The astonishing tale of a TV classic, 'The Sullivans'

When discussing the greatest Australian television dramas of all time The Sullivans can’t be far from the top of the list. This iconic show ran for 16 seasons with 1,114 episodes over its 1976 to 1983 broadcast.

The Sullivans was heralded for its high production values and attention to detail. As the program was about a family during World War II, a lot of the major plots surrounded actual events of the war. Researchers would look at key milestones in the war and use them in the correct timestamp of the show to bring authenticity. This authenticity didn’t just manifest with the war, as writers would read newspapers of the time and work in sporting results, national events, and even weather from the period into the show.

The show was a ratings success and was always in the top three shows on-air at the time. A lot of the success could go to the leads of the show Lorraine Bayly and Paul Cronin who played husband and wife Grace and Dave. The show’s casting was always impeccable with a who’s who of Australian entertainers appearing or making their acting debut on the show. Noni Hazlehurst and Michael Caton stole the show when they appeared on the show. However, the acting debut of Mel Gibson and Kylie Minogue also took place on The Sullivans. Other notable guest stars would be Kylie’s sister Danni, Sam Neill, Gary Sweet and Sigrid Thornton.

While still high in the ratings Lorraine decided she had enough of the show and asked to leave. After intense negotiation, she agreed to take six months. Grace still appeared on the show in pre-recorded segments as she was in London taking care of her wounded son John. After the six months, Lorraine decided not to come back, so in the most shocking moment of the show, Grace was killed in a bombing of London.

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The show struggled after her departure but was still a strong show. It was planned to continue past the end of the war to show a post-war Australian society, but actor Paul Cronin decided to leave the show so it brought the production to an end.

What was your favourite storyline or episode of The Sullivans?