Pam Ayres: Sidmouth Folk Festival
- Credit: Archant
Writer, broadcaster, comedian, entertainer, actor and poet. She might have many labels, but she is instantly recognisable as simply Pam Ayres.
Pam has delighted readers and audiences for over 40 years and is one of the few authors who has had books in the Sunday times bestseller charts in almost every decade since the 1970s. Popular poetry collections include The Works, With These Hands, Surgically Enhanced and You Made Me Late Again! Her 2011 autobiography, The Necessary Aptitude, was the bestselling female autobiography in the country last year.
Pam is still touring and this year plays Sidmouth Folk Week which takes her back to her folk roots.
“I started in the folk clubs and felt very drawn to the whole business of performance,” says Pam, the warm tones of her rural accent transporting you to where she grew up –Stanford in the Vale, then in Berkshire.
“I’d left school at 15 and was working as a secretary in the Civil Service. I joined an amateur dramatic group housed in old Nissen huts and I was always going there, trying to get a part. I found my work stultifyingly boring. It was awful. My brothers had done National Service and so I decided to go and join the Royal Air Force.
“All bases at that time had folk clubs and amateur dramatic groups and a couple even had radio stations. By the time I left the Air Force at 22, folk clubs had spread all over the UK like a rash and I went to one at the Red Cow in Cambridge. I was absolutely entranced. It was a massive revelation to me that these places existed.
“The folk club movement was very, very popular. I lived in Witney and lots of pubs in every direction had a folk club. I heard a vast collection of folk songs some of them hauntingly beautiful and I plucked up the courage to start performing.”
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Earning £25 a week as a shorthand typist, she was offered a gig at a folk club for £12. “I realised that two of these a week and I wouldn’t have to do work which was the most miserable drudgery.”
She found giving up the day job “very, very frightening” and didn’t even tell her parents for a while. In 1972 Radio Oxford offered her a slot for her poems – the first one she did was called The Battery Hen – and they were selected by Pick of the Week on the BBC nationally and by Canadian Broadcasting. Then, in 1975, came Opportunity knocks and universal fame.
“It was very frightening,” confesses Pam. “It was such a baptism of fire. I was never very confident and always felt very nervous. It was success blighted by terror.”
Continuing success has calmed the nerves a bit and Pam loves meeting her fans, who now come in all shapes and sizes, ages and genders. They love the old favourites – Oh, I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth was voted in the top ten of the nation’s favourite 100 comic poems – and the new material. Writing every day keeps her happy, she says. New material includes poems about her husband Dudley’s attempts at DIY.
Pam is obviously a homebody – she’s a keen gardener, beekeeper, animal lover and clearly adores her two sons and three grandchildren. But she loves the fact that her work has allowed her to visit places he otherwise wouldn’t see.
“I’m looking forward to Sidmouth. It’s lovely to just rock up at these gorgeous places. Sidmouth is one of the fabled folk festivals and I’m sorry I’m not there for longer. I still remember my first folk festival. It was Norwich. It was so magical to see people on every street corner signing just for the sheer joy of it.”
Pam Ayres is at the Ham Marquee, Sidmouth on 28 July, 2:30pm before Sidmouth Folk week begins (29 July-5 August).
For tickets go to sidmouth-folkweek.co.uk.
She returns to the West Country for two nights at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, 12 and 13 November.