Recently, workers at the Newcastle Regional Library uncovered a large wooden crate bricked into the walls of the lower basement.
On opening the crate the excitable workers gasped with excitement, but then got a hold of themselves, for resting on atop the mouldy crate and it's contents was the original first draft Teleplay of `The Sullivans', dated "July 12, 1970". This find has been rated by some TV historians given to hyperbole, as comparable to finding the Tupperware containers that contained the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The fact that it was found here in Newcastle though, was of no suprise to many of these historians who for personal reasons, do not want to be named.
The author and owner of the contents within the crate, was the legendary Newcastle born Scriptwriter, Morrie Tickner (1921 - 1989).
The Tickner Story
Morrie was born anonymously in October 1921 to Clarrie and Dot Tickner of the Newcastle suburb of Wickam. Accountants by choice, they soon came to resent the intrusion of a baby into their lives as it clashed with their sedentary ways and forced physical activity upon them.
Morrie spent most of his early years from the age of two and a half, farmed out to other unmotivated relatives around Australia who also developed his parent's indifference for the boy. At the age of eight and having seen more of Australia than most travelling salesmen five times his age, Morrie, against his parents protestations, decided to settle down in Newcastle.
Living secretly in the back garden shed at the rear of their house, Morrie ventured out each day to a new found apprenticeship as an errand boy at the Cooks Hill Arnotts Biscuit Factory. Five years later due mostly to his drive and tenacity, Morrie was still an errand boy, though he eventually had to resign as he developed an unnatural fear of shortbread.
It was during these hard years that Morrie joined a gang of loveable street urchins and met up with them during his time off. Running about the bustling streets of Newcastle, they played good natured japes upon shopkeepers, assaulted hobo's and pointed at things they didn't understand.
Sadly for the youngsters, these heady days were to come to a tragic end when Morrie's best friend Thomas `Florrie' Pilford was accidentally beaten to death in front of Newcastle Town Hall by prominent Newcastle businessman and Shire Council Alderman, Hugh Boofler.
This event seemed to be one of the many turning points in Morrie's life and he decided to better himself by way of a correspondence course with his parents. Little realising or concerned that their son was living only a few feet away amongst their prize collection of bracken, they chose interesting articles from the afternoon edition of the Newcastle Sun Newspaper and left them in empty milk bottles for him to collect.
This selective education may account for the number of screenplays Morrie wrote in later years that incorporated tidal charts and knitting patterns inexplicably as dramatic plot devices.
In 1947, Tickner's mother, Dot, narrowly missed being awarded a service medal by City of Newcastle Alderman, Hugh Boofler to her younger `impared ' Sister, `Tramway' Tickner. The award was the cause of much controversy at the time as many knew of the feud between the sisters but were unsure of the actual reason for the award.
Rebel with a notepad
These odd dramatic choices certainly help to explain the beginings of his life long devotion to Communism. As Morrie later recounted to his biographer Laurie Boofler. (Ironically, Laurie is the son of Hugh Boofler the actions of whom had made such a deadening impression on Tickner's life.)
(1); "I'd gorn down to the docks to verify some information in a couple of charts Dad had left for me, when I came across a group of people standin' a distance away from another larger group of people who was chantin' and yellin' and the such like. I asked them what was going on and they told me they were the Newcastle branch of the Australian Communist Party. I asked them who the large noisy mob was and they said they didn't know but they didn't want to get involved. I liked the sound of that so I joined them right then and there."
It was during his time in the Newcastle Branch of the Australian Communist Party that Morrie first became interested in writing. While filling out a receipt for a new illiterate member, Branch secretary Jack `Runner' Vines took note of Morrie's flair for spelling names correctly and encouraged him to take up writing. Spurred on by the interest his new friends took in him, Morrie tackled receipt writing with enthusiasm and by the end of the year had filled two entire books with correctly spelt names and cash amounts received.
But this was not enough. The writing bug had firmly bitten Morrie and against the advice of his comrades, he began writing lists of things to do during the day. When the lists began to include other branch members, Morrie was expelled from the Australian Communist Party.
Although devestated at his rejection, Morrie battled on and devoted even more time to his writing. Working part time as a foot stool in a city barber shop, Morrie began to write lists so complex and uninteresting that researchers today are still puzzled by their motivation and logic.
New Beginnings begin again
It was at this barbershop that his life was to change yet again. One hot December day as he waited on his hands and knees in front of a Barber chair, Tickner overheard the man whose feet were resting on him tell his employer, Barber, Edward `Teddy' Ditherer, he needed a writer. "I don't know how I did it," he later recounted, "but I looked up at him and found meself sayin', 'excuse me sir, but I'm a writer.' He looked down at me, lifted one foot off me `ead and said 'Yes son, I believe you are." The man sitting in the chair with his other foot resting between Tickner's shoulder blades was none other than Australian Radio and Television Pioneer, Hector Crawford.
Crawford had only just towelled off the spit from his shoes when he invited Tickner to Sydney in a cadet writing position. Morrie made the move to Sydney that very day, running alongside Crawford's huge black Chevolet as he drove back to his office in Pitt Street.
It was this kind of determination, obsequiousness and fleetness of foot that was to contribute so much to the Tickner legend. Many say that the standards of Australian Television were delivered still-born that very day.
Morrie Tickner went on to milk himself a career unequalled in the annuls of Australian Broadcasting history. His Newcastle years, he was often quoted as saying, were the years that he felt made him the man and artist he was destined to become.
"They shaped... moulded... extruded out of me I suppose, a quality that I’d 'ave never obtained if I’d 'ave lived anywhere else. "
"I was a man of tomorrow with a 'alf a mind on yesterdee. So Australians could see into next week what they took for granted last year. In short, Newcastle made me the man I am today... if only for a short time".
When Morrie retired in 1975 and at least once a year for the next subsequent seven, he had notched up a body of work like no other.
From the early radio series,`The Magic Spanner' and the `B. A. Santamaria Comedy Hour' to hugely popular radio shows such as `Get out of the front bar you uppity cow !' and 'Commie, Pinko, Bastard Squad ' that he later adapted for television as the series' `Number 96 ' and `Division 4 '.
It is only in recent years that we are now reaping the true benefit of Morrie Tickners legacy. A new breed of writers has emerged on the Australian Television Industry that emulates his pedantic attention to detail, ambiguous dialogue and somnambulist storylines and concepts. If anything is certain in life, it's that we will reap these benefits for many years to come. Or at least until the internet kills the Free to Air Television business model.
One of the few likeness' of the notoriously image resistant Tickner,
is one of him later in life, sketched by his nephew and only surviving
relative, Terry Tickner.
Tickner Family Archives, Mayfield, Newcastle.
Here is an an exerpt from Tickners original Sullivans script found in the excavated crate that was later resealed and rebricked into the wall so as not to sully the memory of Australia’s favourite War Time, Television, Soap Opera Family.
20 INT SULLIVANS HOUSE - KITCHEN DAY 20
GRACE SULLIVAN pulls a frozen loaf of bread from an old woodfire oven and throws it on the kitchen table where it lands noisily, ice splintering off it.
Blessed ovens on the blink again.
She stretches her back, pushing her heaving bosom skyward and wipes the sweat from her repressed brow where it lands in a puddle at her feet. As she heroically lifts the sledge hammer above her proletarian head to continue pounding the block of granite put beside the kitchen table by her oppressive, but caring husband. Another Sullivan, probably the youngest son, runs in through the kitchen door.
Mum! Mum! The tides in and new neighbours are moving in next - aaaaahhhhh!!
Before he can finish his sentence, he slips on his Mothers puddle of sweat and skids across the kitchen floor, into the pantry, coming to rest with a loud crash, head first in a small jar of Golden Syrup.
Sorry dear, did you say something?
Timmy swings his head about trying to break the jar on his head and tries vainly to sign his message to his oblivious mother. He then falls back unconcious as the sweet tasting syrup fills his lungs.
Well, we'd better go welcome them to the neighbourhood.
She unwinds a few lengths of the heavy chain her husband and the capitalist system have shackled to a pair of rusty iron manacles around her proud, puffy ankles and heroically exits the house.
21 EXT SULLIVAN HOUSE FRONT YARD DAY 21.
GRACE SULLIVAN stands proudly with hands on hips against the red flag of the workers, then leans over the side fence to get a glimpse of her new neighbours.
Cooee!! Cooee there!!
One of the neighbours, CLARRIE TICKLE wearing a pair of King Gee shorts and a blue singlet that barely conceals his tanned, muscular frame and beer gut, carries a `41 model `Dodge Roadster' into his garage.
Cooee there young fella!
But Clarrie ignores her vain yet proud attempts at friendship because, after all, she is just a woman and he has a war to fight.
Grace's husband NORM SULLIVAN has heard and reacts angrily. He runs up from the shearing shed in Wagga Wagga across the back paddock to Sydney and slaps her face.
The sting of capitalist oppression causes her to reel back in SLOW MOTION and impale herself on one of the many iron spikes that protrude from the front of the house.
I thought I told you. Women aren't allowed in the Front Bar.
He notices Clarrie next door carrying a Viscount Caravan into his garage.
G day mate, just movin' in are ya?
Clarrie puts down the caravan and adjusts the tidal chart in his pocket.
Yes I am. Just today. Struth I love Australia!
Too right. Lets go to the pub!
By this time Grace has removed herself from the iron spike and bandaged her wounds with the type of strength and determination common in women of the day.
Norm and Clarrie walk across the road to the pub where they will spend the afternoon drinking and laughing about how stupid women are and shaking their heads at the mysteries of Tidal Flows.
Grace goes into her and Norms bedroom. She strips herself naked and lies spread eagled on the bed waiting for her husbands return and dreams of the glorious day when repressed sisters everywhere will rise up and strike down their chauvinist male oppressors and live fulfilled lives as women without having to resort to lesbianism.