Will TV hit Stella give 'Gavin and Stacey factor' to Ferndale?

Image caption Ferndale as seen from the neighbouring mountain

The first series of Ruth Jones' Valleys-based show Stella has just come to the end of its run, with a second already commissioned and due to air in 2013.

The comedy-drama followed the fortunes of a middle-aged mother-of-three, whose life has not turned out as planned after a teenage pregnancy derailed plans for university, and, one assumes, flight from her fictional hometown of Pontyberry.

This Pontyberry, a place of gentle humour, with, as Jones put it herself, "no evil, nasty characters there" is in the main filmed in Ferndale at the top of the Rhondda Fach valley in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

The boom days of mining are long behind the town, and it is described as suffering acute deprivation from long-term unemployment, lack of opportunities and social problems.

So how much of themselves did the residents see reflected in the show?

Rosalynne Slye is the account manager at Ferndale's Arts Factory, an independent development trust aiming to foster social enterprise and community in the town.

She admits to not watching the whole series on Sky 1 herself but feels as if she did because "so many people have commented on it!".

"I live right behind where they were filming it, and was there the day Joe Calzaghe came up," she added.

In her opinion, the overall impact of the show has been a positive one for the town, despite some reservations at the start.

Image caption Ruth Jones' character Stella wants her children to do better than she did

"I think perhaps a bit cringing in the beginning and then people thought, actually, that's how we are. Overall, I think it put us in quite a good light.

"If it does for Ferndale what [Gavin and Stacey] has done for Barry, it will be great."

She thought the series had highlighted the outdoor attractions of the area, which may not be what springs to mind when outsiders think of Rhondda and the other former mining and industrial areas of the valleys.

She added: "I tweet every day to say how beautiful it is up here."

Resident donkey

Over at Ferndale Infants School, just round the corner from Elm Street where Stella's home in Pontyberry is to be found, the feeling from the staffroom was that the series had got it just about right.

School secretary Liz Lewis, acting as spokesperson for the lunching staff, said the family of undertakers had gone down very well, adding: "The characters [in general] were quite similar to the people you'd find here."

They knew of a real-life comparison to Stella's neighbour who has a horse in her house, citing the case of a home in nearby Tylorstown which had a resident donkey.

They were also fans of the outdoor sequences, with Mrs Lewis adding: "The valleys, we thought, looked absolutely stunning."

One big quibble did emerge. "We didn't like the cocking."

Excuse me? Cooking? "No, cocking. The old woman who says it all the time. We've never heard that expression."

The verdict, though, was general approval. "We'd like another series please."

Rhondda Cynon Taf's head countryside ranger, Kevin Oates, has worked in the area since 1993 and believes the show will help dispel outdated perceptions of the valley.

"It showed the area in a different light; not all doom and gloom and coal tips, [but] as it is today and not 20 years ago" he told the BBC.

"It's a vast change even since 1993. The woodland is starting to grow back and there's a lot less coal tips in your face. There's a lot more use for recreation, walking, cycling."

And the local council is certainly hoping for a bit of what its spokeswoman called "the Gavin and Stacey" factor.

She said: "I think it's done a great job of showing the wonderful scenery and the warmth of the people.

"What Ruth Jones did for Barry Island we'd love to see done for RCT."

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