Thursday 19 May 2011

John Sullivan - Some Perspective

John Sullivan is a titanic figure in comedy writing - and his death is tragic. There is no 'but' to this. No caveats or clever angles. The man was a superb writer. This is a man who wrote four extremely memorable and diverse sitcoms, namely.

Citizen Smith (1977-1980) - 4 series; Only Fools and Horses (1981-1991) 64 episodes, plus numerous specials; Just Good Friends (1983-6) 22 episodes; Dear John (1986-7) 14 glorious painful episodes.

I mention this because I was sad that there was only a half-hour documentary knocked together in his honour. In one sense, it was great that it was on prime time BBC1 - which he ruled. Many experienced, senior, cherished actors were highly complimentary of Sullivan's scripts, authenticity, attention to detail and perfectionism. But the brief running time did not even begin to do justice to the Herculean achievements of this writer.

Sullivan gives us perspective. The greats of today have a long long way to go. Ricky Gervais is today's much-lauded saviour of narrative comedy. The Office was wonderful, brilliant and important. Extras, frankly, I wasn't that excited by but did well. But in total, that's about 27 episodes of telly. So far, Gervais & Merchant are about 100 episodes behind Sullivan - and that's not including Sitting Pretty (1992-3); Over Here (1996); Roger Roger (1996-2003);
Micawber (2001, comedy-drama); The Green Green Grass (2005-9); Rock & Chips
. (Most of us mortal writers would be very happy with one or two of these 'also-ran' hits or spin-offs as their greatest achievements.)

John Sullivan was a truly great writer. There are plenty of good writers around today. Most of us are hoping to be in that pantheon one day. But until we are in our sixties and looking back on significant body of work (rather than 'getting out at the top') we won't be able to tell. In the meantime, let's enjoy greatness for what it is.

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