Pamela Ayres MBE (born 14 March 1947) is a British poet, comedian, songwriter and presenter of radio and television programmes. Her 1975 appearance on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks led to appearances on other TV and radio shows, a one-woman touring stage show and performing before the Queen.

Pam Ayres

Ayres in 2022
Ayres in 2022
BornPamela Ayres[1]
(1947-03-14) 14 March 1947 (age 77)
Stanford in the Vale, Berkshire, England
OccupationPoet, songwriter, presenter of radio and television programmes
GenreComic verse
Dudley Russell
(m. 1982)

Early life


Pam Ayres was born in Stanford in the Vale, Berkshire (now administered as part of Oxfordshire), the youngest of six children (having four elder brothers and a sister) of Stanley and Phyllis Ayres. Her father worked for 44 years as a linesman for the Southern Electricity Board, having been a sergeant in the Grenadier Guards during the Second World War. Ayres considered her upbringing "a country childhood"; she was raised in one of a row of small council houses.[2][3][4]

After leaving Faringdon Secondary School at the age of 15, she joined the Civil Service as a clerical assistant and worked at the Army (RAOC) Central Ordnance Depot in Bicester. She soon left and signed up for the Women's Royal Air Force, where she trained as a Plotter Air Photographer, working at JARIC in a drawing office dealing with operational maps.[5] Whilst serving in the air force, she gained O-level passes in English language and English literature and began her career as an entertainer. On leaving the WRAF, she went through a number of jobs, before ending up at Smiths Industries, Witney, where she spent six years, working as a 'Confidential Secretary'.[6] While at Smiths, Ayres began performing at a local folk club,[7] and this led eventually to an invitation to read on BBC Radio Oxford in 1974.[7] Her reading of her poem The Battery Hen[8] was re-broadcast as Pick of the Week on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, leading to a six-month contract with Radio Oxford.[9] Her recital went on to feature as an item in the BBC's Pick of the Year.[10] In February 1976, she left Smiths to pursue poetry full-time.[7]

In September 2006, the BBC's Magazine Monitor's "10 Things...", claimed, though without providing details, to have learnt that week (1-8 Sep) that Bob Dylan inspired Ayres to write poetry.[11] However, although Ayres has often spoken of her admiration of Dylan,[12][13] in a 2015 interview, she stated that "I don't know that he [Dylan] ever was the inspiration to start writing poetry... I certainly loved him."[14] In a 2006 interview (aired on Radio New Zealand's Nine To Noon programme, 24 October 2006), she stated that, at the age of twelve, she enjoyed writing parodies of the Lonnie Donegan songs popular at that time.[15]



In 1975, Ayres appeared on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks. This led to a wide variety of guest appearances on TV and radio shows.[16] Since then she has published six books of poems, toured in a one-woman stage show, hosted her own TV show and performed her stage show for the Queen.

Her poetry has a simple style and deals with everyday subject matter. Her poem "Oh, I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth", was voted into the Top 10 of a BBC poll to find the nation's 100 Favourite Comic Poems.[17] In the UK Arts Council's report on poetry, Ayres was identified as the fifth best-selling poet in Britain in 1998 and 1999.[citation needed]

From 1996, Ayres has appeared frequently on BBC Radio: from 1996 until 1999 Ayres presented a two-hour music and chat show every Sunday afternoon on BBC Radio 2; this was followed by two series of Pam Ayres' Open Road, in which she visited various parts of the United Kingdom, interviewing people with interesting stories to tell about their lives and local areas. More recently Ayres has become a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4, appearing in programmes such as Just a Minute, Say the Word, That Reminds Me, and six series of her own show, Ayres on the Air, a radio show of her poetry and sketches.[18]

In 2007, Ayres acted in a radio sitcom, Potting On for Radio 4, co-starring Geoffrey Whitehead.[19] She wrote and recorded six series of her Radio 4 programme Ayres on the Air, the latest of which was broadcast in 2018.[18][20]

Since 2002, Ayres has appeared a number of times on Channel 4 in Countdown's Dictionary Corner alongside Susie Dent.

In 2009, she made her first appearance on the BBC TV programme, QI. In 2011 she said in a Daily Telegraph magazine interview that she was "about to go on my 14th tour of Australia".

Her autobiography, The Necessary Aptitude: A Memoir, was published in 2011. It traces her life and career from growing as the youngest of six children in a council house in the Vale of the White Horse, Berkshire, her time in the Women's Royal Air Force and the string of events that led to Opportunity Knocks. The title refers to the number of times she was told in her life she "did not have the necessary aptitude".

In 2013, she published her latest book of poems, entitled You Made me Late Again![21]

In September 2021, her TV series The Cotswolds with Pam Ayres premiered on Channel 5. Each episode features a special guest and ends with Pam reciting a short, uplifting verse summing up her adventures. In 2022, the programme was recommissioned as The Cotswolds and Beyond with Pam Ayres,[22] as the programme expanded its remit to have Ayres visit the market town of Pershore to meet Toyah Willcox,[23][24] as well as going to the Henley Regatta with Steve Redgrave, the Dean Forest Railway and the gardens at Highgrove, where she met the then Prince of Wales.[25]

She regularly performs her poetry at the Glastonbury Festival, most recently in 2024.



The poet John Cooper Clarke has cited Ayres's early success on Opportunity Knocks as being highly influential on his career.[26]

Personal life


Ayres is married to theatre producer Dudley Russell, and they have two sons, William and James. They live in Cirencester, Gloucestershire[27] and keep rare breeds of cattle, as well as sheep, pigs, chickens, and guinea fowl. Ayres is a keen gardener and beekeeper.[28] She is a patron of the British Hen Welfare Trust, Cheltenham Animal Shelter and Oak and Furrows Wildlife Rescue Centre.

Ayres was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs in 1979[29] and again in 2018.[30] On the first occasion, she chose "The New St George" by John and Chris Leslie, The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth, and a large basket of sugared almonds as her favourite song, book and luxury item respectively; on her second appearance she chose The Fureys' "When You Were Sweet Sixteen", The Oxford Book of Humorous Prose: From William Caxton to P.G.Wodehouse by Frank Muir, and a medicine cabinet including mosquito repellent.

In the 2004 Birthday Honours, Ayres was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to literature and entertainment.[31]

Select bibliography and discography

  • 1976: Some of Me Poems. London: Galaxy Records ISBN 0-9504774-0-0
  • 1976: Some More of Me Poems and Songs. London: Galaxy Records ISBN 0-9504774-1-9
  • 1978: Thoughts of a Late-Night Knitter. London: Arrow Books ISBN 0-09-134380-1
  • 1978: All of Pam's Poetry; illustrated by Roy Garnham Elmore. London: Hutchinson ISBN 0-09-134380-1 (including the contents of her first three books)
  • 1985: Dear Mum: Poems for Mums and their Babies. London: Severn House Publishers ISBN 0-7278-2066-4
  • 1992: Pam Ayres: the Works. London: BBC Books, Sep 1992 ISBN 0-563-36751-2
  • 1998: With These Hands: a collection. London: Orion, Feb 1998 ISBN 0-7528-1553-9
  • 2006: Surgically Enhanced. London: Hodder & Stoughton, Sep 2006 ISBN 0-340-92278-8
  • 2013: You Made me Late Again!. London: Ebury Press, Sep 2013 ISBN 9780091940461
  • 2019: Up in the Attic. London: Ebury Publishing, Oct 2019 ISBN 9781785177125
  • 2022: Who Are You Calling Vermin?. London: Ebury Spotlight, Sept 2022 ISBN 1529149991

Audio CDs

  • 2005: Ayres on the Air. BBC Audio, highlights from BBC Radio 4 series ISBN 0-563-52435-9
  • 2006: Pam Ayres: Ancient and Modern. London: Hodder & Stoughton, Nov 2006 ISBN 1-84456-318-9


  • 2006: Pam Ayres: In Her Own Words (Acorn Media, March 2006); recorded live at The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham in September 2005
  • 2011: Pam Ayres, Word Perfect: Live from the Theatre Royal Windsor (Acorn Media, September 2011)


  • 2011: The Necessary Aptitude: A Memoir. Ebury Press, September 2011 ISBN 0-09-194048-6


  1. ^ England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1916–2007
  2. ^ Jackson, Tina (16 September 2011). "Pam Ayres: My family values". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 25 July 2021. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  3. ^ "Pam Ayres: Ayres and graces". The Independent. 1 March 2008. Archived from the original on 25 July 2021. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  4. ^ "'I met my husband on broadway... Lewisham Broadway' |". Archived from the original on 25 July 2021. Retrieved 25 July 2021.
  5. ^ "Fight or Flight". QI. Season F. 12 December 2009. Dave.
  6. ^ Ayres, Pam (9 November 2011). "Tweet". Twitter. Retrieved 13 April 2022. it was Smiths Industries of Witney. I was a CONFIDENTIAL SECRETARY dealing with the Safe Working Loads of gantries.
  7. ^ a b c Plomley, Roy (29 September 1979). "Pam Ayres". Desert Island Discs. BBC. Retrieved 13 April 2022. (from 12m0s on) I settled down to live in Witney, I had a flat there, a little flat. And then I started to go the local folk club, which is where I used to listen to all this wonderful folk music I'm so keen on. And then I started to write poems, because I wanted to stand up and do something, and my singing voice is not that hot. So I had a few poems, and I wrote a few more, and I used to stand up and recite those in the folk club, and as a result of that, anybody who was organising something charitable in the area tended to say "Would you come along too, Pam, and give us one of your famous poems?" And I had a T-shirt with 'Famous Broadcasting Personality' written across the front, so I used to put my FBP T on and recite some poems, and as a result of these charitable dos, a friend had a friend at Radio Oxford, and this friend said "Would you like me to suggest you for Radio Oxford?" & I said "Yes, please."
  8. ^ Ayres, Pam (9 December 2011). "The Battery Hen". Omlet. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  9. ^ Oliver, Gill (26 September 2011). "Interview with Pam Ayres". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  10. ^ "Pam Ayres". Poetry Archive. Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  11. ^ "The Magazine Monitor". 8 September 2006. Archived from the original on 22 January 2009. Retrieved 16 August 2021 – via
  12. ^ Young, Kirsty (5 August 2018). "Pam Ayres". Desert Island Discs. (from 11m40s on): Bob Dylan, I discovered him when I was 17 years old and for the first time in my life I felt it was music and songwriting that was relevant to me.... I felt as though he was talking to me, we were of similar age; and also, because I wanted to be a writer but I didn't know how to express it. He made me feel that I wanted to write my own things. I didn't ever want to write like Bob Dylan, I wanted to write my own things, and he accentuated that feeling.
  13. ^ Lewis, Roz (20 September 2011). "Pam Ayres reveals why Birmingham put her off Bob Dylan". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 13 April 2022. I adored Dylan when I was 17, but I don't love him any more.
  14. ^ Buckley, Kelly (28 September 2015). "Pam Ayres celebrates 40 years in the business". Colchester Daily Gazette. Retrieved 12 April 2022. KB: Sadie Papillon asks have you ever told Bob Dylan he was your inspiration to start poetry? PA: Well, I don't know that he ever was the inspiration to start writing poetry...I certainly loved him.
  15. ^ "Pam Ayres Biography". Retrieved 13 April 2022.
  16. ^ "BBC One - The TV That Made Me, Series 1, Pam Ayres". BBC. Archived from the original on 3 October 2018. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  17. ^ "Top poetry is complete nonsense". BBC News. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  18. ^ a b "Pam Ayres". Archived from the original on 11 December 2006.
  19. ^ "BBC - (none) - Potting On - Stones". Archived from the original on 8 April 2008. Retrieved 27 February 2008.
  20. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Ayres on the Air". BBC. Archived from the original on 23 June 2021. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  21. ^ Ayres, Pam (26 February 2015). You Made me Late Again!. Ebury. ISBN 978-0091940478.
  22. ^ "My5".
  23. ^ "The Cotswolds & Beyond with Pam Ayres: Air date destinations | Worcestershire News Online". 24 August 2022.
  24. ^ "The Cotswolds & Beyond with Pam Ayers | Preview (Channel 5)". 21 August 2022.
  25. ^ Rees, Jasper (7 October 2022). "Pam Ayres gets a royal treat – a tour of Highgrove from King Charles himself". The Telegraph.
  26. ^ "John Cooper Clarke interview: 'Poetry is not something you have to retire from'". The Guardian. 5 April 2014. Archived from the original on 3 February 2021. Retrieved 16 August 2021.
  27. ^ Allfree, Claire (16 September 2021). "Pam Ayres: 'If you're going to beat yourself up about what Britain did, how far back do you go?'". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  28. ^ "Pam Ayres - Biography". Archived from the original on 11 November 2006.
  29. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Desert Island Discs, Pam Ayres". BBC. Archived from the original on 16 August 2021. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  30. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Desert Island Discs, Pam Ayres". BBC. Archived from the original on 16 August 2021. Retrieved 12 August 2018.
  31. ^ United Kingdom list: "No. 57315". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 June 2004. p. 13.

Further reading

  • Eunice Salmond "A life in the day of Pam Ayres"; The Sunday Times Magazine; 24 May 1981