Ruth Jones

Ruth Jones, appearing as guest host on the BBC series Have I Got News For You

RUTH JONES MBE is a Welsh actress, writer, and producer who co-wrote and co-starred in the award-winning BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey. She has appeared in various television comedies and dramas that include Fat Friends, Little Britain, Little Britain Abroad, Saxondale, The Street, Hattie and Stella, for which she was nominated for a British Academy Television Award and won three BAFTAs.

Jones was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to entertainment.

She was born on September 22, 1966, in Bridgend, Glamorgan. Her father was a lawyer for British Steel Corporation, Port Talbot, and her mother was a General Practitioner. She has two older brothers and a younger sister.

Jones was brought up in Porthcawl, where she attended Porthcawl Comprehensive School, the same school as Welsh comedian Rob Brydon. At school she participated enthusiastically every year in musical theatre productions. After graduating from the University of Warwick with a degree in Theatre Studies and Dramatic Arts, she trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff.

In November 1989, Jones took her first professional role, with Dominic Cooke’s company Pan Optic, playing the Countess Almaviva in Cooke’s adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro which toured the UK for six months. After the tour finished she found it difficult to get acting work, temping as a clerical assistant in the education contracts department of Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council.

At this point she considered giving up acting and training as a solicitor. However, in 1990, comedian and pantomime producer Stan Stennett offered her an Equity contract shifting scenery and playing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (Michelangelo) in Dick Whittington at the Porthcawl Pavilion, where she had performed in school musicals.

Her first television job was a non-broadcast sketch show for BBC Wales including Brydon and Steve Speirs. Soon after, she joined an improv group in Bath: the group also included Julia Davis, with whom Jones would later appear in Nighty Night and Gavin & Stacey.

She first worked in TV and radio comedy for BBC Wales in 1991. Theatre roles with the RSC and The National Theatre were followed by her performance in 1999 hit British film East Is East. In 1996, she appeared in the BBC television period drama Drover’s Gold, billed as a ‘Welsh Western’, the story of a cattle drove that went from west Wales to London. Jones later commented: “I loved that job. I visited places like Lampeter and Llandeilo for the first time, as well as Abergavenny and Crickhowell. I fell in love with them all. There was something so unspoilt about them, and I’ve been back several times since.”

After this, Jones appeared on television as Kelly in four series of ITV’s comedy Fat Friends, where she met future Gavin & Stacey co-writer James Corden. She also appeared in several BBC comedies, playing Myfanwy in Little Britain, Magz in Saxondale and Linda in Nighty Night.

Jones achieved prominence in 2008 with the BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey (2007–2010, 2019), which she co-wrote with Corden, and in which she took a lead role as Nessa Jenkins. The programme became a hit for BBC3 and moved to BBC1.

Jones has said of it: “It wasn’t as deliberate as us saying, ‘Right, we’re going to react against cynical comedy’. We just wrote what we wanted. And it just so happens that the show does generate a lot of warmth. People seem to like that, especially when things aren’t terribly jolly. It’s nice to have your cockles warmed.”

Ruth Jones and her Gavin and Stacey co-stars Matthew Horne, Joanna Page and James Corden Credit: BBC

Like Porthcawl, where she grew up, Barry is a popular seaside town for holidaymakers, so she felt very much at home during the filming of Gavin and Stacey. “I think Barry is a beautiful place,” she says. “See it in the sunshine, it’s amazing.”

The series won a number of awards, including two BAFTAs and four British Comedy Awards. Jones and co-star Brydon recorded Islands in the Stream (a song performed by their characters in the programme) as a single for Comic Relief in 2009; the song reached No 1 in the chart.

In 2008, Jones featured in two BBC One television period costume dramas, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Little Dorrit, as well as two episodes of The Street. In December 2009, she starred in A Child’s Christmases in Wales. In 2010, she appeared in BBC4 comedy The Great Outdoors alongside Mark Heap, and in December presented the first of four chat shows on BBC2, Ruth Jones’ Christmas Cracker.

In January 2011, she starred as Hattie Jacques in BBC4 drama Hattie, which tells the story of Jacques’ affair with her young driver John Schofield while she was married to Dad’s Army actor John Le Mesurier.

In 2008, Jones co-founded Tidy Productions with producer David Peet. The company produced the series Jones presented on BBC Radio Wales in 2008-9, Ruth Jones’ Sunday Brunch.

In 2010, the company had comedy and light entertainment production credits with BBC Two and BBC Three. It made two 90-minute comedy dramas for S4C and light-entertainment shows for BBC Wales, and topical radio series What’s the Story? for Radio Wales, predecessor to The Leek.

Tidy Productions also produced 58 episodes of the comedy drama Stella for Sky TV. The first series aired in 2012. It was Jones’s first major comedy project since Gavin and Stacey; she created, executive produced and storylined the show with Peet. Jones stars in the title role, and wrote several episodes as well as co-writing episodes with Rob Gittins, Rob Evans, Peet and Speirs.

A trailer for Sky TV’s Stella, with Ruth Jones in the title role

Jones has stated she was worried about comparisons to Gavin and Stacey when setting a second programme in Wales and the company originally thought to set it in Bristol, but the decision was made to set it in the Rhondda Valley – “I know people from the valleys and it is just a joyously colourful place and full of characters”. A second series of Stella was filmed in summer 2012 and aired in early 2013. A further four series plus two Christmas specials completed the run, with the final episode broadcast in October 2017.

In January 2018, Jones took the part of Mandy Haveez in Radio Wales’s comedy series Splott, written by Peet and made by Tidy Productions. She also worked with director Debbie Issit, appearing in the film Nativity 4.

Jones’s first novel, Never Greener, was published in April 2018. Based on a screenplay she’d written in 2004, it tells the story of a rekindled affair and the dangers of taking second chances. She signed a two-book deal with Transworld after a bidding war between 10 publishing companies.

The novel went into the Sunday Times bestseller list at number seven after just three days of sales, before reaching the number-one slot for two consecutive weeks. Jones’s second novel, Us Three, follows the story of three friends whose futures become unpredictable after an unexpected turn in events.

In October 2018, Jones returned to the stage after a 12-year absence in the new play The Nightingales by William Gaminara, produced by Jenny Topper and Theatre Royal, Bath.

Jones was judged the Best Female Comedy Newcomer at the 2007 British Comedy Awards, and was also nominated for Best Television Comedy Actress. She was also recipient of the Ultimate Funny Woman award at the annual Cosmopolitan Ultimate Women of the Year Awards in November 2009.

Jones was awarded the BAFTA Cymru Sian Phillips Special Recognition Award in 2009. In 2012, she received a nomination for the British Academy Television Award for Best Female Comedy Performance for her performance in Stella. In 2013, Stella won three BAFTA Cymru awards for Best Drama, Best Writer and Best Editing.

James Corden and Ruth Jones at the British Academy of Film & TV Awards

Does Jones herself ever get starstruck? “The one time I was completely awestruck was meeting Barack Obama: I wasn’t expecting to, and he was so massive, he’s really tall and I just went really Welsh when I met him. I kind of ended up going, “Can I just say congratulations, it’s really brilliant, well done” and gave him a thumbs up. He was so gracious and he bent down (he’s so tall he has to bend down to you) and said: ‘I really will have to learn how to talk like that (said in mock Welsh accent) b-r-i-l-l-i-a-n-t’. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime events.”