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15 May 2011

John (Richard Thomas) Sullivan

John Richard Thomas Sullivan failed his 11-plus exam and left school at 15 without any qualifications. The result was a succession of uninspiring jobs until one day a friend showed him a newspaper article about the TV scriptwriter Johnny Speight. He read that Speight earned £1000 for each of his Till Death Us Do Part episodes; equivalent to Sullivan's annual salary. It made a seminal impression.

He bought a second-hand typewriter, self-help books, studied English, and started work on a upmarket sitcom called Gentlemen. However, his self-motivated endeavours provided little in the way of success. At the age of 30 he took a job as a BBC scene-shifter, in an attempt to make useful writing contacts.

After encouragement from Ronnie Barker he started writing comedy sketches for The Two Ronnies and Dave Allen. Subsequently legendary producer producer Dennis Main Wilson accepted his story idea about a suburban social revolutionary, and Sullivan immediately took time off work to write a pilot episode. His Citizen Smith sitcom proved to be a great success, and was ultimately extended to four series.

He continued by writing the incredibly successful Only Fools and Horses, set in his childhood South London stomping ground and full of its colourful, down-to-earth characters. In the process he also penned many other notable series, including Just Good Friends, Dear John, Roger Roger and Heartbreak Hotel.

A fall out with the BBC led to the ITV Dickens-influenced comedy drama Micawber, followed later by the Fools and Horses spinoff Green Green Grass. In 2011 his final series Rock & Chips was aired; a Fools and Horses prequel set in the 1960s. A fitting tribute following Sullivan's untimely death, at the age of 64 on 23rd April 2011.

It's a remarkable story. A source of inspiration and encouragement for any writer.


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