When war broke out, life would never be the same again for the Sullivan family of Camberwell. Brothers Tom and Terry were keen to join up, while John's communist views led to frequent clashes with his father, Dave. Even young Kitty, as she grew older, was not to be spared from knowing the tragedy of wartime. And through all this, matriarch Grace watched and fretted over her family, little expecting what fate had in store for her...
Of all the Aussie soaps, The Sullivans was the least sensational and most down to earth. Its portrayal of the Sullivan family and their neighbours during WWII was character driven and rarely fell into melodrama. Dave, Grace and their children were at the centre of the storylines, but supporting the characters was a large group of extended family, friends and neighbours. Most of the action took place in the Sullivan household, but other frequent locations were the Great Southern pub, run by Maggie Hayward; the general store (originally owned by a German family before being passed into the hands of Harry and Rose and then Alice and Jim Sullivan); and the home of gossipy neighbour Mrs Jessup and her succession of lodgers.
Not that the show was without excitement. Whilst most of the action centered around the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell, many plots followed the adventures of Norm Baker and young Tom Sullivan as they fought the war in Crete, Holland, Singapore and other far flung places (although all actually filmed in the countryside surrounding Melbourne!). These storylines were often the source of the show's more tense cliffhangers.
The programme first aired on the Nine Network during the non-ratings period at the end of 1976. It began in the week that the TV station launched another soap, The Young Doctors. Both shows had been commissioned for an initial 13 week run, on the understanding that only the more successful soap would survive beyond that. Of course, what happened next became part of TV history. Although at first not as popular as the spicier medical soap, The Sullivans was a hit with critics from the outset. High production values sustained the show for six years, and in later years viewers were treated to stories of life in post-war Australia.
For added authenticity, the wardrobe mistress would visit jumble sales and charity shops, buying original wartime clothes for the actors to wear. WWII newsreel footage was slotted into some scenes, giving the show a distinctly 1940s feel.
When the soap began, the Sullivan children were quite young, and over the years, viewers were given the opportunity to see them grow. John Sullivan went from an idealistic conscientious objector to a brave war hero, while Tom and Terry spent time as prisoners of war in Changai. Little Kitty blossomed into a young woman, becoming a nurse and then wife and mother. The Sullivans gained another child when they adopted Geoff Johnson, the brother of a soldier killed while serving with Tom and Norm.
Geoff was an orphan in a childrens home, and his dying brother's last wish was that he should be properly looked after.
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