Cracker (UK TV series)

Cracker is the title of a television crime series in the United Kingdom, made by Granada Television for ITV and created and principally written by Jimmy McGovern. The series concerned a criminal psychologist (or "cracker"), Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald, played by Robbie Coltrane. Set in Manchester, it consisted of three series which ran from 1993 to 1995. A 100 minute special set in Hong Kong followed in 1996, and another two-hour story in 2006.


Fitz is a classic antihero, unfaithful to his wife, alcoholic, a chain smoker, overweight, addicted to gambling, manic, foulmouthed and sarcastic; and yet cerebral and brilliant at his speciality: getting into the heads of violent criminals. As Fitz confesses in "Brotherly Love": "I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much."

Each case spanned several episodes and cliffhangers were quite often used, but it was not until the end of the second series that a cliffhanger was employed to tie off the series. Some of the plotlines in the cases took as their starting point real events such as the Hillsborough disaster, while others were purely fictional with only tangential ties to actual events.

Several different psychotic types were explored during the run of the show with increasingly complex psychological motivations that, as the series entered the middle of the second season, began to expand beyond the criminals being investigated to the regular cast members. As the series moved forward the storylines became as much about the interactions of the regulars as it was about the crimes. In many later episodes, in fact, the crimes often became background to intense, provocative explorations of the police officers' reactions to the crimes they investigated. For some viewers the series' increased focus on the regular characters and their interwoven stories, as opposed to the crimes themselves, detracted from the series' story telling. Others, however, believe that the interplay between the regular characters' work environment and the work itself provided drama.

To emphasize how fine a line the police (and Fitz) walk in their close association with criminals, the final two series featured several stories in which the police themselves become criminals or victims of crime.

Cast and crew

As well as Coltrane, the show starred Christopher Eccleston as Detective Chief Inspector David Bilborough, Geraldine Somerville as love interest Detective Sergeant Jane "Panhandle" Penhaligon, Lorcan Cranitch as loose cannon DS Jimmy Beck, Barbara Flynn as Fitz's long suffering wife Judith and Kieran O'Brien as his teenage son Mark. When Eccleston's character was killed off by disturbed football fan Albie Kinsella (played by guest star Robert Carlyle), Ricky Tomlinson took over as DCI Charlie Wise ("Wise by name, thick by nature," quipped Fitz).

Although Jimmy McGovern wrote the majority of the early stories, Ted Whitehead contributed the fifth serial, "The Big Crunch". Claiming that he had "nothing more to write about," McGovern originally planned to leave after the second season, but was allowed to write the controversial rape storyline, "Men Should Weep", when he agreed to contribute a three-part story to the third season. Two of McGovern's stories, "To Say I Love You" and "Brotherly Love" (from the first and third seasons respectively), received Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America.

Paul Abbott, who had produced the second season, wrote the remainder of the episodes (including the feature-length special "White Ghost"). Abbott later went on to create several high-profile dramas, including Touching Evil (1997), State of Play (2003) and Shameless (2004). Another crew member, Nicola Shindler, who worked as script editor on the programme, later went on to found the highly successful Red Production Company.

Of the regular cast, only Coltrane and Tomlinson featured in "White Ghost" (retitled "Lucky White Ghost" for some overseas markets), which was set in Hong Kong. Although the series was still drawing large audiences, after "White Ghost" Coltrane declined to return as Fitz unless McGovern returned to write the series.

Cracker returned to television screens a decade after "White Ghost" in the 2006 special episode, "Nine Eleven", written by McGovern and directed by Antonia Bird. The story saw the return of only Coltrane, Flynn and O'Brien in their previous roles. The new roles of DCI Walters, DS Salleh and DS McAllister were played by Richard Coyle, Nisha Nayar and Rafe Spall respectively. The story involved Fitz returning to Manchester after several years of living in Australia with Judith and his son James (who had been born during the final series of the original programme) to attend his daughter Katy's wedding. The murder of an American night club comedian sends the police to ask Fitz for his help.


The series was principally filmed in South Manchester, at locations including Didsbury (where Fitz lived) and the police station at Longsight. The internals for the police station were filmed in the old Daily Mirror offices in central Manchester, now The Printworks retail complex. Other Manchester locations included Victoria Train Station, St Peter's Square, the Arndale Centre, University of Salford, the Ramada Hotel and the Morrisons Supermarket in Chorlton Cum Hardy.


All episodes are 50 minutes long, with the exception of "White Ghost", which is 100 minutes and "Nine Eleven", which is 120 minutes.

Title Writer Episodes Original
Airdate(s) (UK)
1-1 The Mad Woman in the Attic Jimmy McGovern 2 27 September to
4 October 1993
A young woman is brutally murdered on a train, the victim of a serial killer. The prime suspect is an amnesiac man, who cannot confess to the crime if he cannot remember committing it... unless Fitz can crack him.
1-2 To Say I Love You Jimmy McGovern 3 11 October to
25 October 1993
While his own marriage is falling apart, Fitz goes up against a young couple who would literally kill for their love, leading to an equally literally explosive climax.
1-3 One Day A Lemming Will Fly Jimmy McGovern 2 1 November to
8 November 1993
The disappearance of a 13-year-old boy inflames the local community as a teacher becomes the prime suspect. But has Fitz got the right man and is a result that fits more important than the truth?
2-1 To Be A Somebody Jimmy McGovern 3 10 October to
24 October 1994
A Pakistani shopkeeper is killed, and a skinhead (played by guest star Robert Carlyle) is seen leaving the premises. The police are convinced that it is a racist killing, but the real reasons are more complex, and the cost of being wrong may be the life of one of their own. (See also: Hillsborough disaster)
2-2 The Big Crunch Ted Whitehead 3 31 October to
14 November 1994
A young girl missing for several days is discovered naked, covered in strange symbols and quoting the Bible. The trail leads to a fringe Christian sect and its charismatic leader.
2-3 Men Should Weep Jimmy McGovern 3 21 November to
5 December 1994
The case of a serial rapist who wears a mask, yet tries to develop a relationship with his victims strikes at the heart of Fitz's personal and professional life when Penhaligon is raped and the rapist, apparently acting on Fitz's advice, starts to kill as well.
3-1 Brotherly Love Jimmy McGovern 3 22 October to
29 October 1995
The brutal murder and violation of a prostitute quickly leads to an arrest, but while the suspect is in custody, an identical murder happens. At the same time, the death of Fitz's mother reunites him with his brother Danny, and Jimmy Beck finally reaches his breaking point.
3-2 Best Boys Paul Abbott 2 6 November to
13 November 1995
When the older Stuart Grady meets the teenage Bill Nash, the instant attraction between the two leads to murderous consequences. Meanwhile, the birth of Fitz's new son is not the solution to his marital strife that he expected.
3-3 True Romance Paul Abbott 2 20 November to
27 November 1995
Fitz is the target of a secret admirer who is willing to kill — and keep killing — to get his attention, understanding and love.
Special episode White Ghost Paul Abbott 1 28 October 1996 While in Hong Kong on a lecture tour, Fitz is asked by the local police to help investigate the murder of a Chinese businessman.
Special episode Nine Eleven Jimmy McGovern 1 1 October 2006 Fitz returns to Manchester for his daughter's wedding, but is soon involved in another murder investigation when an American comedian is killed, apparently without motive.


In some respects, Cracker stories are structured like episodes of Columbo. They often begin by showing the criminal committing the crime, and so sidestep the whodunnit format which is the central attraction of many television crime dramas. Both series feature a lead character who solves crimes while masking an intelligent, perceptive nature behind a slobbish exterior; in an homage to Columbo, Fitz delivers his summing-up in "To Say I Love You" while doing a Peter Falk impression. It should be noted, however, that while Lieutenant Columbo invariably solves each case to perfection, Fitz's involvement often only exacerbates the situation, for example leading police to arrest the wrong man ("One Day A Lemming Will Fly"), or causing a serial rapist to murder his victim ("Men Should Weep").

Cracker's conception was also in some ways a reaction against the police procedural approach of fellow Granada crime serial Prime Suspect, placing more emphasis on emotional and psychological truth than on correct police procedure. In an interview with the NME, McGovern dismissed Prime Suspect, noting that "Good TV writing has narrative simplicity and emotional complexity," and characterising the series as "A narratively complex story going up its own arse." Gub Neal, who produced the first season of Cracker, is quoted as saying, "That we had adopted the right approach was confirmed for me when Jacky Malton, the senior woman police officer who advised on Prime Suspect, said that although the way things happened in Cracker was sometimes highly improbable, the relationships between the police were in many ways much more credible than they had been in Prime Suspect."

The "Men Should Weep" storyline was originally conceived as a plot for Prime Suspect, in which the series' protagonist, Jane Tennison, was raped.

Other versions

  • In 1997 a short spoof episode, Prime Cracker, was produced for the BBC's biennial Red Nose Day charity telethon in aid of Comic Relief. A crossover with ITV stablemate crime drama Prime Suspect, the spoof starred Coltrane and Prime Suspect lead Helen Mirren as their characters from the respective series, sending-up the perceived ultra seriousness of both shows.
  • In 1997 a 16-part US version of Cracker - directed by Stephen Cragg and Michael Fields - was made, starring Robert Pastorelli in Coltrane's role. The original UK story lines were transferred to Los Angeles. The series finished after the first series, and was regarded by critics as a poor copy of the original, the storylines failing to be transported to the USA.


  • Crace, John (1994). Cracker: The Truth Behind The Fiction. Granada/Boxtree. ISBN 0-7522-0974-4.

External links

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