Pam Ayres was born at Stanford in the Vale, Berkshire, now in Oxfordshire. After leaving Faringdon Secondary School at the age of 15, she joined the Civil Service as a clerical assistant and worked at the Army (RAOC) Central Ordnance Depot in Bicester. She soon left and signed up for the Women's Royal Air Force, where she worked in a drawing office dealing with operational maps. Whilst serving in the air force, she gained O-level passes in English language and English literature and began her career as an entertainer. She began reading her verses at the local folk club in Oxfordshire, and this led to an invitation to read on the local BBC Radio station in 1974. Her reading was re-broadcast nationally, and then broadcast again as one of the BBC's Pick of the Year.
Bob Dylan inspired Ayres to write poetry, and in a 2006 interview she added that, at the age of twelve, she enjoyed writing parodies of the Lonnie Donegan songs popular at that time.
In 1975, Ayres appeared on the television talent show Opportunity Knocks. This led to a wide variety of guest appearances on TV and radio shows. Since then she has published six books of poems, toured in a one-woman stage show, hosted her own TV show and performed her stage show for the Queen.
Her poetry has a deceptively simple style and deals with everyday subject matter. Her poem Oh, 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. In the UK Arts Council's report on poetry, Ayres was identified as the fifth best-selling poet in Britain in 1998 and 1999.
Ayres continues to perform her work, the humorous quality of which is enhanced by her idiosyncratic delivery and by her distinctive accent from the Vale of the White Horse in Oxfordshire.
From 1996, Ayres has appeared frequently on BBC Radio: from 1996 until 1999 Ayres presented a two-hour music and chat show every Sunday afternoon on BBC Radio 2; this was followed by two series of Pam Ayres’ Open Road, in which she visited various parts of the United Kingdom, interviewing people with interesting stories to tell about their lives and local areas. More recently Ayres has become a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4, appearing in programmes such as Just a Minute, Say The Word, That Reminds Me, and two series of her own show, Ayres On The Air, a radio show of her poetry and sketches.
In 2007, Ayres acted in a radio sitcom, Potting On for Radio 4, co-starring Geoffrey Whitehead. She wrote and recorded three series of her Radio 4 programme Ayres On The Air, the latest of which was broadcast in 2009.
Since 2002 Ayres has appeared a number of times on Channel 4 in Countdown's Dictionary Corner alongside Susie Dent.
In 2009, she made her first appearance on the BBC TV programme, QI. In 2011 she said in a Daily Telegraph magazine interview that she was "about to go on my 14th tour of Australia".
Her biography, The Necessary Aptitude: A Memoir, was published in 2011. It traces her life and career from growing as the youngest of six children in a council house in the Vale of White Horse, Berkshire, her time in the Women's Royal Air Force and the string of events that led to Opportunity Knocks. The title refers to the number of times she was told in her life she "did not have the necessary aptitude".
In 2013, Ebury Press published her latest book of poems entitled "You Made me Late Again".
The poet John Cooper Clarke has cited Ayres' early success on Opportunity Knocks as being highly influential on his career.
Ayres is married to theatre producer Dudley Russell, and they have two sons, William and James. They live in the Cotswolds and keep rare breeds of cattle, as well as sheep, pigs, chickens, and guinea fowl. Ayres is a keen gardener and beekeeper. She is a patron of the British Hen Welfare Trust, Cheltenham Animal Shelter and Oak and Furrows Wildlife Rescue Center. In 2004, she was appointed MBE for services to literature and entertainment.