Why I LOVE ‘So Bad They Were Good’ 80’s Aussie soaps

Us Brits have always been fans of Australian dramas and soaps, and there’ve been some really great ones made down under, and equally, some really appalling ones, but I’ve loved ‘em over the years!

So I thought we might take a trip down memory bush-walkabout lane and see which three of the Aussie soaps of yesteryear were quite possibly the worst things to come out of Australia since Kylie’s frightening 80’s perm, and just like that phenomenal ‘do, they were so bad, they were great and I loved them!

sons and daughtersIn at number one and by far the worst I’d have to say was Sons and Daughters with its hideous overacting, ridiculous storylines and horrific hair, it was so bad it was fabulously good!

Sons and Daughters ran for five years from 1982 and centred on the Palmer and Hamilton families. The Palmer’s were ordinary working class folk while the Hamilton’s were rich and powerful…

One of the truly awful storylines included when John Palmer and Angela Hamilton fell in love only to find they were in fact twin brother and sister and had been separated at birth. Here’s a clip of John and Angie with John’s step-mum Beryl giving them a telling off…

Other storylines included plane crashes, rape, incest and dozens of OTT scheming plots by Patricia – “Pat the Rat” – who was one of TV’s original bitches! Here she is at her bitchiest best…

Many of the stars of Sons and Daughters later turned up on shows such as Prisoner Cell Block H, The Sullivans and The Young Doctors.

the sullivansAt second place in my top three is The Sullivans which ran from 1976 to 1983. The show was about an average family – the Sullivans of course – who lived in Melbourne during WWII and afterwards.

In the show’s early days, all the young male Sullivans were enlisted in the armed forces so there was always someone to worry about who was overseas and somewhere dangerous.

The show also featured quite a few actors who went on to become very famous including Kylie and Dannii Minogue, Sam Neill and Mel Gibson. Here’s a clip from the show in which Kylie made her very first screen appearance aged just 11!

The story began in 1939 when war was declared and followed the Sullivans through the drama of war and the aftermath.

Grace and Dave Sullivan were the parents and John, Tom, Terry and Kitty were the kids of the family.  John was an intellectual who was vehemently opposed to the war, while his younger brother Tom couldn’t sign up fast enough. Terry was “a young rascal” and still in school when the show began while the youngest Sullivan – and the only girl – was the shy and studious Kitty.

Some of the show’s most ‘controversial’ storylines included several deaths, divorce, miscarriage, adultery, alcoholism and gambling addictions. A supporting character, Norm Baker, had a Greek wife who was executed by Nazi soldiers and one of the Sullivans’ neighbours, Harry, had a wife called Rose who drowned, and near the end of the series when Kitty was a grown-up, her husband Robbie committed suicide after witnessing the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Awesomely good stuff…

prisoner cell block hIn at number three and my final choice is Prisoner Cell Block H which originally aired from 1979 to 1986.

I used to watch it from 1985 when it was being shown over here late at night. I was up most nights with my then three babies over the course of about six years and rarely missed an episode!

The show was about the lives and loves and trials and tribulations of the all-female Wentworth Detention Centre where the inmate’s struggles to rule the roost as ‘Top Dog’ made up a lot of the storylines. However, the ‘Screws’ were often more manipulative, corrupt and indeed more hairy than most of the prisoners. It was an Aussie version of our far more genteel Within These Walls.

Arguably the most evil character was sadistic Deputy Governor Vera Bennett who was known as “Vinegar Tits” by the inmates. The main themes of the show were often considered “radical” and included feminism, lesbianism and social reform issues. When the series launched in 1979, the media used the line, “If you think prison is hell for a man, imagine what it’s like for a woman”.

The central characters included butch lesbian Franky Doyle and “Top dog Queen Bea” Smith as well as many rather less brutal inmates and officers such as the elderly, garden-loving “Mum” Brooks, a teddy-clutching misfit called Doreen Anderson and “old lag” Lizzie Birdsworth as well as the compassionate senior prison officer Meg Jackson.

The show was praised at the time for ‘humanising’ convicted criminals as well as depicting many of the inmates as being “victims of the system” as well as victims of social inequalities and misfortunes; basically, the inmates were shown as women who never really much of a chance in life. Additionally, the show garnered praise because the majority of the characters were female, over forty, overweight and weren’t played by ‘glamorous’ actors.

Here’s a clip from this epic show!

So, those are my top three so-bad-they-were-good Aussie soaps; let us know which are in your top three!


Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.