‘I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much… I am too much.’
What’s it about?
The hopelessly incompetent yet mostly well-meaning Greater Manchester police department of the mid-1990s struggles to solve any crime without the assistance of overweight, chain-smoking, gamble-crazy alcoholic Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, played with BAFTA-winning brilliance by Robbie Coltrane.
A genius criminal psychologist when not blowing the housekeeping on the gee-gees, getting hideously smashed and having a heart attack at his teenage son’s birthday party or driving endlessly through evocatively rain-swept Mancunian streetscapes in the back of a cab, Fitz uses his heavyweight intellect like a bulldozer, smashing through the facades of clever psychopaths and dim-witted plods alike.
After Cracker, gentile detective dramas like The Ruth Rendell Mysteries felt as cosily outdated as wearing a vest.
Who was in it?
In addition to Coltrane, the regulars who survived all three series intact included Barbara ‘I narrate My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ Flynn as Fitz’s forever-on-the-verge-of-leaving-him-permanently-but-never-quite-managing-it wife Judith, Geraldine ‘I played Harry Potter’s mum’ Somerville as DS Jane Penhaligon, with whom Fitz had a fleeting affair, and Keiran ‘I know why you watched Nine Songs’ O’Brien as the Fitzgeralds’ long-suffering son Mark.
Christopher Eccleston made his name as DCI David Bilborough in Series 1 before his character was gorily stabbed to death by crazed Liverpool fan Albie Kinsella (a breakthrough role for Robert Carlyle) and replaced by Ricky Tomlinson playing essentially a tougher, more street-sharp version of Jim Royle.
DS Jimmy Beck (Lorcan Cranitch), meanwhile, was the most compellingly unlikeable character in the history of cop shows. Other quality actors to appear in the series included John Simm, Clive Russell, Jim Carter, Brid Brennan, Adrian Dunbar, Susan Lynch, Samantha Morton and Liam Cunningham.
Although memorably shocking scenes were as much Cracker’s trademark as the way the personal lives of the principal protagonists became inextricably tangled up in the cases they were supposed to be investigating – Bilborough’s murder at the start of the second series set in motion a grim sequence of events that the remaining regulars were still struggling to come to terms with at the conclusion of the third – the rape of Jane Penhaligon in Men Should Weep and the subsequent fall-out remains a high-water mark in grimly disturbing but hugely watchable detective drama.
The show disappeared from our screens after 1996 but reappeared a decade later for a one-off special, Nine Eleven, which featured Coltrane, Flynn and O’Brien alongside Richard Coyle, Anthony Flanagan and a young Rafe Spall.
However, although the passing of time was as much a feature of the episode as the physical changes to the cast and the city of Manchester itself, the enduring, endearing main character remained as enjoyable to watch as ever – even if the story itself was fairly mediocre.
Robbie Coltrane and creator Jimmy McGovern have never definitively ruled out the making of fresh Cracker episodes in the future. A new series would certainly be as welcome as a pack of twenty fags, a large scotch and dry and a copy of the Racing Post.
What are your memories of Cracker? Let us know below…