‘Literally, the best festival we’ve ever done’

Marry Berry
Marry Berry

More than 2,000 people flocked to Thame’s third annual arts and literature festival over the weekend, making it the most successful event so far.

Highlights included Oxfordshire-born Pam Ayres reading from her autobiography, a talk by Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry and an appearance by broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby.

To appeal to a wide audience the ticket prices were deliberately kept down to encourage families to take a chance and attend talks they would not normally consider – such as the BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz asking ‘what is modern art? Why does it incite such loathing? And why on Earth is it worth so much money?’

Festival director Yvonne Maxwell said: “Pam Ayres kept another sell-out audience enthralled, and in stitches of laughter, with tales from her early life near Wantage, before she became famous.

“And she signed copies of her autobiography afterwards to an appreciative crowd.

“Towersey Manor Barn, courtesy of Mr and Mrs Barnett, was the packed venue for Mary Berry’s talk about life, her recent CBE, recipes and The Great British Bake Off.

“Will Gompertz’s madcap journey through modern art had to be experienced to be believed and Jonathan Dimbleby’s dissection of the battle for North Africa in the Second World War was inspirational.”

Mrs Maxwell admitted there were some ‘technical problems’ ahead of an appearance by Edna O’Brien – who rose to prominence in the 1960s with her provoking and shocking views about men and society which inspired millions of women.

She said: “Edna O’Brien’s talk attracted a sell-out audience of some 250 people.

“Unfortunately technical difficulties with the sound system installed for the festival caused something of a delay.

“We are very sorry that so many people were kept waiting for so long and it is a great pity that one of our biggest events should have been marred in this manner.

“We are a young festival and are learning very quickly.”

During her talk, Edna, whose first venture into writing saw her books burned in her home country of Ireland because of the sexual content, spoke about her autobiography and encounters with Hollywood giants, pop stars and literary titans.

Mrs Maxwell said: “However, once underway, Edna’s talk was agreed by most people to have been inspirational.

“It was a very special and rare encounter with an author of such great stature.”

There were 26 events in total over four days. Other festival highlights included a tribute to Charles Dickens and the characters he created at the Players’ Theatre.

The closing show starred Thame comedians Rob Deering and Sassy Clyde.

Overall Mrs Maxwell, who used to help organise the Oxford Literary Festival, judges this year’s festival in Thame to have been a major success.

She said: “With other talks on widely differing subjects, wonderful music of all kinds, comedy and two very different plays, Thame Arts and Literature Festival has now established itself in the literary and arts calendar.

“We look forward to welcoming everyone back to Thame in 2013 for the next festival.”

The dates have already been confirmed for next year’s TAL Festival, which will run from Thursday October 17 until Sunday 20.

For more details about the TAL Festival visit www.talfestival.org