Only When I Laugh (TV series)

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Only When I Laugh
Written byEric Chappell
Directed byVernon Lawrence
Graeme Muir
StarringJames Bolam
Peter Bowles
Christopher Strauli
Richard Wilson
Derrick Branche
Theme music composerKen Jones
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series4
No. of episodes29 (list of episodes)
Producer(s)Vernon Lawrence
Editor(s)Phil Cooke
Keith Coppock
Jim Molyneux
Trevor Pugh
Stuart Quarmby
Lance Tattersall
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)Yorkshire Television
DistributorITV Studios
Original networkITV
Picture format4:3
Original release29 October 1979 (1979-10-29) –
16 December 1982 (1982-12-16)

Only When I Laugh is a British television sitcom made by Yorkshire Television for ITV. It aired between 29 October 1979 and 16 December 1982 and was set in the ward of an NHS hospital. The title is in response to the question, "Does it hurt?"[citation needed]

It starred James Bolam, Peter Bowles, and Christopher Strauli as patients Roy Figgis, Archie Glover, and Norman Binns. Mr. Gordon Thorpe, their consultant surgeon, was played by Richard Wilson; and Gupte, the staff nurse from Delhi, was played by Derrick Branche.

The show was one of many successes for writer Eric Chappell, and has been repeated on ITV4 since 2019, formerly on ITV3.


In a discussion of Eric Chappell's work in The Guinness Book of Classic British TV, Only When I Laugh was described as "intermittently rewarding".[1]


Guest appearances have been made by Gwen Taylor, John Quayle, Neil McCarthy, Patrick Troughton, Moira Lister, Pat Ashton, Neil Connery, Pamela Cundell, Brenda Cowling, Reginald Marsh, Rosalind Ayres, Ann Beach, Mary Tamm, Karl Howman, Isla Blair, Ronnie Stevens, Stephen Greif, Robert Gillespie, Sylvia Kay and Frank Middlemass.


Series 1 (1979)[edit]

No.TitleDirected byOriginal air date
1"A Bed With a View"Vernon Lawrence29 October 1979 (1979-10-29)
Norman arrives at the ward and is given the bed next to the window. A game of musical beds ensues as Figgis and Archie want it too.
2"Operation Norman"Vernon Lawrence5 November 1979 (1979-11-05)
Norman's due for his appendix operation and is rather upset about it. He turns to Figgis for comfort in his hour of need.
3"The Rumour"Vernon Lawrence12 November 1979 (1979-11-12)
Figgis overhears Doctor Thorpe telling Gupte that his dog may not live much longer. Unfortunately, Figgis didn't hear the 'dog' bit and thinks it's about him.
4"The Man With the Face"Vernon Lawrence19 November 1979 (1979-11-19)
Archie's lothario-like tendencies are coming back to haunt him when he's convinced he's being stalked by a Greek madman for besmirching his fiancée.
5"Let Them Eat Cake"Vernon Lawrence26 November 1979 (1979-11-26)
The trio can stand the daily menu no longer and go on hunger strike. What they hadn't bargained for, however, was how hungry they would get.
6"Tangled Web"Vernon Lawrence3 December 1979 (1979-12-03)
Archie is craving female company and is heartened to see an attractive new nurse. So is Norman.
7"Is There a Doctor in the House?"Vernon Lawrence10 December 1979 (1979-12-10)
Tired of sitting in bed all day, Figgis disguises himself as a doctor and goes for a walk. Unfortunately, he's mistaken for a real doctor.

Series 2 (1980)[edit]

No.TitleDirected byOriginal air date
8"Whatever Happened To Gloria Robins?"Graeme Muir29 April 1980 (1980-04-29)
The trio get into a lather when a glamorous film star arrives on the ward.
9"Where There's a Will"Graeme Muir6 May 1980 (1980-05-06)
A rich patient becomes popular when the other patients learn he's about to make his Will.
10"It Can Damage Your Health"Graeme Muir13 May 1980 (1980-05-13)
Despite being warned on a frequent basis, the patients are undeterred by the risks of smoking.
11"The Cosmic Influence"Vernon Lawrence20 May 1980 (1980-05-20)
Figgis becomes interested in astrology and star signs which doesn't go down well with others.
12"The Visitors"Vernon Lawrence27 May 1980 (1980-05-27)
It's visiting day and Norman's mother has another dreary girl lined up for him, much to the others' amusement.
13"The Lost Sheep"Vernon Lawrence3 June 1980 (1980-06-03)
Figgis admits he's not been christened but sees the light when he meets a vicar.
14"Last Tango"Vernon Lawrence10 June 1980 (1980-06-10)
The "regulars" plan a party, but unexpected guests turn up.

Series 3 (1981)[edit]

No.TitleDirected byOriginal air date
15"A Day in the Life of"Vernon Lawrence2 September 1981 (1981-09-02)
A film crew are at the hospital making a documentary about Gordon Thorpe, however, the patients and Gupte are determined to have themselves appear on TV.
16"Adam's Rib"Vernon Lawrence9 September 1981 (1981-09-09)
When a new young female doctor arrives on the ward the trio and Thorpe are split in their opinions of her.
17"The Right Honourable Gentleman"Vernon Lawrence16 September 1981 (1981-09-16)
A Member of Parliament arrives on the ward for treatment, however he is refusing to sign a petition to stop the hospital from closing.
18"Postman's Knock"Vernon Lawrence23 September 1981 (1981-09-23)
Agony Aunt Clare Butterfield receives a letter from Worried of Ward 3, but her reply only confuses things.
19"Accident"Vernon Lawrence30 September 1981 (1981-09-30)
When Norman witnesses an accident involving Dr. Thorpe he is not sure whether he should testify to what he saw.
20"Dear Diary"Vernon Lawrence7 October 1981 (1981-10-07)
Figgis, Glover and Thorpe are determined to find out what Norman has written about them in his diary.
21"These You Have Loved"Vernon Lawrence14 October 1981 (1981-10-14)
The trio are fed up with hospital radio and attempt to do a better job at presenting it themselves.

Christmas Special (1981)[edit]

No.TitleDirected byOriginal air date
22"Away for Christmas"Vernon Lawrence24 December 1981 (1981-12-24)
It's Christmas at the hospital and although not everyone is enjoying the festive spirits, the trio take a keen interest in a new patient on the ward.

Series 4 (1982)[edit]

No.TitleDirected byOriginal air date
23"Blood Brothers"Vernon Lawrence4 November 1982 (1982-11-04)
Illness strikes Archie Glover, and Dr Thorpe insists he have a blood transfusion, but knowing who the donor is makes the invalid feel even more poorly.
24"Conduct Unbecoming"Vernon Lawrence11 November 1982 (1982-11-11)
A female patient falls for Dr Thorpe's bedside matter, and caught in a compromising position, he turns to the men's ward occupants for help, but will they come to the aid of a friend in need?
25"All in the Mind"Vernon Lawrence18 November 1982 (1982-11-18)
Figgis dabbles in amateur psychiatry and deduces that Norman is suffering from sexual repression.
26"In Sickness & in Health"Vernon Lawrence25 November 1982 (1982-11-25)
Norman's fiancee visits to discuss the wedding arrangements – but her suggestions force him to take matters into his own hands.
27"Escape"Vernon Lawrence2 December 1982 (1982-12-02)
The regulars are terrified by the admission of a convict onto their ward.
28"When Did You Last See Your Father?"Vernon Lawrence9 December 1982 (1982-12-09)
An inebriated man collapses in reception, and Figgis is employed to find out more about the mysterious visitor.
29"The Reunion"Vernon Lawrence16 December 1982 (1982-12-16)
The boys are discharged from hospital, and promptly arrange a reunion under more enjoyable circumstances.

Home release[edit]

  • In region 2 all four series of Only When I Laugh have been released on DVD by Network DVD, and a complete series box set has also been released both with music edits.
  • In region 1 series 1 & 2 have been released in individual DVDs (now discontinued). A complete 5 disc box set was released on March 10, 2009 by Dep Distribution under license from ITV Studios and distributed by Vivendi Entertainment.[2]
  • Region 4 has only released the complete series box set.


  1. ^ The Guinness Book of Classic British TV, by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, Second Edition.Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1996 ISBN 0851126286 (p.67).
  2. ^ News on "Only When I Laugh" DVD release Archived 1 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]