Pam Ayres says she was ‘pigeon-holed’ after Opportunity Knocks win

The poet has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.
The poet has appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

Poet and comedian Pam Ayres has revealed she has mixed feelings about her big break on Opportunity Knocks, as she feels the way she was presented on the TV talent show contributed to her being “pigeon-holed” during her career.

Ayres, 71, won the competition hosted by Hughie Green in 1975 for her recitals of humorous self-penned poems such as Oh, I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth.

Ayres, known for her distinctive rural Berkshire accent, went on to publish six books of poetry, host her own TV show and toured theatres around the world with her live show.

Pam Ayres
Pam Ayres, pictured after being made an MBE at Buckingham Palace in 2004 (Fiona Hanson/PA)

Other poets including John Cooper Clarke have cited her success on the programme as an inspiration to start their own careers.

During an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, Ayres was asked by host Kirsty Young for her memories of her victory.

Ayres said: “I’ve got mixed feelings about it really. Because I was very gullible at the time, I was very green.

“Because of my accent they gave me this rubbishy old set, this comfy old armchair, and a teapot with a knitted tea cosy on it.

“It just made me look really folksy, where I didn’t necessarily want to look like that. Because of my accent you get pigeon-holed.”

Ayres discussed how “petrified” she was during her first television appearances, but said she trusted the teams that worked on the shows to know what would work best for her.

When asked to reflect if they did know what was best, she replied: “I don’t think so, no. I was categorised as this rustic idiot leaning over a five-bar gate saying ‘ooh arr’. I went along with it to a certain extent, purely financially.”

Among the tracks Ayres chose for Desert Island Discs were The Times They Are A Changin’ by Bob Dylan, Independence Day by Bruce Springsteen and Simply The Best by Tina Turner.

She elected to take Frank Muir’s Oxford Book Of Humorous Prose as her book. Ayres was also allowed to take a medicine cabinet full of cream to treat mosquito bites as her luxury item.

The full interview with Ayres can be heard on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday from 11.15am.