Celebrities choose the TV moments that have shaped their lives. Pam Ayres shot to fame on Opportunity Knocks in 1975. Now she looks back at TV moments from her past.
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Telly, that magic box in the corner.
It gives us access to a million different worlds,
all from the comfort of our sofa.
'In this series, I'm going to journey through the fantastic
'world of TV with some of our favourite celebrities.
'They've chosen the precious TV moments that shed light...'
The wind almost blew my BLANK off!
You're nearly in the telly, here!
'..on the stories of their lives.'
If you're so blinking clever, you look after him.
This takes me back completely.
'Some are funny...'
# And when they were down they were down. #
-Oh, thank you!
-It terrifies the life out of me.
'Some are inspiring.'
I wanted to be on telly.
That's it from me, back to you two.
Now this rather futuristic TV...
'..are deeply moving.'
And it was heartbreaking, I wept. It was heartbreaking.
It's not real.
So come watch with us as we hand-pick the vintage telly
that helped turn our much-loved stars
into the people they are today.
Welcome to The TV That Made Me.
My guest today shot to fame in 1975 on Opportunity Knocks and has
since carved an irresistible career on TV and radio.
Yes, it's author and entertainer, the people's poet, Pam Ayres.
The TV that made her includes a spine-chilling sci-fi classic...
5 million years...
..one of the greatest sitcoms ever screened...
I want my old hooter back!
..and the legendary exploits of everybody's favourite bobby.
Right, come back you lot! Come back here!
So, I am pleased to welcome the one and only living legend, Pam Ayres!
Thank you, thank you, Brian.
How do you feel about this?
Are you excited about delving into your past?
I think it's a nice idea
because they were very important to me when I was young,
those television programmes
and it'd be really good to have another look at them.
Of course, this set you on a path to making you who you are today,
-really, you know?
-Yeah, I never anticipated that.
I never anticipated that I would ever be on television
and that it would make such a monumental change in my life.
I never thought that.
I used to want to be a ballet dancer, that was my earliest recollection.
-Yeah, I didn't really have the form for it though.
Well, today, we're showing a selection of highlights
from your life, that made you into the person you are today.
But first up, we're going to rewind
and see what it was like to be a very young Pam Ayres.
Pam Ayres was the youngest of six children, of mum Phyllis
and dad Stanley.
The family lived in the beautiful
and ancient village of Stanford in the Vale, Berkshire.
It was the type of idyllic, rural childhood that now
feels like it belongs to a long-lost era of British life.
But I think we can still catch echoes of this golden age
in Pam Ayres' famous verse.
Pam, tell us about the house you grew up in.
The house I grew up in was
a council house in a row of four council houses,
each of which was divided into two.
So, there were eight homes but four buildings.
It had three bedrooms upstairs, two rooms downstairs,
it had no hot water,
it had a lavatory right next to the kitchen, which was comprised of a
wooden seat over a galvanised bucket
with a flared top and two handles. HE LAUGHS
-Well, it's true.
-And you didn't have toilet paper then, did you?
Nobody had toilet paper, nobody had toilet paper.
There was just discarded newspapers.
I'm sure there's a lot of people that don't appreciate that.
So, it would be someone's task to rip these into...?
Nobody even bothered.
I mean, my granny was very impressive to me
because she had cut up the newspaper into squares.
She'd pierced a hole with a nail or something and it was hung up on a
piece of string, so you had these neat squares of newspaper
to use as loo roll.
And what was that... So you saw that as being posh?
That was posh
cos our family just had a load of newspapers strewn around
the place and you just ripped off what you felt the event required, really.
Your comedy heroes. Your comedy heroes?
-Mine. My early ones.
-One of mine as well.
Let's not say anything.
Let's just have a little look at a bit of Hancock.
BBC television presents Tony Hancock in...
I loved Tony Hancock, I loved him.
-I remember this so well.
-He's had plastic surgery.
On his nose, I know.
That was the right nose! That was the nose I was supposed to have!
There was nothing wrong with it. I've just been vain fool
and I want my old hooter back!
I think Sid James is trying not to laugh there.
It's the most unlikely bandage you ever saw.
It's a work of art.
Well, give me the mirror then, let me have a look at it.
-It's marvellous. I'm handsome, Sid.
I'm not kidding you, I never saw such a conk.
You'll murder those women now.
Oh, you handsome devil.
Oh, God! That's the one that made my mother laugh.
I never saw my mother laugh like that.
When he said, "You handsome devil,"
she was convulsed and tears rolled down her face.
It was great, it's one of my really happy memories,
because my mother didn't laugh that much, it was hard going.
But, God, she laughed at that.
I feel such affection for that clip.
-People loved him, didn't they? They adored him.
Yeah. I mean, it holds the test of time, doesn't it?
Definitely. Because it was his voice, it was the hysteria,
and he could use his voice so brilliantly.
We all recognise him as having delusions of grandeur
and thinking you're a bit better than perhaps you are.
He was so clever at putting that across.
This is what really scared, really terrified the young
Pam Ayres. Have a little look.
A warning may come quite unexpectedly.
This kind of thing had a massive effect on me.
You will hear the attack sound like this.
Short public information films like this were produced by the government
to advise us on how to protect ourselves from nuclear attack.
This film was meant to be played on TV only in a national emergency,
but huge public pressure meant they showed the films anyway.
When I was in the village primary school,
I remember often, over a long period of time,
thinking whether I could get home, once you'd heard that warning,
whether I could get home to be with my mum, so that...
I wanted to be with her to look after her.
-It wasn't so much that I wanted her to look after me.
It just goes to show how children think, doesn't it?
I wanted to get home, so we could be together as we were annihilated
and I didn't want her to be on her own.
The school was right down the other end of the village,
and it was a big village,
and I used to think, "Well, you've got two minutes.
"I wonder how far you can run in two minutes?"
The fear of nuclear attack hung over us right through the Cold War,
up to the 1980s.
But the most dangerous period was
around the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
I mean, this is all through the '60s, very much
that whole Kennedy period, where we were all living on the edge,
and these sort of videos were being shown to say "Look,"
and the things they wanted you to do,
like hide under the kitchen table or go underneath the stairs.
I know, I don't think it would have done much good, would it?
I don't think, if a nuclear bomb was going off,
hiding under the table was going to do much good.
Could you get under the stairs before you were vaporised?
At least you can check the meter just before you go.
Yeah, but it did have a profound effect on me,
that fear of a nuclear attack.
Go to your fallout room and stay there.
If the fallout warning sounds are heard,
they will be like these.
-It must have been absolutely horrific.
After two days, the danger from fallout will get less,
but don't take any risks by contact with it.
And something else that terrified you was Quatermass.
Quatermass. I was mortified.
Anything I'd seen on TV before had been entertaining and fun,
and suddenly this thing started on TV,
and my four brothers were all agog to watch it,
and so I sat down innocently to watch it.
But I remember the episode that scared me stiff.
It was a spaceship and they found it under some houses in London,
as I recall, and they excavated it
and scientists went down to it
and it was found to contain an alien presence.
And this scientist came out from underground looking absolutely aghast
and he said the classic words,
he said, "It walked through the wall."
And I went, "Oh, my God!"
I was just petrified.
And then afterwards, I didn't have the courage to watch it.
It did really upset me. I was disturbed by Quatermass.
I feel reluctant to show you a scene from Quatermass.
I'm a big girl now, I can probably cope.
Are you sure you're going to be all right? Do you want to hold my hand?
Oh, here we go.
Oh, my God. Look at it. Oh, look.
And The Pit. Doesn't it sound awful?
About here they dug out the first skull.
It's amazing to see it again.
This is the bombsite.
A trifle muddy.
Oh! I don't think he meant that. I think he genuinely slipped.
It's not exactly hidden, is it?
Two or three feet above this level.
Quatermass And The Pit was the third
instalment of Professor Bernard Quatermass' struggle
against alien forces.
The scary mixture of science and mystery proved incredibly successful,
and influenced everything from Dr Who to The X-Files.
Tell me again, how long did you estimate that skull had been there?
Something like five million years.
Five million years?
Cue the dramatic music.
It was very scary.
There wasn't much of that kind of thing around.
Nowadays, horror films and graphic scenes are commonplace,
but there wasn't much around then
that was really frightening.
It left a great deal to the imagination.
I mean, you didn't see any monster, or any alien, or anything.
It was just somebody had seen something and he looked aghast.
-Do you think that was the power of it?
-Yeah, I do.
Nigel Kneale, the twisted
writing genius behind Quatermass,
also gave us the haunted building shocker - The Stone Tape.
If you saw Jane Asher and Michael Bates in that
on Christmas Day, 1972,
you're probably still trying to forget it.
You might not want to be reminded of The Woman In Black either, starring
a brilliant Pauline Moran,
it went out on ITV on Christmas Eve in 1989.
But my favourite chiller actually starred Michael Parkinson,
Sarah Greene and Mike Smith.
Ghostwatch was a hoax live TV programme
broadcast on Halloween in 1992.
It terrified so many unwitting viewers,
the BBC got 30,000 complaints in an hour.
It has never been broadcast again.
Now, before we move on to our next clip, we've got a TV ad,
a TV classic. This is from 1982.
I'm not saying a word. Have a little look at this.
Oh, I loved this.
Like your new dog, Artwright.
Here, boy. Up, up.
I loved this.
He doesn't do much, does he?
Fancy a drop of John Smith's?
In this award-winning technical wonder from the '80s,
the hilarious reactions from the ale-drinking gentleman
was central to its impact.
You know, we're so used to computer-generated stuff these days...
-I know, yeah.
-..but it's lovely.
There probably was someone holding the poor thing's back legs up.
You can imagine there's about five blokes under there doing this.
But for me, the thingy going, whatever you would call it...
-Yeah, that feather blower thing.
The advert was shot using a simple
split screen technique,
with the dog's tricks spliced
between the actors' reactions.
Becky the dog didn't
do all her own tricks, by the way.
She just needs the right motivation.
John Smith's bitter.
I loved that ad. That was my favourite ad of all time.
-So, what did you love about that ad?
-Well, it was a surprise.
It was all so static. They say, "Oh, he doesn't do much, does he?"
And then all of a sudden, it's all happening.
It's the absurdity of it I like.
-Are you an animal lover, Pam?
-It's a given, isn't it?
-I do like animals very much.
I'm interested in animals, I like observing animals,
I hate cruelty to animals. So, yeah, you could call me an animal person.
Have you got any animals?
Yeah, I've got eight cows, and chickens - I've got laying hens -
I'm involved with a place that re-homes battery hens.
Every 18 months or so, the battery hens are chucked out
and they usually go to be made into pies and suchlike.
But actually, they still lay well, and lots of people like me,
and millions of other people, like to have a few to - A, to give them
a decent life, and B, to have the eggs.
So I've got about eight chickens at the moment.
I've got a poem called The Battery Hen.
-Can we have a little bit of The Battery Hen?
-The Battery Hen?
Yeah. It was... It went like this.
Oh. I am a battery hen,
On my back there's not a germ,
I never scratched a farmyard,
And I never pecked a worm,
I never had the sunshine,
To warm me feathers through,
Eggs I lay. Every day.
For the likes of you.
When you has 'em scrambled,
And piled up on your plate,
It's me what you should thank for that,
I never lays them late,
I always lays them regular,
I always lays them right,
I never lays them brown,
I always lays them white.
That's a little fragment.
That was excellent.
Pam's been surrounded by animals all her life,
from tiny birds to huge horses, she has loved them all.
Your family favourite was Dixon Of Dock Green.
Yeah, we liked Dixon Of Dock Green.
You know, we get some weird and wonderful characters
down this area, and some of the best are the oldest.
Like old Duffy, for instance.
I remember particularly watching it with my dad.
My mum used to love the cinema.
She used to rave about Gone With The Wind and all those old films.
And on Saturday nights, sometimes she used to get on the bus
and go to Wantage on her own to go to the pictures.
And Dad never wanted to go, so Dad and I used to be at home
and we'd watch Dixon of Dock Green.
And he'd come and say, "Evening, all."
And I got a nice, companionable feeling
when I think about it, cos I think of being there in our house with my dad.
Any favourite characters from Dixon Of Dock Green?
Oh, yeah, I used to have an extremely soft spot
for Andy Crawford and his quiff.
So, was this your very first teenage crush?
Yeah, I think it was, actually.
I didn't actually put it in those words.
I didn't think, "Cor! I fancy him,"
but I just liked looking at him.
-I liked looking at him.
-Who did you not like?
-I didn't like Mary, his wife, much.
-Oh, of course. That's a given.
She was an impostor, as far as I was concerned.
Spurs away. Grimsby, Rotherham, a draw.
Newcastle, let me see.
Oh, yeah, the football pools.
Oh, yeah, the football pools.
God, we had to keep quiet every night,
every Saturday night when my dad did the football pools.
Everybody did the football pools, you know?
-They'd all get the blue form out.
Dixon was actually murdered the first time
he ever appeared on screen, in the film The Blue Lamp.
But he was resurrected by the BBC in 1955 and remained a calm,
kind and reassuring presence
on his TV beat for 21 years.
-That's what I call real damage.
Right, come back, you lot. Here, come back here!
-You all right in there, Mrs Berry?
-I mean, there was always a moral there.
I remember him saying once, once they found a policemen who'd been
taking bribes or something, and he came on at the end
and he said, "There's nothing worse than a rotten copper."
And he said it with such relish, I always remembered it.
"There's nothing worse than a rotten copper," he said.
His voice was dripping with contempt, you know?
TV has a long history of good cops like Dixon,
but the odd one goes bad.
If you don't want to know what happens to my big three bent bobbies,
cover your ears now.
Coming third on my bad cop-ometer is Lorcan Cranitch.
His DS Jimmy Beck was tragically flawed in Cracker.
His crimes led to a fatal dive from a tall building.
Second is Inspector Lindsay Denton, played by the wonderful
Keeley Hawes, who gets life for
bad behaviour in the Line Of Duty,
and I still don't know
if she's guilty.
But the best bent copper has to be Gene Hunt, AKA, Philip Glenister,
who didn't get life, or even have to die, because he was already dead.
At the end of Ashes To Ashes,
he even turns out to be an angel.
I preferred him when he was bad.
When did you start writing?
I joined the Women's Royal Air Force,
-and I was posted to RAF Seletar in Singapore when I was 19.
And, erm, there they had good folk clubs.
They had folk clubs and choirs and amateur dramatic groups,
and I sort of joined them all, cos that was... I felt so drawn to it.
And then the amateur dramatic group I belonged to, the theatre club,
they used to have a club night on Friday nights
when people would get up and do a turn of some sort, and that was
when I started to write my own poems, and I wrote one called
Foolish Brother Luke, and that was what made people really laugh,
and I started to think, "Gaw, I wrote that and they laughed."
It was after I came out of the Air Force, then I went to
various local folk clubs and they started to pay me,
because people liked my poems,
I started to be paid 12 quid for a turn...
Which is a lot, I mean, you know.
I was earning, you know, at that time,
I was earning about £23 a week,
so two turns in the folk club, which I loved doing,
equated to a week's, you know...
..typing in a boring engineering works.
So, it was fantastic for me, I...
And I wondered if I could keep it going.
And then how did Opportunity Knocks come about?
What happened next was that BBC Radio Oxford came round
recording for The Folk Programme,
and I was declaiming I Wish I'd Looked After Me Teeth
or one of my classic gems,
and they said, "Come in and do some on Radio Oxford, on the BBC."
Then I produced a little pamphlet of my poems,
and I toted it round the bookshops and I sold 7,000...
..which was extraordinary.
So you're now realising that you can make a serious living at this?
Well, yeah. I mean, people...
I was astounded, after I began to do paid performances in folk clubs,
that people would say to me, "Where can I get a copy of that poem?
"Where can I buy a copy?"
It was the most amazing thing
that people actually wanted to give me money for what I'd written,
and it was the most heady, intoxicating thing.
It wasn't long before opportunity literally came knocking.
In 1956, Hughie Green's original idea for a radio talent show,
Opportunity Knocks, became the biggest entertainment show on TV.
It could turn a talented unknown into a massive star overnight,
like it did with Mary Hopkin in 1968,
Bonnie Langford in 1970,
and Lena Zavaroni in 1974.
Pam Ayres got her shot of instant, life-changing fame in 1975.
-Shall we have a look at you on Opportunity Knocks?
I don't want to look at this.
Oh, I don't want to look at this!
Sling another chair leg on the fire, Mother.
Look at the hairstyle!
Sling another chair leg on the fire, Mother,
Pull your orange box up to the blaze.
-I hope my sons never see this.
-Cos I look a perfect pillock.
-You look blooming gorgeous. You do.
Come with me out to the empty garage,
We haven't been there for a week or more,
We'll bow our heads and gaze in silent homage,
At the spots of oil upon the floor.
We'll think of when we had a motorcar there,
That used to take us out in rain or shine,
Before the price of petrol went beyond us,
And we'll make believe we kept it one more time.
I find it unbearable to see that. I just...
I don't feel any sort of pleasure in that at all.
I don't think I've had any guests react like they have
-to watching themselves.
-You do really struggle with it, don't you?
I find it unbearable, it just... Oh, I hate it.
Can you explain why? I mean...
I don't know, I sort of feel as though
-I went a bit wrong there, because...
In that particular...?
I think I...
I so wanted to be a writer.
I so wanted to make some sort of an impact
as a good writer,
I then sort of got lumbered with, erm...
..the village idiot sort of...
Oh, cos of the crappy accent and the crappy hairstyle.
Well, there's nothing wrong with your hair...
-..and that's the way you talk.
-Yeah, I know.
I mean, I know I talk like that and I wouldn't ever try and change it.
It's the accent my mum and dad had and my granny and grampy had.
I love it, but, I don't know.
After that, I sort of got horribly overexposed.
-I couldn't say it was a happy time.
-It was happy, in that people liked what I'd written.
That was a gorgeous bit of it.
But the other side of it was not so good, it was...
I was... Just endlessly
-book promotion, book promotion, book promotion.
-I never got home.
I mean, I had money for the first time in my life,
which was indescribably thrilling,
but I just feel like I took the wrong turning, really.
I wanted to be a good writer and...
..use the vocabulary I had and the writing skills that I knew I had
-and, sort of, I feel like that was...
So, in reflection, do you, in some ways,
wish you'd never done Opportunity Knocks?
-In some ways, I do, yeah.
-That's really interesting.
-It's interesting, yeah.
-And you would not have expected that.
And also, like you say, being at the height of your fame
and not enjoying it.
-I couldn't say I enjoyed those early years.
I love it now, cos I've got the confidence and I think, you know,
-I've got a better view of things, but then I was very confused.
Cos there was a lot of hostility towards me and I didn't like it.
So what sort of stuff are you watching now?
-Well, I like Poldark. I did like Poldark very much.
I liked Wolf Hall very much. I thought that was mesmerisingly good.
-And I like Blue Bloods.
-Call The Midwife?
I like Call The Midwife, but I cry.
In common with many women, I cry when babies are born.
It does something to you.
I think, when you've had babies of your own,
these births on that programme just...
-It's mystifying, really.
They produce a rubber baby from under somebody's nightie
and I'm sitting at home going...
SHE GROANS "Oh! It's too much."
-Listen, you haven't been too much.
You've been absolutely fantastic today.
We always let our guests choose a theme tune. Er...
-I know what I'd like.
-It's been a great pleasure to talk to you, as well. It's great.
-And I would like to choose, for my theme tune...
We used to love, when we were kids,
our mum used to love thrillers by Francis Durbridge.
He, or she, was a writer, I'm not sure what gender they were.
-But there was one called The Scarf.
Which was really gripping and it had this...
-very evocative signature tune.
-Well, we're going to hear it right now.
-Can I have that, please?
-My many thanks to you, Pam Ayres.
-Ooh, do it again!
-You've been absolutely lovely. Go on.
And my thanks to you for watching the TV That Made Me.
-From me and Pam, bye-bye.
MUSIC: The Girl from Corsica
Writer Pam Ayres shot to fame on TV talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1975. Now she joins comedy legend Brian Conley to look back at the classic archive TV moments from her past that helped shape her into one of the nation's best-loved poets and entertainers.
Pam's younger years contained a wealth of great telly, but what does the combination of her love of one of our favourite boys in blue and one of the scariest series ever broadcast on British TV tell us about her? And why does the comic genius of Tony Hancock hold such a special place in her heart?