Being severely ill usually isn’t a laughing matter so you’ve got to hand it to Eric Chappell, creator of Rising Damp, for somehow managing to get 29 episodes of laughter out of a bunch of patients on an NHS ward. Admittedly it helped that the working class Roy Figgis (James Bolam from The Likely Lads and New Tricks), the middle class Norman Binns (Christopher Strauli from Raffles) and the upper class Archie Glover (Peter Bowles from To The Manor Born) are hypochondriacs, and spent more of their time misbehaving and fighting a cold class war than they did actually being ill, but it’s still a pretty impressive feat.
Running for four series on ITV, Only When I Laugh sees Figgis check into the same ward as Archie and Norman, where they almost instantly start a love-hate bickering relationship with one another, initially over who gets the bed by the window but usually about more or less anything, ranging from attractive nurses to jealous Greeks. The only thing uniting them over the show’s four series? Their mutual nemeses, the ward doctor (Richard Wilson of One Foot In The Grave) and the somewhat stereotypical Gupte the orderly (Derrick Branche from just about any show that needed an Indian-, Asian- or Middle Eastern-looking character).
While occasionally depressing, particularly thanks to the baleful theme tune (‘I’m H.A.P.P.Y.’), the show managed to find laughs in the three’s hypochondria and just about every aspect of hospital life, including hospital radio, and life itself. The final episode sees the three patients dismissed from hospital, and forced to discover whether not only are they friends but can they be friends when they no longer have their situation in common.
Here are both the first episode and the last episode for you to enjoy, but it’s pretty much all on YouTube. If you like it, don’t forget to buy it!