John Sullivan left school at 15 with no qualifications. He worked as a messenger, car cleaner and car salesman before getting a job delivering beer for the brewers Watneys, where he first decided to try his hand at scriptwriting.
At Watneys he worked with an old school friend, Paul Saunders, and one day the pair read an article that said writer Johnny Speight earned around £1000 per script for Till Death Us Do Part. Probably encouraged by the vast amount Speight earned for his talents they both decided to give scriptwriting a go and went out and bought a second-hand typewriter for £2.00. The pair then spent the next two months working on an idea they had for a sitcom. Called Gentlemen, it was about an old soldier who ran an old-fashioned gents toilet, with brass taps and china troughs, which was his pride and joy.
They sent the finished script off to the BBC and three months later received a rejection
letter stating that it was not the kind of material the BBC were looking for.
In 1973 he married his girlfriend Sharon who he had met in a pub the previous year. By now he was working with his Dad as a plumber but still spent his spare time writing and setting himself writing exercises, always trying to improve his technique.
Several years later when he had the idea for Citizen Smith, a sitcom based on a Tooting man who planned to start a revolution, he knew it was his best idea yet. Fearful of another rejection letter he decided his best bet was to get a job at the BBC and learn more about the business and meet people who would take notice of his script. He had little faith in the people at the BBC's script-reading department, who read through thousands of scripts a year and figured that if they were any good then they'd surely be writing, directing or producing their own shows.
He wrote a letter to the BBC telling them what he wanted to do and was called in for an
interview. He was employed at Television Centre in the props department, before moving on to
become a scene shifter, a job which brought him closer to the actual filming.
Still working as a scene shifter it was on the set of Porridge that John Sullivan approached Ronnie Barker and told him that he had some ideas for sketches and was asked to bring them in. A week later he gave the sketches to Barker who took them home to read. He liked the sketches and asked if Sullivan could write some more and put him on a contract.
John Sullivan was delighted to finally get a break and five weeks later met Dennis Main-Wilson, still eager to write Citizen Smith. Main-Wilson, impressed that he was now writing sketches for The Two Ronnies, told Sullivan to go away and write a pilot script.
Two weeks later John Sullivan handed in a completed pilot script for Citizen Smith. Dennis Main-Wilson and his boss Jimmy Gilbert liked the script and decided to make it for a Comedy Playhouse series which tried out new ideas.
Eight weeks later Citizen Smith was shown on telly, was a success, and a full series was commissioned. John Sullivan had finally made it after more than ten years of trying and left his job as a scene shifter to concentrate on writing full-time.
John Sullivan Has Written;