The Sullivans

The Sullivans is an Australian drama television series produced by Crawford Productions which ran on the Nine Network from 15 November 1976 until 10 March 1983. The series tells the story of a fictitional average middle-class Melbourne family and the effect that the Second World War and the immediate post-war events had on their lives. It covers the period between 1 September 1939 to 22 August 1948. It was a consistent ratings success in Australia, and also became popular in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Gibraltar, Greece and New Zealand.

The Sullivans
The Sullivans main title caption
GenreSoap opera / drama
Created byCrawford Productions
Country of originAustralia
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons8
No. of episodes1,114
Production location(s)Melbourne, Victoria
Running time22 minutes (episodes 1 and 2 are each 46 minutes)
Production company(s)Crawford Productions
DistributorEaton Films
Original networkNine Network
Picture format4:3 PAL
Audio formatMono
Original release15 November 1976 
10 March 1983


The show was purchased by Channel Nine without a pilot program 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 Hazlehurst.[1]

When researching the time period, the set designer Nick Rossendale 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

The story began in 1939, with the declaration of war against Germany. From the outset the series focused on the Sullivan family of fictitious address 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.[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

  • 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, a young soldier invalided from the battlefront, 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 light horse 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 by a car on 20 August 1948 (episode 1112) and he died the following day (episode 1113), 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 at Melbourne University 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 is a romantic who finds the best in everyone. She 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. He served in the same regiment as Dave in the First World War and was 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 whom he killed on 10 October 1944 (episode 672).
  • 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 (episode 76). Anna was saved from this fate by hastily marrying John Sullivan; however, she later fell ill and died.

The Sullivans attracted critical acclaim and was also one of Australia's most popular drama series, screening in half-hour episodes at 7:00 p.m.

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 1981 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. The final scenes were shot on 19 July 1982.[3]

Logie Awards

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.[4] It would win the latter award for the next two years' running.

The John Sullivan Story

The John Sullivan Story
Directed byDavid Stevens
Produced byJohn Barningham
Written by
  • Andrew McFarlane
  • Olivia Hamnett
  • Frank Gallacher
  • Michael Caton
  • Roger Oakley
Crawford Productions
Distributed byEaton Films[5]
Release date
5 August 1979
Running time
108 mins

The John Sullivan Story is a 1979 telefilm spun off from the series.[6][7] It was used to explain what happened to John Sullivan in the years in which he went missing on the show. It was first shown on GTV9 Melbourne and TCN9 Sydney on Sunday 5 August 1979.[8]


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, with whom he falls in love.

John is then captured by the Gestapo but escapes. He meets British Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents Major Barrington and Captain Meg Fulton. He goes to live with the Partisans. John leaves Yugoslavia.[9]


Vera Plevnik won the Logie for Best New Talent for her performance.[10]

International success

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 countries worldwide.[11]

In the United Kingdom The Sullivans started on the ITV network on 18 October 1977,[12] less than a year after its debut in Australia and was initially networked by Thames Television to all 15 ITV companies in a Tuesday and Wednesday 3:50 p.m. afternoon slot. The series was shown weekly on Thursdays from 12 January 1978; a Tuesday and Thursday pattern started on 19 September 1978 and then a weekly Friday showing started on 5 January 1979. ATV were the first region to break away from the networked episodes, showing a one-hour version of the programme for 11 weeks from 6 January 1978 at 2:25 p.m., before returning to the 30 minute format. 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 p.m. lunchtime slot and was stripped five days a week, but this new timeslot lasted only a matter of weeks and it was moved back to the weekly Friday afternoon slot on 13 July 1979. The Sullivans disappeared from the schedules briefly after the ITV strike, and on 23 November 1979 the series resumed in all regions (apart from ATV), once again in the 12:30 p.m. lunchtime slot, initially four days a week, but reduced to three and then two episodes per week during 1980, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some regions broke away from the networked episodes during 1980 and began scheduling The Sullivans on different days and times. Although most still favoured the 12:30 p.m. lunchtime slot, these regions showed the programme less often than Thames and rapidly began falling behind in the storyline. ATV left the series on 15 October 1981 and Yorkshire Television followed suit, leaving the series at episode 284 on 2 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 Thursday 6 October 1988. TVS and Channel Television finished the series on 15 February 1989 and Granada Television showed the final episode on 28 August 1989. TSW started showing the series in an afternoon slot at 1:30p.m. on Fridays from 6 January 1989. From 4 September 1989 the 12:30 p.m. slot was used for Home and Away and the remaining regions still showing The Sullivans also moved the programme to an afternoon slot for the remainder of its run—initially 1:30 p.m. (Anglia/HTV) and 2:30 p.m. (Scottish/Grampian). Anglia Television left the series at episode 868 on 23 July 1990; Grampian Television also left the programme on 30 August 1990. HTV reached the final episode on 8 June 1993 (having temporarily stopped showing the series throughout 1992). Scottish Television left the series on 18 December 1993 at episode 1069, having shown its last few editions on Saturday afternoons at 3:10 p.m. When Westcountry Television took over from TSW in 1993, they initially dropped The Sullivans from their schedule, only to bring it back due to popular demand on 23 April 1993, before finally leaving the series on 22 December 1994.

The Sullivans has also had a lengthy run on satellite and cable television in the UK. Episodes 1 to 258 were screened on Sky Channel (renamed Sky One on 30 July 1989) between 6 February 1989 [13] to 2 February 1990, initially at 11:30 a.m., then 10:00 a.m. from 17 April 1989. In 1994 the series enjoyed another repeat run on satellite channel UK Gold. Episodes 1 to 259 were broadcast at 7:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. from 3 January 1994[14] to 30 December 1994. The remaining episodes (omitting episode 260) were shown from 3 July 1995, broadcast at 9:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. The afternoon episode was dropped on 4 March 1996 with a weekly omnibus being shown in place of it on Saturdays at 7:55 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. from 8 February 1997). The daily episodes were later moved to 10.30 a.m. on 21 October 1996 where it stayed in that slot until the final episode on 8 October 1998.

In 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 8:45 p.m. throughout the 1980s. The series was amongst the most popular programmes in Gibraltar at the time.

In the Republic of Ireland the programme was aired on RTÉ One on Friday afternoons in the 1980s / '90s, latterly at 5:30 p.m.

In the early 1980s, the series was syndicated in North America. The stations that showed the programme included WLVI Boston, WTVT Tampa, and CKRD-TV Red Deer.


Notable short-term cast

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:

The series also employed many already-prominent actors, including:

DVD releases

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.[15] By October 2016 in Australia, all 1114 episodes are available to purchase through Crawfords DVD (Region 0) over twenty-three volumes.[16] 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. From November 2015 all volumes can be purchased in the UK through Crawford's distributor, Eaton Films Ltd.

See also


  1. 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 - 10-16 July 1982
  4. TV Week magazine, 11 March 1978 – "The Sullivans Are Adopted", page 6.
  5. The John Sullivan Story at Eaton Films
  6. Ed. Scott Murray, Australia on the Small Screen 1970–1995, Oxford Uni Press, 1996 p90
  7. "The John Sullivan Story (TV Movie 1979)". IMDb. 26 October 1979.
  8. "What happene[?] the missing Sullivan?". The Australian Women's Weekly. National Library of Australia. 8 August 1979. p. 30. Retrieved 14 July 2013.
  9. The John Sullivan Story at Crawford Productions
  10. "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.
  11. "The Sullivans".
  12. ITV broadcast dates in this paragraph have been researched from TV Times (UK edition - various regions) and The Times (microfilm version) for the period 1977 to 1994.
  13. Sky Television broadcast dates researched from Satellite TV Europe, Satellite Times and TV Guide (UK edition) for the period 1989 to 1990
  14. UK Gold broadcast dates have been researched from Radio Times (print version) for the period 1994 to 1998
  15. "Free Record Shop".
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