The romantic comedy drew the Beeb’s biggest audience for a Christmas Day program since 2008 with 11.6 million viewers. The hourlong special also gave the BBC its biggest audience share in the 16-34 demo of the year. Viewership peaked at 12.3 million.
But the special also generated some anger among viewers who were expressed dismay at the use of the f-word homophobic slur in the performance of the Pogues’ Christmas chestnut “Fairytale of New York.” The sardonic song that dates to 1987 has for decades been one of the most popular Christmas tunes in the U.K.
The BBC defended the inclusion of the lyric in the duet performed by two characters known for doing out-there karaoke numbers together: Nessa, played by series co-creator Ruth Jones, and Bryn, played by Rob Brydon. Bryn sings the line that has been modified in some recent cover versions: “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy f—–.”
In a statement, BBC emphasized that the scene needed to be considered in the context of the popularity of the song.
” ‘Fairytale of New York’ is a very popular, much-loved Christmas song played widely throughout the festive season, and the lyrics are well established with the audience,” a BBC spokesman said in a statement.
Jones, who co-created the series with James Corden, who also co-stars as a key character, told Britain’s the Sun that decision came down to the fact that she and Corden believed that the characters of Nessa and Bryn would sing the song with the original lyric.
“It is a different climate. But we have to remain true to the characters, to who they were,” Jones told the Sun. “Characters in Gavin & Stacey are kind and big-hearted, I believe. So I think no one is going to be intentionally hurtful. But by the same token, they’re not necessarily going to be completely politically correct or be aware of political correctness.”
“Gavin and Stacey” originally aired from 2007 through 2010 and has earned BAFTA and British Comedy Award kudos. The enthusiastic response to the show’s first new installment since Season 3 spurred much social media chatter about the prospects for a fourth season. Corden, of course, has a day job in the U.S. as host and exec producer of CBS’ “The Late Late Show with James Corden.”
The song’s status as a U.K. holiday staple has generated debate in the past over how the f-word lyric should be treated. Co-writer Shane MacGowan has said the song is written from the perspective of a woman who is “not nice” and from a different generation. He has also said he has no issue with radio stations bleeping out the word.
Some viewers took their criticisms to social media while others defended the creators’ decision.
(Pictured: Ruth Jones and Rob Brydon in December)