From July 1975 to January 1998, 33 patients underwent partial laryngeal resection for residual or recurrent tumour after primary radical radiotherapy. Sixteen patients had T1 tumours on presentation, 14 were T2 and three were T3. Six patients underwent a supraglottic (horizontal) laryngectomy, 24 had a vertical partial laryngectomy, two had an endoscopic laser resection and one had an endoscopic laser resection followed by a vertical partial laryngectomy. The median time interval between radiotherapy and salvage surgery was 10 months (range 2–188 months). The median follow-up period was 41 months (range 12–185 months). There were five major postoperative complications (15%); two patients developed a pharyngeal fistula and three required further surgery for laryngo-tracheal stenosis. Twenty-five patients (76%) retained their larynx with satisfactory speech and swallowing. Eight patients (24%) had to be converted to a total laryngectomy, seven for recurrent disease and one for laryngeal stenosis. Of the eight patents converted, seven had normal swallowing and six developed good tracheo-oesophageal speech. Seven patients (21%) developed recurrent tumour after partial laryngectomy and were subjected to total laryngectomy; six of these seven were salvaged. Only one of the 33 patients died with recurrent tumour, giving an ultimate disease-related survival of 97%. Conservation laryngeal surgery for salvage of selected patients who fail radical radiation therapy is safe, effective, and results in reasonable preservation of laryngeal function.