Pam Ayres smiling in floral shirt Credit: Shutterstock

Pam Ayres: “I’m sick of people banging on about my accent”

The much-loved entertainer, 76, on the wonders of grandchildren, otters and hares – and why she’d quite like us to stop talking about how she speaks.

What made you want to write about British wildlife? Your latest is a children’s picture book about an otter, to be followed by more about a hare, a barn owl and a fox.

Some people write about fairies and spaceships, but I grew up in a village called Stanford in the Vale [in Oxfordshire], surrounded by wildlife. Trees, hedgerows, frogs in the pond, birds in the garden… I felt directly connected to all this beauty. I hope these books can get today’s kids interested in wildlife like I was. Sadly, I don’t think the natural world plays as much of a part in most children’s lives.


Recent studies indicate that our wildlife is disappearing. What can we do to stop that?

I’m not sure we’re ever going to claw back what we’ve lost, but you don’t need to do much to give nature a helping hand. Get yourself a bird table, leave a bit of the garden to grow wild. My brother built me an owl box out of an old bedstead and we had three chicks hatch in it.

Is it true that you have a soft spot for grey squirrels?

They are a pest and they’ve decimated the red population, but I refuse to blame them because it was our fault for bringing them over from America. Posh people wanted them to decorate their fancy gardens.

You and your husband, Dudley, used to have a smallholding in the Cotswolds, but you’ve downsized. Do you still look after any animals?

Just a rescue dog and my late brother’s bees. We moved to a village six miles from our old place and I’ve bought a patch of land that is managed for wildlife. I’m still doing my bit.

Last year, we saw King Charles – then Prince – giving you a guided tour of the Highgrove gardens. What tips did he have for you?

There is a man who has always been so far ahead of his time. He was talking about wildlife and the state of the planet years ago, well before it became fashionable. And he understands that you have to be passionate about every aspect of the environment, right down to the insects at the bottom. I wish I could grow a wildflower meadow like he’s got. Seeing that explosion of colour reminded me of the meadows I used to walk past on my way to school. All gone now, of course.


Do you have fond memories of Opportunity Knocks, the show you won back in 1975?

Not really, no. I hope that doesn’t make me sound ungrateful. Although it was a fantastic platform for someone like me, they didn’t look after us very well. As soon as you were famous, the sharks started moving in, looking for a quick buck. I was writing original material, but I wasn’t told how to protect it.

Credit: Freemantle Media/Shutterstock

Your accent has long been a topic of conversation. Do you get fed up with that?

I’m sick to death with people banging on about it. In the early days I was encouraged to make more of it and that was probably a mistake. Concentrate on the words I write, not how I say them. This is how my mam and dad sounded and I feel very comfortable with the way I talk, thank you very much.

Did you ever feel your poetry was looked down on because it rhymed and was on television?

I’ve never considered myself a female ‘poet’. I didn’t come up via the poetry world; I was playing the folk clubs along with Billy Connolly and Max Boyce. Yes, I write poetry, but if people don’t think I’m a proper ‘poet’, that’s all right by me. Neither do I.

Which of your poems get the best reaction on stage? Have you a favourite?

They Should Have Asked My Husband. We all know blokes like that; got an opinion on everything. Enyclopaedias? On them, we never have to call. Why clutter up the bookshelf when my husband knows it all? That’s an example of what I do. Having a laugh about stuff we all recognise.

What’s your biggest regret?

Not asking my dad more about what he did in the war. He would often start telling us stories and we’d all laugh at him, ‘Oh, here we go again. Dad’s war tales’. He was in Belgium and Germany for four years and I remember him telling us about how he thought the German civilians had such a terrible time. I wish I’d listened instead of being so dismissive.

What’s the best advice you got from your mum and dad?

They always told me to be confident in who I was. Those words are even more important for young people today because social media puts them under so much pressure to look and act a certain way.

Are you a good grandmother?

Being a grandmother is a strange mix of maternal instinct and keeping your distance. Before I became a mum, I didn’t think I had a maternal instinct. I’d watched my mum spend every hour of every day looking after six kids, washing by hand, cooking, nursing, being shouted at by my dad. When people asked me if I was getting married and having kids, I used to think, ‘No way, mate!’

What keeps you awake at night?

Well, I look around and I see the Middle East being blown apart; I see people destroying the planet; I see plastic in the oceans; you can’t get a doctor’s appointment; and no one cares about the family. But it doesn’t keep me awake because I feel helpless. The most you can do is look after your own little gang and try to point them in the right direction.

Do you care how people will remember you?

Hopefully, I made a few people smile.

I am Oliver the Otter is published by Macmillan (£12.99); the second of a four-book series, I Am Hattie the Hare, will be published in March 2024


Written by Danny Scott