Cracker (UK TV series)

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Cracker
Robcolcractit.png
FormatDrama
Created byJimmy McGovern
StarringRobbie Coltrane
Geraldine Somerville
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of episodes25
Production
Executive producer(s)Sally Head
(21 episodes; 1993–95)
Producer(s)Gub Neal
(10 episodes; 1993–96)
Paul Abbott
(9 episodes; 1994)
Hilary Bevan Jones
(8 episodes; 1995–96)
John Chapman
(1 episode; 2006)
Location(s)Manchester
Running time50 to 120 mins
Broadcast
Original channelITV
Original runSeries:
27 September 1993 –
27 November 1995
Specials:
28 October 1996
1 October 2006
 
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Cracker
Robcolcractit.png
FormatDrama
Created byJimmy McGovern
StarringRobbie Coltrane
Geraldine Somerville
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of episodes25
Production
Executive producer(s)Sally Head
(21 episodes; 1993–95)
Producer(s)Gub Neal
(10 episodes; 1993–96)
Paul Abbott
(9 episodes; 1994)
Hilary Bevan Jones
(8 episodes; 1995–96)
John Chapman
(1 episode; 2006)
Location(s)Manchester
Running time50 to 120 mins
Broadcast
Original channelITV
Original runSeries:
27 September 1993 –
27 November 1995
Specials:
28 October 1996
1 October 2006

Cracker is a British crime drama series produced by Granada Television for ITV and created and principally written by Jimmy McGovern. The series is centered on a criminal psychologist (or "cracker"), Dr Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald, played by Robbie Coltrane. Set in Manchester, it consists of three series which were originally aired from 1993 to 1995. A 100-minute special set in Hong Kong followed in 1996, and another two-hour story in 2006.

Overview[edit]

Fitz is a classic antihero, alcoholic, a chain smoker, obese, sedentary, addicted to gambling, manic, foul-mouthed and sarcastic, and yet cerebral and brilliant. He is a genius in his speciality: criminal psychology. 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 series, 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.

To emphasise how fine a line the police (and Fitz) walk in their close association with criminals, all three series featured several stories in which the police themselves commit criminal acts or become victims of crime.

Characters[edit]

Main cast[edit]

Guest stars[edit]

Crew[edit]

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,"[1] McGovern originally planned to leave after the second series, but was allowed to write the controversial rape storyline, "Men Should Weep", when he agreed to contribute a three-part story to the third series. Two of McGovern's stories, "To Say I Love You" and "Brotherly Love" (from the first and third series respectively), received Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. Most of these episodes were directed by Tim Fywell.

Paul Abbott, who had produced the second series, 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 Saleh 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.

Locations[edit]

The series was principally filmed in South Manchester, at locations including Didsbury (where Fitz lived at the fictitious address of "15 Charlotte Road"[2]) 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 Railway Station, St Peter's Square, Old Trafford, the Arndale Centre, University of Salford, the Ramada Hotel and the Safeway supermarket in Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

Stories[edit]

Episodes varied in length from 50 to 120 minutes.

The original broadcast of episode one of the "Brotherly Love" story was an hour long (so 70 minutes with commercials) and shown on the Sunday before the regular Monday slot for the series. Further broadcasts of this episode, including VHS and DVD release, were edited down to the conventional 50 minute size.[3]

Series-
Story
TitleWriterEpisodesOriginal
Airdate(s) (UK)
Synopsis
1-1"The Mad Woman in the Attic"Jimmy McGovern227 September 1993
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 McGovern311 October 1993
18 October 1993
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 McGovern21 November 1993
8 November 1993
The disappearance and death of a 13-year-old boy inflames the local community as a teacher becomes the prime suspect. But Fitz begins to have doubts about the teacher's guilt and attempts to convince Billborough that the truth is more important than a mere result that seems to fit.
2-1"To Be a Somebody"Jimmy McGovern310 October 1994
17 October 1994
24 October 1994
A Pakistani shopkeeper is killed and a skinhead seen leaving the premises. The police are at first convinced that it is a racist killing until a white, English psychologist helping out with the case and DCI Billborough are murdered by the same man. Fitz, while facing his own problems with his family and a hurt Penhaligon, is brought in to investigate, convinced that the killer is not a mere racist hood but actually an ordinary citizen gone horribly wrong. See also: Hillsborough disaster.
2-2"The Big Crunch"Ted Whitehead331 October 1994
7 November 1994
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 McGovern321 November 1994
28 November 1994
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. Meanwhile, Penhaligon begins to discover a connection between her rapist and Jimmy Beck.
3-1"Brotherly Love"Jimmy McGovern322 October 1995
23 October 1995
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, under long time stress from Bilborough's death, finally reaches his breaking point, leading to a devastating climax.
3-2"Best Boys"Paul Abbott26 November 1995
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, and Judith begins to seek solace with Danny.
3-3"True Romance"Paul Abbott220 November 1995
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, even if it means targeting Fitz's loved ones.
Special episode"White Ghost"Paul Abbott128 October 1996While 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"Cracker" (Original title)
"Nine Eleven" (UK promo title)
"A New Terror" (USA promo title)
Jimmy McGovern11 October 2006[4]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.

Influences[edit]

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; Fitz delivers his summing-up in "To Say I Love You" while doing a Peter Falk impression. However, 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 unwittingly 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 series 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[edit]

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 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 season, and was regarded by critics as a poor copy of the original. It was said that the storylines failed to translate well into an American version. Nevertheless, it was broadcast in the UK, retitled Fitz.

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ 'Head case' SMH.com.au; 30 September 2004
  2. ^ From the business card that Fitz presents to his stalker in the episode "True Romance".
  3. ^ 'BFI episode listing'; bfi.org.uk; undated
  4. ^ "Nine Eleven" aired 20 June 2006 in Palestine; 18 August 2006 in Australia; 10 September 2006 in Germany; 30 October 2006 in USA; 30 October 2006 in Canada; 9 April 2007 in Sweden.

External links[edit]