1 9 7 9 – 1 9 8 2 (UK)
29 x 30 minute episodes
A hospital comedy centred on patients Roy Figgis (James Bolam), Archie Glover (Peter Bowles), Norman Binns (Christopher Strouli) and irritable surgeon Gordon Thorpe (Richard Wilson).
Most episodes were set on the ward and involved young nurses and odd visitors.
This was James Bolam’s first comedy since Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? (in the interim he had scored great acclaim as tough Jack Ford in the BBC1 drama When The Boat Comes In) and pitched him into a happy ensemble that frequently topped the ratings.
Only When I Laugh was set in an NHS hospital wherein a trio of very different patients was forever playing the art of one-upmanship and getting into scrapes with each other, at the same time causing grief to Thorpe (the surgeon) and Gupte, the luckless and easily flustered staff nurse from Delhi.
Bolam played a lorry driver who revelled in the confines of the hospital ward, stirring up bad odour and using his limited medical knowledge and broad-ranging working-class opinions to wind up the other patients.
In particular, he enjoyed teasing Binns, a hapless, innocent middle-class mummy’s boy, and Archie Glover, a cultivated upper-class hypochondriac who enjoys having everyone running around for him.
Most episodes were set in the ward – there wasn’t much wrong with them, but the three leading players seemed destined to remain hospital (and dressing-gown) bound for the duration – with young nurses and a succession of visitors providing writer Eric Chappell opportunities to bring in other actors when necessary.
Only When I Laugh enjoyed a second lease of life when Channel 4 began two series of repeats in 1994/1995, that fared unexpectedly well.
Dr Gordon Thorpe
Staff Nurse Gupte