John Sullivan’s son Jim has taken the plunge and started putting pen to paper, drawing on years of living research and inspiration from his dad. Jim has written two episodes of The Green Green Grass from the second series and three from the third. But that’s not the extent of his writing talents as he’s already working on ideas for his own comedy series and is interested in drama too.
Hello Jim, thanks very much for agreeing to do this interview, can we start with a little bit of information yourself – age, interests etc.
I’m 30 years of age and, apart from writing, I enjoy music, playing guitar and watching films.
What made you decide to follow in John’s footsteps and become a writer? Was it a big decision to make? The Green Green Grass has been very well received by both Fools fans and the general public – it must have been a nerve wracking experience?
When I left school I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do or be. I had no qualifications or real interests that I could follow. I went to college to try and learn a trade but soon found that I was about as good at plumbing as my Dad had been, so that didn’t last very long. I’d always enjoyed writing, and English was my favourite lesson at school – well, up until we started doing Shakespeare then I just tried to avoid lessons altogether. I got interested in writing again when I was about 19, and, as well as learning from my Dad, started buying and reading as many teach yourself books on the subject of script writing as I could. When I first started writing comedy I found that I really enjoyed the whole process, but it took a while to build up the courage to show my work to others. My Dad being who he is and having achieved what he has, getting his opinion was quite a daunting prospect. But of course, he’s there to advise me and the rest of my family, and my girlfriend Natalie, have all been really supportive and encouraging
What was it like growing up at school with everyone knowing your Father wrote OFAH?
Other kids would comment on it from time to time but to be honest I never really talked about it that much. Actors like David Jason, Paul Nicholas, Jan Francis and Ralph Bates would often be at the house to see, and discuss things with my Dad, but as I didn’t know any different, it was just normal to me. I never boasted about it or anything like that.
What was the actors reaction knowing it wasn’t going to be all John’s writing? I know both John (Challis) and Sue dearly love their characters, were they protective at all?
All the cast were really lovely and welcoming when I joined the writing team for series two. I was very nervous about the responses my scripts would get, but thankfully they were all really positive.
I suppose it’s a pretty unique experience to write for characters that have been created by your Father. Did John give you much direction for Boycie and Marlene or do you know them as well as we all do?
Having grown up with the show and having watched the episodes and read many of the scripts, I was pretty confident that I knew Boycie and Marlene well enough to write for them. It was nice because usually when you’re writing a character they are new and you kind of have to feel them out and get to know them yourself, their manners, what makes them tick etc, but in this case the characters were already there and familiar. The down side to that though is that the standard has already been set and there’s a pressure not to fall short.
GGG has a different type of humour to OFAH and it’s great that Boycie and Marlene can thrive in both worlds as the madness goes on all around them, how conscious of this are you or do the scripts just take on a life of their own anyway?
I think as GGG has progressed it has gained a personality of its own. The humour and situations are governed by characters and setting so I was aware from the beginning that it was going to have a very different feel to OFAH.
What does it feel like when it goes out live on air?
It’s always a bit nerve-wracking during a live audience recording. Obviously the first time was the worst, but it gets easier with each show. I’m also not very good when it comes to watching the shows when they air on TV. I’m very self critical, but as I’ve learned, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What is the process of writing an episode? I mean do you have a kind of meeting at the start of the year to say what direction the show and situations would take or do you sort of make it up as you go along. Is there a framework to stick within?
We have a team of writers and we’ll meet up and discuss ideas and possible new grounds for the show and characters to explore, and from that we work out what we all need to do. Often though, ideas, scenes and dialogue will just come out of nowhere and at any time – although annoyingly it usually happens in bed in the middle of the night and then I have to quickly find a pen and some paper and scribble it down before I forget it.
None of us are sure yet whether GGG will go to a fifth series.
It’d be nice to see Boycie go abroad on holiday or dare I say it going back to Peckham for a visit. Can you ever see that happening?
The Boyce’s returning to Peckham has been discussed. I’m not sure it will ever happen but you never know.
It must have been a fantastic experience growing up surrounded by the history of the Trotter’s. First of all are you a fan of the show? Have you watched them all as many times as we all have and do you still watch them?
I love the show and have watched the episodes so many times that I know the dialogue off by heart. I have all the DVD’s and still watch the repeats on TV.
I suppose the next question is what your favourite episodes are and who are your favourite characters?
‘Friday the 14th’ has always been one of my favourite episodes. It was the first episode I remember watching on TV – I was 5 at the time; ‘To Hull and Back’ would be up there too, as would ‘Little Problems’. It’s hard to choose favourite characters but I’d have to say Trigger, Denzil, Grandad and the Driscoll brothers.
Did you ever get to see any of the filming or studio recordings? Any special memories? What was the first one you saw? Any special incidents that was cut out of an episode?
I have a vague memory of being at the filming of the poolside scene in ‘It Never Rains’. In the show it was supposed to be in Spain but it was actually done in Swanage. While we were there it was Nicholas Lyndhurst’s twenty first birthday and the crew got him a surprise cake and threw a little party for him. At some point just before the party began someone put the cake down on a chair and my Dad accidentally sat on it. Another time Dad took us all – my Mum, brother, sister and me – down to the south coast to watch the filming of the hand gliding scene for the episode ‘Tea for Three’. To be honest it was actually pretty boring. I remember just standing around on this windy hill for hours waiting for the stuntman to do the actual hand gliding, but eventually he decided it was too windy and wouldn’t go up so we just went back home. I was also in the audience for the recording of ‘Heroes and Villains’.
I know John often included family stories and personal experiences into his scripts, any little gems you can share with us? I hear you knew a Mrs. Cresswell? Care to expand on that? Any other little nuggets like that?
I know the chandelier accident was a story that my Grandad told and that it actually happened to people he knew. Mrs. Cresswell was based on a miserable teacher I had in primary school who seemed to have a genuine passion for shouting.
At what age did you become aware that TV history was being made with the making of OFAH? Did you ever have any input as to what John was writing – or was the story line just as big a surprise to you as it was for us?
I always new the show had a lot of fans but it wasn’t until I was 18, when the 1996 Christmas trilogy was aired that I realised just how much of an impact it had made. I remember going into a pub the day after the last of the trilogy ‘Time on our Hands’ was shown and almost everyone in there was talking about it and how much they’d enjoyed it. It was a bit weird, overhearing complete strangers all talking about something that my Dad had written, but I felt very proud. As a kid I used to watch the shows like everybody else, not knowing the storylines, but then as I got older and grew an interest in writing I would often be the first to read the new scripts. After a while though I realised that I preferred being surprised like everyone else so I had to force myself to stop reading them.
How do you feel that there is a whole movement of OFAH fans out there who absolutely adore the show? Did you ever read Hookie Street over the years?
I’ve read a few copies of Hookie Street over the years – that’s how I first came to learn about the Appreciation Society. I think it’s fantastic that the show has such a huge and loyal following. It’s also great to see that it’s enjoyed by people of older and younger generations.
Why do you think OFAH has gone beyond the realms of a normal sitcom and is now considered a national treasure?
Apart from it being very funny, I think there are other factors that have helped make it the show it is. I’ve always found there’s something very comforting and uplifting about it. At its core it’s about family and the importance of sticking together. The family rows and falls out but the family always stays together because deep down the characters need each other. I think that’s something most people can identify with. Also it’s not cruel or spiteful comedy like a lot of what is around today. I think it’s also down to endearing characters; especially Del who is the eternal optimist. No matter what is thrown at him, he’ll always find an upside, and I think that is something we all admire and wish we could be like.
What does the future hold for Jim? Any plans you can let us in on?
If GGG goes to a fifth series then hopefully I can write some more for that. I’ve also got a few of my own projects that I’m working on at the moment and I’m hoping to get something off the ground soon.
Thanks Jim for taking the time to give us a very enjoyable and interesting interview.