Pam Ayres recalls how opportunity knocked

Pam Ayres. Picture by Trevor Leighton

Pam Ayres. Picture by Trevor Leighton

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Remarkably, it’s 40 years ago this year that Opportunity Knocks made a star of Pam Ayres – days she looks back on as somehow more civilised.

“I think these things are much crueller now,” says Pam who will be performing at The Hawth in Crawley on April 13.

“I do think things were perhaps a little gentler 40 years ago. People weren’t criticised in such a hurtful way... but we were deeply humiliated by having to stand in front of the clapometer!

“That really was the ultimate humiliation,” she laughs. “It was pretty demeaning to stand there and just hope people were going to clap.”

So why did she put herself through it?

“Because I just knew I wanted a career in entertainment. I loved writing, and I loved performing. For me the two went together.”

The legendary host of the show was the late Hughie Green: “But I can’t say I actually got to know him. He treated me very politely. I met him, and he was very civil. He was very supportive, and he gave me various bits of advice, but I can’t say I knew him. He was really quite a formidable figure despite his genial veneer. He was someone who could make or break your career.

“And I was terrified. But I just had this feeling that was what I had to do, that somehow I needed to be in the entertainment business. It was always such a joy to me to write and to perform.”

Pam came to Opportunity Knocks on the back of four years in the RAF, from the ages of 18 to 22: “It took me to some very interesting parts of the world, places I would never have been able to afford to travel to otherwise. I was posted out to the Far East. I went to some wonderful places I would never have seen, and if you are wanting to write, obviously the more experiences you have, the more places you go, the more people you meet, then the better.”

With it came confidence – essential given that Pam has never enjoyed hearing other people perform her work for her. She writes it for herself: “Other people haven’t got the same humour... though obviously what I have written about has changed as I have got older. When I first started, I was writing about my pets and my boyfriends. Now I am writing about much more complex things.”

Particularly gratifying is the fact that poems of Pam’s are regularly featured at weddings and funerals – proof of the way Pam’s work has entered popular consciousness.

“But actually, I think the thing I most enjoyed writing was my autobiography, which was published in 2011. I loved writing that. It was such fun to write something that didn’t involve tormenting the words to have to rhyme.

“I just wanted to record my early life in particular because I thought it would have so much in common with so many other millions of baby boomers, people born after the war who grew up in villages in fairly straitened circumstances. We had shoes. We had food to eat, but there wasn’t a lot of money around. We didn’t go hungry, but we had to be careful.

“And I wanted to record all that. I found that I could remember it all in such exquisite detail, and I wanted to record it all in detail before I started to lose my marbles! I wrote to members of my family and to cousins, and I wrote to land-owners, but by and large, I did it all from memory. It was a massive satisfaction for me to do. The poems are fun, but that book is very important to me.”

Tickets on 01293 553636 and online at www.hawth.co.uk.