FANS were left in stitches as poet, broadcaster and entertainer Pam Ayres performed poems old and new for a buzzing Swindon Festival of Literature audience.

Between peals of laughter at Swindon Arts Centre theatre she spoke seriously about her affection for hedgehogs, the subject of her latest poem.

Hedgehogs are the subject of her poem in a literal sense – her 50-page illustrated elegy is written from animal's perspective and is intended to raise awareness of the their decline in population.

Pam, who lives in the Cotswolds, appealed to the audience from the get-go with a wry dig saying: “I knew Swindon very well because I was born in Stanford in the Vale not very far away - and I used to come to Swindon as a treat!”

She quickly launched into her first number, which set the humorous tone for the rest of the evening. Through her poem Don’t Kiss Me she explored the awkwardness of greeting strangers and the lack of a shared etiquette when leaning in for a kiss: “I do not want to do it, I would rather pass you by/ I miss, you get a smacker on the ear or in the eye/ I’m standing on the pavement thinking ‘blast, damnation, heck,’/ He went the other way and I have kissed him on the neck.”

Having made her first TV appearance as a contestant on BBC talent show Opportunity Knocks in 1975, Pam is no stranger to performing to big crowds.

She moved seamlessly between jokes, anecdotes and poems at the Arts Centre, pausing at intervals to allow listeners to complete her rhymes in their own heads. Among many topics she discussed during the evening were grandparenthood, her disapproval of the Grand National, and her annoyance at losing her glasses.

She said: “I could hang the glasses around my neck if I wanted because I’ve got one of these decorative chains but I don’t like it. It makes me feel matronly. I don’t feel like the cool, poetry chick when I wear them.”

As a patron of Oak & Furrows Wildlife Rescue Centre in Cricklade, Pam was keen to share advice about how to protect hedgehogs. At the end of the session she signed copies of her book, the advance of which will go towards The British Hedgehog Preservation Society.