At the time it was one of the most popular television sitcoms on Australian Television - the Sullivans. Produced by Crawford Productions and run across the Channel Nine Network between 1976 and 1983, it told the story of a family coming to grips with the events of the second world war. Based in Melbourne the show produced a number of stars and ended on a high note. Many of the actors went onto successful careers.
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, focusing on either the fighting itself or its effect on the Sullivan family. Scenes of battles in North Africa, Greece, Crete, Britain, New Guinea and Malaya were all filmed in or around Melbourne. However, some of the exterior scenes in the Netherlands were actually filmed in Amsterdam.
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 as 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. 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."
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."
The shows main Characters:
Grace Sullivan – (née Grace Katherine Donovan) – born 24 October 1900 (Lorraine Bayly) was the Sullivan matriarch. The daughter of Dr Edmond Donovan, she married David Sullivan on 4 April 1919. 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 flying bomb struck John's flat on 6 July 1944 (episode 598).
Dave Sullivan (Paul Cronin) – born 19 February 1898 – 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 (John David Sullivan) – born 12 October 1919 (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. Anna died on 20 December 1940 (episode 117). After her death, John relented and joined the medical corps, leaving the family on 4 June 1941 (episode 228). He was 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. John featured in "The John Sullivan Story" (see below) and intermittently in the series again between episodes 505 and 616.
Tom (Thomas William Sullivan) – born 12 June 1921 (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, Patti Spencer (Penny Downie) on 4 September 1946 (episode 922), though it was not a successful marriage.
Terry (Terence Charles Sullivan) – born 7 April 1924 (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 an inner ear problem prevented this (episode 294) and he joined the army instead (episode 301). He later married Caroline O'Brien (Toni Vernon episodes 273 to 493; Geneviève Picot episodes 666 to 888) on 22 September 1942 (episode 334); 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 on 9 May 1946 for ten years for stealing explosives and assault (episode 886). He escaped from jail with Victor Fisher, another inmate, on 18 August 1948 (episode 1111). He was indirectly responsible for the death of his father Dave in the concluding episode of the series.
Kitty (Katherine Mary Sullivan) – born 5 February 1926 (Susan Hannaford). The youngest child and the only girl. 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 in 1943 (episode 427) she decided to take up nursing. Kitty married war correspondent Robbie McGovern (Graham Harvey) on 7 October 1944 (episode 668). The couple had a daughter, Grace McGovern (named after Kitty's mother), born on 13 May 1945 (episode 769). Robbie, affected by his war experiences, later committed suicide (episode 868).
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 on 31 December 1941 (episode 268). This had a devastating impact on Harry. Harry received a three-month jail sentence on 22 May 1944 (episode 578) for dealing with stolen goods. After leaving jail, Harry set up his own business. He left the family to go to Queensland, finding there was money in Army disposals (episode 744).
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. He married his first wife, Melina Tsangarakis (Chantal Contouri), a Cretan, on 5 March 1942 (episode 286). She was executed by a Nazi officer, Heinrich Krull, on 13 April 1942 (episode 298). He later returned to Australia and married Maggie Hayward on 30 June 1943 (episode 408). Norm was later involved in an SOE mission to track down Heinrich Krull.
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) on 26 July 1946 (episode 908).
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 later died from his wounds in North Africa on 30 March 1942 (episode 292).
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.
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