Good clean fun... and loved by everyone.
Nostalgia and word play with Paul Little.
For a time – particularly during the 1960s and 1970s – New Zealand was regularly visited by performers whose popularity in their own countries was hard to credit. These now all-but-forgotten names that filled town halls up and down the country included the likes of fake Russian bass Ivan Rebroff (who was actually German), cardigan-wearing Irish crooner Val Doonican, and chirpy English versifier Pam Ayres. Boney M are still doing it.
In what was obviously intended to be a career-ending calumny, Sam Hunt was once dismissed as the “Pam Ayres of New Zealand poetry”, according to a review quoted in The Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English. Ayres, incidentally does not figure in The Oxford Companion etc, so the charge is ipso facto incorrect.
Per capita, New Zealanders bought more of Ayres’ books and recordings of poetry than anywhere else in the world. Well, we say “poetry”… Ayres, who was born in 1947 in the poetically named Stanford in the Vale, a village in Oxfordshire, writes and performs humorous light verse that makes her listeners feel all is well with the world. Her work expresses no negative emotion stronger than ruefulness, as in her much-quoted lines:
“Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth, And spotted the dangers beneath. All the toffees I chewed, And the sweet sticky food. Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth.”
She is almost certainly the only professional poet to have launched a career by winning a TV talent show, in her case the British Opportunity Knocks in 1975, “sandwiched between a man singing ‘You Are My Heart’s Desire’ and a woman who played the squeezebox”, according to one report.
Locally, she appeared on many of the now- defunct TV variety shows such as those hosted by chefs Hudson and Halls, and Ray Woolf. Her sense of humour was right at home in these surrounds. She explained to the TV chefs that she was in town with her new book for a promotional tour and that she had “promoted it to lance corporal”.
Arguments about whether what Ayres does is really poetry or not are pointless. In fact, given the garbled tenses in her poem for the Queen’s diamond jubilee...
“Dad took me to our local pub in 1953,
They had a television set, the first I’d ever see,
To watch a Coronation! I knew it sounded grand,
Although at six years old, the word was hard to understand.”
… it’s debatable whether what she writes is even English, let alone poetry. However, she can console herself for any lack of critical respect with the proceeds from the more than three million books she has sold.
Ayres has kept up her following in New Zealand, the UK and elsewhere since 1975. The reason for her success is not hard to work out. She fills a gap in the entertainment market, as can be deduced from these online reviews following her 2014 Auckland appearance: “So good to go to a great evening out, no swearing or smut, just good clean fun”, and “So refreshing to enjoy good comedy without the swear words, which are so unnecessary”.
She is guaranteed fun for the whole family – especially if the family is aged between 60 and 95. And she is nothing if not up to date. Prior to Donald Trump’s meeting with British PM Theresa May, she tweeted – yes, tweeted on Twitter– an occasional poem:
“On meeting Mr President, Poor Mrs May must quake, Which part of her anatomy, Will he decide to shake?”
Arguments about whether what Ayres does is really poetry or not are pointless.