1 9 7 6 – 1 9 8 3 (Australia)
30 minute episodes
This World War II drama series, set in Melbourne, had warmth and charm, and Aussies loved the trials and triumphs of the Sullivan Family.
The Sullivans takes up its storyline on the eve of the Second World War and its six years on air roughly coincided with the duration of the war. The action was set on two fronts and this in part, helped to disguise the soap opera nature of the serial.
The war front followed family friend Norm Baker, son Tom Sullivan and various other soldiers through various scenes of action, physical suffering, moral dilemmas and so on.
The home front in Australia saw Dave and Grace Sullivan with their younger children struggling to keep the cycle of family and neighbourhood life in place.
Helping to populate their community was voluptuous Maggie in the pub, the humble German family running the local shop, and the busybody neighbour, Mrs Jessop.
Although there were also some young characters in the show, most notably youngest daughter Kitty Sullivan, it was definitely skewed towards older viewers even though it screened in the evening soon after the main news bulletin. Eldest son John, missing in action, was eventually found safe and sound in London, but Uncle Harry’s love, Rose, drowned in the Yarra River.
The adored star of the show was Lorraine Bayly (Grace). As the quiet, highly principled Catholic mother, supportive of her husband, she radiated warmth and stability.
Lorraine Bayly decided to leave and shortly would be given her own series, Carson’s Law.
The viewing audience became so attached to strong, proud matriarch Grace, that her on-screen death at the hands of a V-bomb in London was something the programme never recovered from and this, as well as the fictional end of the war, led to the show’s demise.
Some of the most original and affecting stories concerned events after the war, however. Kitty Sullivan, only 13 at the opening, married a photographer and went with him to Hiroshima. She was so horrified by the aftermath of the atomic explosion that she killed herself.
Terry, her freckle-faced brother, could not adjust to peace and turned to petty crime. His young wife Caroline, gainfully employed before the war, struggled to get work on the land but was sacked to make way for a newly returned soldier in keeping with the law of the day.
More than any other Australian TV show, it was The Sullivans that helped to create the British appetite for Australian soaps.
Slow and sentimental it was at times, but The Sullivans bravely faced the issues of war while examining the morality of the 1940s. It provided romance, stock surprises, episodes to cry over and characters who viewers cared for deeply.
The series was cancelled in 1982 to make way for a show about hard-nosed businessmen, Taurus Rising. Young audiences, in particular, had apparently decided that six years of their parents’ war was enough.
Myra De Groot
Alice Watkins Sullivan
Leslie ‘Magpie’ Maddern
Horace ‘Horrible’ Brown