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There is a contention that an accent makes a funny joke funnier; the Chaser Gang’s Andrew Hansen has turned this idea into an excellent song, which can be heard in both an episode of The Chaser’s War on Everything (one of the first thirteen episodes, available on the DVD release) and in Episode 38 of Radio Ha Ha.
I would maintain that part of Pam Ayres’s appeal, particularly in Australia, is her accent. As a kid, I naturally assumed it was cockney - having, I guess, only Dick Van Dyke’s character in Mary Poppins to go by (see the relevant chapter in Ben Elton’s Stark for a full dissertation on why Van Dyke’s “Guv-nuh” embodies seventeen different shades of shit acting) until I was aware of Eric Idle’s ‘Arthur Name’ (“‘Name’ by name, not by nature; I always say that, don’t I”) or ‘Arthur Nudge’ (“Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more!”). Turns out most of Australia thought it was a cockney accent, according to Pam’s between-poem patter on her recent DVD Pam Ayres In Her Own Words.
Part of the reason is possibly because Pam’s frequent Australian tours tended to include, in addition to heaps of performances, advertisements that utilised her distinctive voice. There was a time around the late 70s when I could immitate a certain fruit juice ad flawlessly:
If you were a li[tt]le frui[t] juice
And you lived on a li[tt]le shalf,
Think how tired and lonely you’d feel,
In the dark, all by yoursalf.
Bu’ if you were a li[tt]le frui[t] juice
And you lived in a li[tt]le bo[tt]le,
something about your goodness and greatness being compared favourably to the Australian “wa[tt]le”.
Turns out that a friend of mine who is a good five years younger than me has a similar routine, involving instead of the frui[t] juice, an ad for Te[t]ley tea.
It would be a pity if Pam Ayres were only remembered for and by the advertising campaigns that utilised her talents. Thankfully, there’s a massive body of work that Pam has been sharing with Aussie fans for nearly all of the thirty years that she has been performing professionally – she started visiting Australia regularly after being discovered in the UK on the talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1975.
Of course, Pam Ayres was brought to mind again earlier this year when Raw Comedy winner Hannah Gadsby invoked her as part of her routine in April this year, as broadcast on the ABC (and as featured in Episode 33 of Radio Ha Ha). Some of Hannah’s winning routine is replayed in this episode in order to gauge Pam’s response and, I guess, to give her an opportunity to reply. For the record, as stated in either that episode or, more likely, in Episode 39, a BBC poll recently voted ‘I Wish I’d Looked After My Teeth’ into the top ten of funniest poems.
Having Pam Ayres in the studio, happy to read her work, and talk about it, as well as to discuss the work of other people, was a real treat – or, should I say, this episode is “a real doozy!”
Frank Zappa (?): The way I see it, Barry, this should be a very dynamite show.
This line is sampled from ‘Lumpy Gravy Pt 1’, from the Frank Zappa album Lumpy Gravy, and plays over the wow and flutter of bad radio reception sampled from ‘Reception’, from the Paul McCartney & wings album Back to the Egg. It is followed by the static and noise of a radio tuner being spun through various stations, and then gives way to ‘Holiday for Strings’ by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, until:
Deep ‘Announcer’ Voice: And now it’s time for Radio Ha Ha with Dom Romeo.
Soundbite: The audience of The Classic, Silbury Hill, (a cinema) laugh at the first visual gag, as featured on the track ‘Introduction (Part 2)’ from (newly re-mastered and re-released with bonus tracks) The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. 
Dom Romeo: Welcome to this episode of Radio ha Ha. I’m very happy to say that my co-host for this episode is a poet, a comedian, a star in her own country and in Australia: Pam Ayres, who’s celebrating her thirtieth anniversary of being a performer.
Pam Ayres: Thank you very much, Dom, it’s very nice to be here.
Dom Romeo: It’s a real pleasure to have you here, and I’ve got to say that in this episode, in addition to talking to you at length about your work and listening to your hilarious poetry, we’re also going to listen to a bit of an up-and-coming Australian comic called Hannah Gadsby, who you have in fact inspired, and another humorous poet called Shirley Friend.
In fact, we’ll kick off with Shirley. This is a poem about Shirley going for a mammogram on one of those mobile health buses. 
Soundbite: Shirley Friend delivers her poem ‘Mammogram’ to a live audience, as released on the Shoestring CD The Naked Poets 2: Newdirections 
Station ID: You won’t die laughing, but you might mess your pants. Radio Ha Ha!
Dom Romeo: That was Shirley Friend, talking about the time she went for a mammogram on one of those mobile health units that operate out of a bus, and it’s taken from an album called Newdirections - The Naked Poets Series Volume 2.
What did you think of that?
Pam Ayres: I liked it very much. I liked it because she’s being herself, she’s got her own voice, it’s a good subject, she’s come at it in a clever way, and I liked it. And it’s got a good ‘out’. That’s another thing you need, a good ‘out’, and that thing about ‘touching her’, whether they’re playing or not, I think it’s a very, very good piece and I like Shirley Friend.
Dom Romeo: The reason I chose to open this episode of Radio Ha ha with some humorous poetry is, of course, because my co-host for this episode is humorous poet Pam Ayres, who has recently released a DVD called Pam Ayres In Her Own Words, which we’ll talk about later. More recently, she’s also released a book called Surgically Enhanced, which we’ll talk about now. Pam, tell me about Surgically Enhanced.
Pam Ayres: Well, this is my first book for nine years and it’s all material that I wrote for my solo show. So it’s all my new poems, all my new stories and three sketches which I wrote that I was particularly please with.
Dom Romeo: I notice that there are a lot of stories accompanying the poems, and in my memory, you were always a poet rather than a raconteur as well…
Pam Ayres: Yeah, I’m not really; I’m more of a stand-up really, because I’m on stage for two hours and it just wouldn’t work for me or the audience if I just declaimed one poem, and then another poem and then another poem for two hours. It would drive us all nuts! So I gradually started to tell people why I wrote them, and I found, honestly, that people laughed just as much at the stories as they did at the poems. I haven’t put them in as some sort of filler, I’ve put them in because they are, in my opinion, of equal value. They’ve had as much work on them, and they make the audience laugh just as much.
Dom Romeo: Well I think we should hear an example of one. The piece ‘Growing Up’ appears both in the book Surgically Enhanced, and on the DVD Pam Ayres in Her Own Words, which was released in Australia by Roadshow a few months ago. Here is ‘Growing Up’.
Soundbite: An excerpt from the monologue ‘Growing Up’, as delivered by Pam Ayresand featured on the Roadshow DVD Pam Ayres In Her Own Words.
Station ID: It’s the most fun you can have with your pants on – Radio Ha Ha!
Dom Romeo: And that was ‘Growing Up’, recited by the author, poet and comic Pam Ayres, from her DVD Pam Ayres in Her Own Words - available now through RoadShow.
Pam, that’s a very funny story.
Pam Ayres: It’s true, too. That’s what people like. Especially older people, because my childhood is typical of a fairly low-income, big family of a baby-boomer, which is what I am. So when I talk about the things we did, so many other people identify with it.
Dom Romeo: Now you were saying that the stories between the poems sort of ‘grew’ over time, and are as entertaining; am I right in remembering that you used to sing songs as well?
Pam Ayres: I did used to sing, but I don’t anymore. I used to wish that I had a lovely, strong voice. I’ve got a feeble little ‘pure’ voice but it’s … I don’t know, it just wasn’t good enough, I didn’t think. I used to sing a few folky songs when I first came on the scene because that was where I’d come from: I’d come from the folk clubs, which were like the comedy clubs of the day, but I don’t do it anymore because my voice isn’t good enough. I’d like a real good, strong voice, you know, like some people have got, which could pin people to the wall. A really powerful, good voice. That’s what I’d like. But I wasn’t given one of those so I don’t inflict my voice on anybody anymore. And me warbling away with a guitar is not very exciting, really.
Dom Romeo: Okay, well look, I’d like to give examples and play some, but I don’t actually have some with me…
Pam Ayres: Thank goodness for that!
Dom Romeo: I’m glad you’re relieved, as such.
There’s a poem I would love to play, called ‘Don’t Kiss Me’, that I rather like. What’s the story behind this one?
Pam Ayres: I got the idea for this piece from my brother-in-law, John, who was at a barbecue. He was introduced to a lady that he vaguely knew, but to his surprise, when he was introduced to her she came forward and kissed him on both sides of the face, and he wasn’t expecting it. She went one way and he went the other, and they had a painful collision of noses which made the lady’s eyes run. For some time afterwards, she was walking around with a hanky, dabbing her eyes and he was hideously embarrassed. He said to me afterwards that he just wished people wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t come up and kiss you when you don’t even know them. Why couldn’t they just say, ‘hello’, or shake hands? But to actually come and slobber over each other, he didn’t like it.
It made me feel the same, because I have got various relations who always kiss me, and I don’t know whether it’s going to be once or twice, or which side you’re supposed to do it first, and there’s that moment where I’m looking at them like a rabbit in a headlight and thinking, ‘is there supposed to be another kiss, or was that it?’
Soundbite: ‘Don’t Kiss Me’, performed live-in-the-studio by Pam Ayres.
Dom Romeo: I’ll remember that!
Pam Ayres: Yeah, I’m deprived of everybody’s kisses now, I’m not sure it’s altogether a good thing.
Station ID: Radio Ha Ha: Not for the faint hearted, but definitely for the young-at-heart.
Dom Romeo: Now, I was saying earlier, Pam, that you inspired an Australian comic. Earlier this year, a woman called Hannah Gadsby won a competition called Raw Comedy, and part of her routine was kind of inspired by that poem ‘I Wish I’d Looked After My Teeth’. I’ll play it for you.
Soundbite: An excerpt of Hannah Gadsby’s Raw Comedy routine, but as performed – and recorded – at Comedy on the Rox, at the Roxbury Hotel, Glebe. 
Dom Romeo: Pam, what did you think of that?
Pam Ayres: Well… I don’t know. I don’t know whether I’m flattered [or not…] Well, I’m not sort of ‘flattered’, I don’t suppose, but… what I think about that poem: although she mentions me, which is fine; it’s nice that her mum remembered me, but… listening to the actual couplet, it’s a cheap laugh. My husband and I have got this expression, ‘if all else fails, drop your trousers’: you know, it’s a cheap laugh. It’s not particularly funny, it’s just the use of a foul word and I don’t think it’s… Anybody can do it. That’s what I think.
Dom Romeo: Fair enough. But I think the best thing to do at this point is to hear the actual poem that she’s referencing. It is a doozy, and it’s one that sticks in the mind very well.
Pam Ayres: What’s a ‘doozy’? 
Dom Romeo: [laughing a little uncomfortably] It don’t know if it’s…
Pam Ayres: I’ve never heard that word before. What’s a ‘doozy’?
Dom Romeo: I don’t know if it’s specifically Australian slang, it’s my way of saying, ‘It’s a very good poem. It’s quite funny.’
Pam Ayres: Oh, right.
Dom Romeo: It’s a good thing.
Pam Ayres: I’ll put that in the notebook: “A ‘doozy’”.
Dom Romeo: Now, what do you reckon? Can you give us a bit of…
Soundbite: ‘I Wish I’d Looked After My Teeth’, performed live-in-the-studio by Pam Ayres.
Dom Romeo: I say it’s a ‘doozy’! It’s still funny because we can imagine ourselves in that position. I think the point at which you’re gazing up the dentist’s nostrils, I think we realise we’ve all been there.
Pam Ayres: Yeah. It’s old, but it’s a doozy!
Dom Romeo: Now, the interesting thing about poems like that is, on the one and, they seem to appeal to children as a cautionary tale, but at the same time, they appeal so much to adults because it’s so meaningful to someone who has been through that. Now I do wish I’d looked after my teeth!
Pam Ayres: Yes. It’s a very simple structure, it’s a very simple little verse, isn’t it. But it depends what you say within the structure, whether it appeals to adults or not.
Dom Romeo: Do you find that you’re talking to a different audience now, or do your poems and your stories appeal across-the-board?
Pam Ayres: It’s fairly across-the-board, Dom. When I look out at the audience, there’s a lot of older people who remember me from the 70s, when I first started, but then there are a lot of women who are my sort of age who come along because they think I’m going to talk about things that they will recognise and identify with, and there are lots of younger people who have had the poems read to them as children, or have done them at school for a speech and drama competition, so there’s that sort of thing. So it’s a great mixture.
Dom Romeo: You’ve been coming to Australia a lot over the years. What’s the attraction? I mean, we clearly love you…
Pam Ayres: Oh, thanks, Dom. ‘What’s the attraction?’ Well, it’s on all sorts of levels,really. I am a working woman, this is my job. I write pieces and I proclaim them to an audience and I hope the audience will laugh. That’s my job, and I like it. So this is another area where I can work, because the audiences like me, and I like your audiences. So that’s one level. It’s another area where I can work, and where I like to work.
Over and above that, I just like the country for all sorts of reasons. I love it because it’s spacious, and the country I live in is uncomfortably congested everywhere. Here there is space, and fresh air, and the sea and beaches and great open areas which are very good for the soul.
And I like the contrast in Australia: I like the fact that you can go down to Hobart and be perished in the frost, or you can go up to Queensland and stand in a dripping rainforest and see wonderful creatures and look in the sea like I did in Cairns, and there’s all these amazing sort of frilled fish scrambling around in the reeds and things I’ve never seen in my life. They’re the most amazing flora and fauna.
And I’ve got good friends here now that I’ve had many years; and the food…! I mean, where do you want me to stop?
Dom Romeo: I want to jump in and say, have we inspired any of your poems?
Pam Ayres: Yes, over the years I’ve written a lot of things about Australia, things which I… when I first started coming here in the 70s, everybody called it ‘Ayres Rock’ and climbed up it. I mean, the thing is all changed now and now it’s called Ulluru and it’s treated with much more respect and affection, but I wrote a piece about ‘Ayres Rock’, as it then was, which I don’t use anymore, of course. I wrote a piece called ‘The Ex-Odd Gum’ and all sorts of pieces that were topical at the time.
The one that has lasted the longest is the one about how God built the duck-billed platypus. I don’t know if you know that, but it’s a piece about the platypus, and I wrote that as soon as I came here in ’78.
Dom Romeo: Is that something you can give us a taste of now?
Pam Ayres: I can do a little piece of, yeah. I went to the Hillsville Sanctuary and saw this platypus swimming up and down in what looked like a small, glass coffin, and it seemed such an unlikely blend of things.
Soundbite: ‘The Duck-Billed Platypus’, performed live-in-the-studio by Pam Ayres.
Dom Romeo: Thank you very much.
Now Pam, I’m ashamed to say we’ve run out of time. I have to say goodbye. I’m not going to kiss you; all I can say is au revoir and auf weiedersehen. Thank you so much for coming in.
Pam Ayres: It’s a pleasure! It’s a pleasure. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been really nice to talk to you, and thank you very much for being interested.
Dom Romeo: Thank you.
- Yes, that really is the full title to the album that constitutes the soundtrack of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Almost all the Python albums have been re-mastered and re-issued with bonus tracks and new, deluxe artwork. Which only sucks if, as in the case of this album, the actual back cover artwork and the jokes printed thereon have been reproduced at almost one ninth the original size, since the original twelve inch by twelve inch record cover has been reduced to a five inch by five inch CD cove. Oh well, the third time you get around to buying the CD versions is when they might actually get it totally right, rather than almost right.
- The episode originally opened with the Hannah Gadsby bit. When you get to it, join Dom in wondering what the hell he could possibly have been thinking. Pam was gorgeous, of course, and the Hannah bit could still have opened the episode, but it would have been a bit awkward. However, if you had no idea that this happened, and can’t hear that stuff has been shifted, and additional bits, recorded and dropped in, Dom’s done an excellent job. Bot nearly as good a job as he’d have done if stuff hadn’t needed to be shifted, nor other bits, re-recorded and dropped, though, but he knows that this was an important lesson to learn, even if it did have to be learnt the hard way!
- It’s worth noting that this CD also contains the work of Aussie bard and reciter of funny stories that rhyme, Murray Hartin, who co-hosted Episode 38 of Radio Ha Ha.
- Yeah, I know; it’s a whole footnote later, and I still can’t believe I tried to lead with this bit, either!
- Dom’ll swear that the word ‘doozy’ worked perfectly in this context and didn’t sound nearly as ridiculous, until Pam asked “what’s a ‘doozy’?” The real answer is, it’s a word Dom’ll never be able to say or hear ever again without feeling acute embarrassment. And, some may argue, deservedly so!