Pam Ayres: Unsupported Review
Yes, that Pam Ayres. The Pam Ayres who, throughout the seventies, appeared on Russell Harty, Opportunity Knocks and Val Doonican with her thick accent, her poetry and a look that, were it worn by a milk maid, would have seen her trouble the bedsprings of the gentry before the sun had fully risen. Her particular talent was in writing the kind of poetry that appealed to the common man. Or, more accurately, the common woman. Boils, cardigans, knickers, how not to curdle custard and the proper way to hang toilet roll, they were the minutiae of life that caught Ayres' eyes.
However, that alone would not guarantee a life of minor celebrity, otherwise the hundreds of old dears who fill the back pages of Chat would occupy 90% of the nation's airtime. Ayres' gift was the suggestion that she was on the verge of something rude. Given how frequently she appeared before the watershed, there was little chance of her saying anything more blue than 'bloody' but pensioners wiped their tears away as they laughed at her saucy little poems. I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth was voted into the Top 10 of a BBC poll to find the Nation's 100 Favourite Comic Poems, she wrote poetry for those who'd no time for Ted Hughes what with their housework and, before Victoria Wood came along, revealed the inner thoughts of women who are too busy worrying about post-childbirth bladder control to ever have sex again. And then she seemed to go away, as though never to be heard from again.
Just recently, though, Pam Ayres has made a comeback. Having gone away to raise her family of two sons, William and James, and avoiding reading I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth ever again, Ayres began to creep back onto radio. BBC Radio 2, this being the time when it was more Ken Bruce than Russell Brand, was the first to bring her back to radio, presented a show on Sunday afternoons. In time, Radio 4 also welcomed her into their fold of comedians, requesting her presence on Just a Minute and That Reminds Me before broadcasting two series of Ayres On The Air, a comedy show that mixed sketches and poetry and was surprisingly funny.
Now, normally, I wouldn't do Pam Ayres...too many childhood memories of poems that seemed to end with a word that needed to rhyme with luck, kit, twitch, rum or blunt. Although probably not with 'blunt' as that might have caused a fainting amongst the blue-rinses of the audience. However, late one night and catching an episode of Ayres On The Air and found myself laughing. Laughig hard, in fact, at a story Ayres was telling of her childhood holidays and a lovely pair of knitted swimming shorts that her father would wear. How handsome he was, Ayres would note, as he walked down the beach. But how his gusset sagged as he emerged from the water, needing to find a quiet time in the shadows to wring out his shorts. There isn't much in the telling of this here and perhaps it owes much to Victoria Wood's story of her wearing a knitted swimsuit to the school swimming baths but it was funny. Much funnier, if I'm honest, than I would have credited Ayres with.
And so to this DVD, released in the same year as Ayres turns sixty. Titled Unsupported, which refers not only to her appearing solo on stage but to a poem that she recites about wearing a lacy, little bra, this captures Ayres on stage in Milton Keynes before an audience that one might kindly describe as getting on a bit. There are less sketches and monologues than one might have hoped for, although that superb story about her father and his woollen swimming shorts does get told again as well as one that sees her explaining how best to feed the cat while wearing a strapless Wonderbra, but plenty of poems, which is, being honest, the reason why one might see Pam Ayres live. She mixes the funny with the reflective, tells the saucy I'm Ready Mr Prescott, which concerns itself with the love affair from the secretary's point of view, and Sexy At Sixty, alongside Pension Poem about the arrival of a letter asking her to claim her state pension. Though not offering very many laughs, the best poem is one in which she talks about her memories of her trips to New Zealand with her children when they were young and how, years later, she went back to the same places without them, revealing the loneliness of being the mother of grown sons in doing so. That is sure to strike a chord with the sixtysomethings in the audience, who respond with slight snuffles and wiping away their tears of, this time, sadness.
Of course, I'm being unnecessarily snippy in pointing out the age of the audience, particularly so given that I am the one who requested this review copy. But it's probably fair to say that most copies of Pam Ayres: Unsupported will be paid for out of pension payments, either state or private. Then again, as a thirtysomething, I found myself enjoying this, much more than I ever expected to. That said, it drew out many more gentle smiles of amusement than outright laughs but as a gift for an elderly relative, it will be as welcome as a sweater, a subscription to the People's Friend and a giant-sized bag of Werther's Originals.
Recorded onto video, this looks exactly as one might expect a stand-up performance to. The producers have done a good job in keeping Ayres in the centre of the screen, making sure that her voice is clear at all times - there's a good chance that she was recorded off the mixing disc - and with the sound of the audience, though mixed slightly back, prompting the viewers at home to laugh along. The DVD presentation isn't terribly exciting but it's hard to see what else the producers might have done. Granted, the picture is as soft as a video presentation might be but Ayres does her thing, the audience laugh along heartily and you'll swear that knickers haven't been this funny since you were six.
The Battle Of Portaloo (4m25s): Obviously just a story that has been cut out of the main feature, this tale has Pam Ayres talking about the builders that she brought in who, in the manner of a centrepiece, plopped a chemical portaloo in the centre of her garden. This is followed by a poem on the same subject, The Battle Of Portaloo. There's a very typical Ayres ending to the poem with, "And so my friends, these cigarette ends, they mark the noble sight / Where the underpaid of the building trade went...for a brief respite!"