).

The latter comment – coupled with Gavin’s ‘Moddy’ habit of keeping his top button buttoned up – places Gavin and Stacey’s male lead, I would insist, firmly in the realm of a ‘Barbie’-dependent, ‘Ken’ category Nerd – or, to be more exact, Nerd Mod. As Martin and Koda’s classic 1989 study of American male types and their respective fashions, Jocks and Nerds – Men’s Style in the Twentieth Century, stylistically pigeon-holed the Nerd due to this very characteristic: “A further note in this [the Nerd’s] ill-fated wardrobe is the shirt buttoned to the collar but worn without a tie. In the 1950s, closing the top button of the shirt – a closure without function – was a coded signifier of the nerd; it was a denial of casualness in the decade of the casual” (p.35). However, it could be argued that – from the late Noughties onwards – Gavin’s up-tight, buttoned-up take on a seaside-dwelling Mod is no longer nerdy. For, especially when taking into account Gavin’s desk-bound, clerical job (where he has to wear a tie), it could – as Simon Reynolds insists (in his 2015 essay, in the book Buttoned-Up, on Mods’ tendency for fastening their top buttons) – be understood as his refusal to adhere to the all-too-laid-back, post-shift mannerisms of such a white-collar worker – “as with the classic image of the office worker, arriving at home or in the pub, finally free to loosen his tie” (p.87). Furthermore, from a 2015 perspective, it could be read as a style-conscious two-fingered ‘up-yours!’ to the head-to-toe sportswear-clad Townies – especially when Gavin is understood as being in direct stylistic opposition to his best mate Smithy (whose rotund Chavish-ness is only held in check by his bulging tracksuit tops). So, whilst Gavin represents a blokish ‘Mod nation’, Smithy, on the other hand, encapsulates what Francis Gilbert refers to with the title of his 2006 text, that of ‘Yob Nation’. In August 2009 (that is, just a few months ahead of the screening of Series 3 of Gavin and Stacey) there occurred a wide-scale pitch invasion during an Arsenal v West Ham football fixture, with both broadsheet newspapers and hooligan websites thereafter buzzing about – no, not with the level of violence – but the national shame felt upon seeing so many bare-chested men, displaying so many wobbling beer bellies, and the resultant realisation that this was indeed the oh-so recognisable physique of the Noughties’ urban, middle-aged yob.

“Hard, Soft! Hard, Soft!” – Bryn and Being Butch on Bebo
Meanwhile, Bryn, with his penchant for fawn Farah slacks and zip-up old man car coats, is – in that great British blokish tradition, of course, of BBC ‘Sunday evening’-style comedy of Michael Crawford’s Frank Spencer of Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em (1973 – 1975, and 1978) and Ronnie Corbett’s Timothy Lumsden of Sorry! (1981 – 1982 and 1985 – 1988) – forever the middle-aged little mother’s boy. In keeping with both the title and overall theme of Stephen Whitehead’s The Many Faces of Men (2004), if Gavin is the embodiment of ‘Nerd Mod’ then Bryn, perhaps, is the epitome of ‘Tank-Top Man’. Indeed, Bryn, admitting his life-long lack of a close male companion, is desperate – throughout the series – to bond with both Gavin and Smithy (the latter especially). To the extent that, in Series 2, having turned his spare room into a home gym, he encourages Gavin and Smithy to grope his chest, chanting “Hard, soft! Hard, soft!” as he tenses his newly-developed pecs. Later in the episode, of course, Gavin – hardly believing what he is seeing – bears witness to Bryn and Smithy working out in said gym: stripped to the waist, and glistening with sweat, they finally rub themselves down in a moment of pure gonzo homoerotica. Such homosocial interludes are, of course, heightened by constant reference – throughout the series – to Bryn and Jason’s “fishing trip”. Whereby it is made obvious, again and again throughout the series that a potentially embarrassing incident has occurred between a straight Uncle and his gay nephew. For, uncomfortable silences, awkward looks, and the odd innuendo suggest that – amid the isolating confines of a fishing boat out at sea – straight-forward, heterosexual blokedom was in danger of being constantly undermined by far more complex homosexual tendencies. In line with his inability to discuss the ‘fishing trip’ incident with Jason, Bryn seems to have ‘issues’ with homosexuality. For, in his “Film Recommendations” (pp.58-59), Brokeback Mountain is the first film to get his “10 thumbs up!”: “I do love a cowboy movie, but there is a twist to this movie which might surprise you. The cowboys are gay. That’s right. Gay cowboys! I’ve never seen anything like it! And neither, I bet, have the likes of Clint Eastwood or Butch Cassidy. To make it worse, one of the gay cowboys is married. What a pickle! … What will they think of next? Gay astronauts?” (p.58).

Bryn, though, through his nerdy embrace of pagers, telegrams, and social networking sites, encapsulates the series’ grounding in notions of community. All of the sitcom’s characters are in constant communication with one another via mobile phone, e-mail, social networking sites, and even good old-fashioned pager and telegram. Even Bryn, seemingly having a Luddite side to his blokishness, encourages us – with his (that is, in the Gavin and Stacey TV tie-in book) “Top Ten: Things to Do Before You Die” – to “send an e-mail”. Brimming with zeal, he says: “Now, I am aware that some of you will be well ahead of me on this and may have sent a dozen or so emails already. But if you haven’t, get yourself down to the local internet café and ‘log on’ (use a computer). You can send an email to anyone you please – send two if you like! … So go on, email someone you love them. Email someone you hate them. Email anyone anything” (p.79). Thus, we appreciate that Gavin and Stacey – well, certainly at the time that both the tie-in book was published, and Series 2 was being aired, 2008 – revolved around the notion that Britain was an emerging networked society, with all of the characters maintaining contact with one another via mobile phone, e-mail, Bebo, and Facebook.

Conclusion – Gavin and Stacey as a Saucy Seaside Snapshot of a Noughties’ Britain
So, what do I mean by “Great British Blokedom”? Well, in all honesty – and just like Nessa – ‘I ain’t lying’, as, when writing this two-part article, ‘I struggled with myself’ as to what I actually mean. So, then, as in a true Bryn-ism, ‘What a pickle!?!’… However, as Gavin is heard in the series when correcting his father, “It’s not Barry’s Island! It’s not an island owned by a man called Barry!”. For the British seaside town of Barry (made up, of course, of its docks, town, and Island) is not, like many other British coastal resorts, a town dominated by any one type of bloke. No, instead, Barry (and, indeed, let’s not forget Billericay!) is characterised by many blokes that – at any given time – enter into both rib-digging banter and jaw-breaking fisticuffs – in order to scrabble and scrum to the top of the blokish pile. Barry, then, is a typical British seaside town that is the site of little blokes being shat upon by bigger blokes, who, in turn, are shat upon by even bigger blokes – who all, come last orders, shake hands with one another whilst having that last one for the road home. So, the British seaside town is an edgy arena of blokish bravado: between the men who live there, and the men who are just visiting; between day-tripping Mods and A Road-racing Rockers; between straight guys and gay chaps – and so on, and so on, and so on, all amid the sun, the sea, and the sand. In line with all of this, Gavin and Stacey is a British seaside town Roadcom (see ‘Part 1’ of this article), whereby its male characters not only struggle with each other for screen presence, but struggle with themselves for their own sense of blokish self. Thus, Gavin is a loving son, a best friend, and a devoted husband – an Essex boy through-and-through, he’s also a feminised clerk, and the personification of Nerd Mod.

Described by Steve Clark and Shoba Vazirani, in their book The British Television Location Guide (2008), as a “gentle comedy” (p.104), Gavin and Stacey managed to capture both the cultural heritage and sense of community of Britain at the start of the new Millennium. Indeed, the series even managed to secure itself as being absolutely central to our on-going seasonal institutionalisation of our TV-watching habits, by producing two very well-received Christmas Specials – for that fact alone reinforces and reproduces our national sense of community through shared, mass viewing and the opportunity for festive repeats for years to come. Thus, I would insist that this ‘gentle comedy’, with its on-screen variety of blokes (and, by the way, equally varied female characters) that any one of us can associate with, is a TV-set version of that other Great British tradition – the seaside ‘place your face here’ cutouts. As, according to Ali Catterall and Simon Wells, in their Your Face Here – British Cult Movies Since the Sixties (2001), the ‘your face here’ phenomenon is whereby, with repeated viewings, fan-based audiences indulgently – and endlessly – watch and cite their favourite films, TV programmes, etc. Thus, those that watch, again and again, Gavin and Stacey, are constantly “sticking their heads through Brighton Pier’s ‘Your Face Here’ boardings, alongside the Diver and the Bather, for a cheeky souvenir snapshot” (p.162). So, is Gavin and Stacey merely a ‘cheeky souvenir snapshot’ of both roadside and seaside Britain of the Noughties? Well, yes – and more. With its over-the-phone romance, and relationships forged and maintained via social networks, it is – to me – a true ‘snapshot’ of life in a Noughties’ Britain; a Britain that is, now, seemingly fixated with speed-dating, computer matching, and the like.

Moreover, Gavin & Stacey – with regards both its on-screen geographical depictions of Britain’s roads and beaches, and its portrayal of the show’s characters as a microcosm of a more national networked population – really does deserve the accolade ‘comedy connections’. In that, at its heart, Gavin and Stacey offers us true ‘connections’: that is, geographical, social, cultural, and gendered ‘connections’. As if to further rubbish the notion that there’s ‘no such thing as community’, Gavin & Stacey reaffirms our faith in ‘community’. Yes, OK, they may be – like the sitcom’s version of the Severn Crossing – a romanticised take on ‘community’, but communities never-the-less they are. Whether through the series’ bringing together of those on the opposite edges of Britain’s (be it the blokes of Barry, or the blokes of Billericay), or through its characters’ insistence upon maintaining heart-warming relationships founded upon blood, love and friendship – oh, and lest we forget, relationships founded upon sun, sea, sand, and a bit of seaside sauciness!

Part One Here 
Read 6278 times Last modified on Monday, 09 November 2015 14:36
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Peter Jachimiak

Peter Jachimiak

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