The Sullivans

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For the 1944 film, see The Fighting Sullivans. For the five siblings killed in action on the same day in WW2, see the Sullivan brothers. For the warships named after the Sullivan brothers, see USS The Sullivans.
The Sullivans
The Sullivans main title caption.
Genre Soap Opera
Created by Crawford Productions
Starring Paul Cronin
Lorraine Bayly
Andrew McFarlane
Steven Tandy
Susan Hannaford
Richard Morgan
Norman Yemm
Megan Williams
Vivean Gray
Reg Gorman
Vikki Hammond
Michael Caton
Country of origin Australia
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 14
No. of episodes 701
Location(s) Melbourne, Victoria
Running time 30 minutes
Production company(s) Crawford Productions
Original channel Nine Network
Picture format 4.3 PAL
Audio format Stereo
Original run 15 November 1976 – 10 March 1983

The Sullivans is an Australian drama television series produced by Crawford Productions which ran on the Nine Network on 15 November 1976 until 10 March 1983. The series told the story of an average middle-class Melbourne family and the effect the Second World War had on their lives. It was a consistent ratings success in Australia, and also became popular in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Gibraltar and New Zealand.


The show was purchased by Channel Nine without a pilot programme being produced. They commissioned 34 hours with a view to extension. Fourteen writers were assigned to the thirteen plot lines which had been devised.[1]

The cast had not been established when they started writing the series and three months later they still had only two cast members, Vikki Hammond and Noni Hazelhurst.[1]

When researching the time period, the set designer Nick Rossedale said at the time "when you are dealing with a period of time that is well within living memory, you have to watch things very carefully". Hence, the painstaking research into the reality of the show.[1]

In 1976, the show was regarded as an ambitious project with the biggest budget ever for a commercial network series. It reputedly cost one million dollars to set up.[1]

Story and setting[edit]

The story began in 1939, with the declaration of war against Germany. From the outset the series focused on the Sullivan family of 7 Gordon Street, Camberwell, Victoria, along with neighbourhood friends, relatives and associates. The majority of show's storylines related to the war, focussing on either the fighting itself or its effect on the Sullivan family. Scenes of battles in North Africa, Greece, Crete, the Netherlands, Britain, New Guinea and Malaya were all filmed in or around Melbourne.

The series was renowned for its high production standards. The programme's researchers went to great lengths to ensure both historical and cultural accuracy. Many scenes were timestamped and the scripts referenced actual military developments and events of the time, such discussion of specific battles, sporting results and cinematic releases. For instance, this even went down to the weather, where the researchers checked through back copies of newspapers.[1] Authentic 1930s furniture was located and used on sets, while kitchen pantries and the corner store were stocked with packaged goods of the era.

The set designer Nick Rossendale said it was a "fascinating job" to find these items. He went on to say that the big companies would say to him they didn't have anything for him but he persisted by asking if he could look through their warehouses. "When I got in, I usually found something", he said. "It's amazing what a bit of research and looking around will dig up. The forgotten stuff that was lying around was unbelievable. No one knew it was there."[1]

For instance, he found "hundreds of old pub mirrors labels, completely clean and unused" with every one of them "for a certain period of time". He said "to reproduce these would have cost a fortune but we can now label any product – can or bottle – with a real label so it won't be a reproduction at all."[1]

Main characters[edit]

Grace Sullivan (Lorraine Bayly) was the Sullivan matriarch. The daughter of a doctor, she was intelligent, rational and greatly respected by her family. Although opposed to her sons enlisting to fight, she eventually came to terms with this. Grace was a devout Catholic, which sometimes created tension with husband Dave, who was a non-practising Anglican. Later in the series she flew to London at the request of the War Office, to assist with the recovery of her son John. There she was killed when a German V-1 rocket struck the hospital.

Dave Sullivan (Paul Cronin) was an upright, hard-working and somewhat old-fashioned patriarch. He was a foreman at a small engineering firm and a veteran of the First World War, serving in the cavalry in the Middle East. At the outbreak of war in 1939 Dave encouraged his sons to fight; later in the series he eventually enlisted himself, reaching the rank of major in the engineering corps. Dave was hit and killed by a car in 1948, an event that marked the final scenes of the entire series.

John (Andrew McFarlane) was Dave and Grace's eldest child. A medical student in 1939, he was vehemently opposed to the war, leading to many confrontations with his more traditionalist father. John's relationship with German-born Anna Kaufman (Ingrid Mason) also caused complications. After her death, John relented and joined the medical corps before being lost at sea and, for two years, presumed dead. His return to the series prompted Grace Sullivan to fly to England where John was convalescing; it was there she was killed during a German air raid.

Tom (Steven Tandy) was the second Sullivan child, an engineering student who, unlike his brother John, was keen to sign up and fight for his country. Tom served the duration of the series in the military, serving in North Africa, Greece, Crete, the Netherlands and Malaya and eventually reaching officer rank. Late in the series he returned to civilian life, took up university studies and married an American lawyer, Patty Spencer (Penny Downie), though it was not a successful marriage.

Terry (Richard Morgan) was the third and youngest Sullivan son. A scampish schoolboy at the beginning of the series, as he matured he harboured dreams of joining the Air Force, but inner ear problems prevented this and he joined the army instead. He later married Caroline (Geneviève Picot); however the war took a greater psychological toll on Terry than his brothers; he was interned in Changi Prison and he struggled both with his marriage and his readjustment to civilian life. Terry was jailed in 1946 for armed robbery and escaped from jail with another inmate two years later. He was indirectly responsible for the death of his father Dave in the concluding episode of the series.

The youngest Sullivan child and the only girl was Kitty (Susan Hannaford). Shy, sensitive and conscientious, Kitty was upset by the war early in the series, and was prone to outbursts of emotion. Her character strengthened as the series progressed, and by the end of the war she was employed as a nurse. Kitty married war correspondent Robbie McGovern (Graham Harvey) who, affected by his experiences, later committed suicide.

Uncle Harry (Michael Caton) was Dave's younger brother, a wise-cracking larrikin with a fondness for goods of dubious origin ('fallen from the back of a truck'). His syrupy wife Rose (Maggie Dence) suffered depression and drowned in the Yarra River during a picnic. This had a devastating impact on Harry and his final scenes in the series showed him beginning a long sentence in prison.

Maggie Hayward (Vikki Hammond) was the divorced owner of the local pub the 'Great Southern', and Jack (Reg Gorman) her barman. Both were well-known to Dave Sullivan, Maggie as a former girlfriend and Jack through military service together during the First World War. The bar of the Great Southern was a common setting throughout the series.

Norm Baker (Norman Yemm) was another of Dave Sullivan's army comrades from the previous war and a close family friend. Like Dave he was old-fashioned, straight-talking and fond of a beer. He enlisted with Tom Sullivan at the beginning of the series and served the entire war, becoming a captain. His first wife, Melina (Chantal Contouri), was a Cretan who was executed by a Nazi officer. He later returned to Australia and married Maggie Hayward.

Ida Jessup (Vivean Gray) was the Sullivans' English-born next-door neighbour, brought up in Battersea. Her late husband had served in the First World War before being gassed and invalided back to Britain. At times prone to meddling and puritanical gossip, Mrs Jessup's character mellowed to show great strength and understanding as the series progressed. Later in the series she married Englishman Arthur Pike (Wallas Eaton).

Bert Duggan (Peter Hehir) and his neglected wife Lil (Noni Hazlehurst) appeared in the early seasons as lodgers taken in by Mrs Jessup. Bert, a devious womaniser, enlisted to escape arrest for illegal bookmaking; he was unable to cope with the rigours of war and was later killed in action in North Africa.

The Kaufmans, father Hans (Leon Lissek), mother Lottie (Marcella Burgoyne) and daughter Anna (Ingrid Mason) were German-born immigrants who owned the local shop, the Universal Store. Although they opposed the Nazi German regime their German status created problems for them at the outbreak of war, and Hans and Lottie were eventually interned as enemy aliens. Anna was saved from this fate by hastily marrying John Sullivan; however, she later fell ill and died.

Critical and popular reception[edit]

The Sullivans attracted critical acclaim and was also one of Australia's most popular drama series, screening in half-hour episodes at 7.00 pm.

In 1978 it was the third most popular show on Australian TV, after Are You Being Served? and Against the Wind.[2]

The show's popularity waned somewhat after 1979 following the departure of Lorraine Bayly. When she asked to leave the series the show's producers instead offered her six months leave. Her character Grace was sent to London to care for her injured son John, and a series of pre-taped segments were used in her absence to maintain her presence. The London scenes featured actors imported from New Zealand so Australian viewers would not recognise familiar actors. When Bayly refused to return after six months, she was written out of the series and Grace was killed by a V1 bomb during a London air raid.

Despite Bayly's departure ratings remained high enough for the series to remain in production. In 1982 the war ended in the storyline and there were plans for the series to continue with examinations of elements of post-war Australian history such as the Snowy River hydro-electric scheme. However, the decision of Paul Cronin to leave the series at this time prompted the show's cancellation before any of this could come to fruition.

Logie Awards[edit]

In the first full year of production, The Sullivans walked away with five Logies in 1978. Paul Cronin was Most Popular Australian Actor, Lorraine Bayly was Most Popular Australian Actress, Michael Caton won for Best Sustained Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, Vivean Gray won for Best Sustained Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role and, finally, the show won Most Popular Australian Drama.[3] It would win the latter award for the next two years' running.

The John Sullivan Story[edit]

The John Sullivan Story
Directed by David Stevens
Produced by John Barningham
Written by Tony Morphett
Brian Wright
Starring Andrew McFarlane
Olivia Hamnett
Frank Gallacher
Michael Caton
Roger Oakley.
Crawford Productions
Distributed by Eaton Films[4]
Release dates
5 August 1979
Running time
108 mins
Country Australia
Language English

The John Sullivan Story is a 1979 telefilm spun off from the series.[5][6] It was used to explained what happened to John Sullivan in the years in which he went missing on the show, and screened in the regular time for The Sullivans on 5 August 1979.[7]


After his troopship is sunk in 1942, John Sullivan is saved by Yugoslav Chetniks, whose leader Marko forces John to travel with him up through Greek Macedonia to a village where he has to practice as a doctor. He saves the life of a Jewish girl, Nadia, who he falls in love with.

John is then captured by the Gestapo but escapes. He meets British agents Major Barrington and Captain Meg Fulton. He goes to live with the Partisans. John leaves Yugoslavia.[8]


Vera Plevnik won the Logie for Best New Talent for her performance.[9]

International success[edit]

The series enjoyed success outside Australia when it was broadcast by networks in Britain and continental Europe, usually as a daytime filler. The series was sold to over 45 country worldwide.[10]

  • United Kingdom The Sullivans started on the ITV network on 18 October 1977, less than a year after its debut in Australia and was initially networked by Thames Television to all 15 ITV companies in the midweek Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 15.50 afternoon slot. Over the next 18 months or so, broadcasts were reduced to twice-weekly, and often only once a week, settling into a weekly Friday afternoon slot by 1979. ATV were the first region to break away from the networked episodes, and as early as January 1978 they were scheduling the programme on different days and times, and began falling behind the rest of the country. When networked repeats of the ATV drama serial The Cedar Tree ended in June 1979, The Sullivans briefly took its place in the 12.30 lunchtime slot and was stripped five days a week, but this new timelsot lasted only a matter of weeks and it was moved back to the weekly Friday afternoon slot in July. The Sullivans disappeared from schedules briefly after the ITV strike, and in mid-November the series resumed in most regions, once again in the 12.30 lunchtime slot, initially four days a week, but reduced to three and then two episodes per week during 1980, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. STV broke away from the networked episodes in November 1979 and ATV dropped the series altogether for some months. Many other regions followed suit during 1980 and began scheduling The Sullivans on different days and times. Although most still favoured the 12.30 lunchtime slot, they showed the programme less often than Thames and rapidly began falling behind in the storyline. In 1981 ATV finally cancelled the series altogether, and Yorkshire Television followed suit in December 1982, opting for local programming instead. Border Television, Tyne Tees Television, and Ulster Television continued to screen their episodes via the Thames Television feed throughout the series's entire run, and these regions were the first to complete the series, broadcasting the final episode on Wednesday 5 October 1988. Nearly all the remaining ITV companies completed the series in late 1988 or early 1989 except for HTV, TSW and Scottish Television which took until 1993 to complete the series. When Westcountry Television took over from TSW, they initially dropped The Sullivans from their schedule, only to bring it back a while later due to popular demand. This was short-lived, however, and Westcountry then dropped the series completely, meaning that ITV viewers in Yorkshire, the Midlands and the South West never saw the entire series.
    • The Sullivans has also had a lengthy run on satellite and cable television in the UK. The series was screened on Sky Channel in the mid-to-late 1980s, before it became Sky One, and aired at 10:00am every weekday morning, but this repeat was short-lived. In the mid-1990s however, it enjoyed another repeat run on satellite channel UK Gold. The entire series was broadcast at 07.00 and 11.30am from 3 January 1994 to 1999.
  • Gibraltar The series was a Sunday night TV staple on GBC TV in Gibraltar, where The Sullivans aired as double episodes every Sunday night from 8.45pm throughout the 1980s. The series was amongst the most popular programmes in Gibraltar at the time.
  • United States In the early 1980s, the series was syndicated in North America. Stations included WLVI Boston and CKRD Red Deer.

The Sullivans employed scores of actors in short-term and supporting roles, so becoming something of a proving ground for young Australasian talent. Many of the young actors who worked on the series during its run would later enjoy successful careers, such as Mel Gibson, Kerry Armstrong, Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue, Sam Neill, Gary Sweet and Sigrid Thornton. The series also employed many already-prominent actors, including John Orcsik, Gus Mercurio, Charles Tingwell, John Waters, Maurie Fields and Vincent Ball.

DVD releases[edit]

The first 26 episodes of the series were initially released on DVD in the Netherlands. The DVD audio is in English with removable Dutch subtitles.[11] By January 2015 in Australia, 750 episodes are available to purchase through Crawfords DVD (Region 4) over fifteen volumes.[12] A bonus DVD is also available with volume six of "The John Sullivan Story" which was a stand-alone TV film. In the UK (Region 2), Volume 1 (episodes 1–50) was released on 12 March 2012 followed by Volume 2 (episodes 51–100) on 30 July 2012. Volume 3 (episodes 101-150) and Volume 4 (episodes 151-200) were released on 27 May 2013 and then Volume 5 (episodes 201-250) and Volume 6 (episodes 251-300) on 28 April 2014. Volume 7 (episodes 301-350) and Volume 8 (episodes 351-400) were released on 26 May 2014.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g TV Week magazine, 11 September 1976 – "The Sullivans Bring Back the War Years" by Eric Scott, pp 6-7.
  2. ^ "Australian TV shows top ratings.". The Canberra Times (National Library of Australia). 30 December 1978. p. 3. Retrieved 11 August 2013. 
  3. ^ TV Week magazine, 11 March 1978 – "The Sullivans Are Adopted", page 6.
  4. ^ The John Sullivan Story at Eaton Films
  5. ^ Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970-1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p90
  6. ^ The John Sullivan Story at IMDB
  7. ^ "What happene[?] the missing Sullivan?.". The Australian Women's Weekly (National Library of Australia). 8 August 1979. p. 30. Retrieved 14 July 2013. 
  8. ^ The John Sullivan Story at Crawford Productions
  9. ^ "VERA PLEVNIK she does it her way.". The Australian Women's Weekly (National Library of Australia). 4 June 1980. p. 57 Supplement: FREE Your TV Magazine. Retrieved 14 July 2013. 
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^

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