Cracker (British TV series)

Last updated

Created by Jimmy McGovern
Starring Robbie Coltrane
Geraldine Somerville
Christopher Eccleston
Ricky Tomlinson
Lorcan Cranitch
Barbara Flynn
Kieran O'Brien
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
No. of series3 (+ 2 specials)
No. of episodes25 (list of episodes)
Executive producer Sally Head
ProducersGub Neal
Paul Abbott
Hilary Bevan Jones
John Chapman
Production locations Manchester, England, UK
Running time50 mins. (Series 1–3)
120 mins. (Specials)
Original network Granada Television for ITV
Original release27 September 1993 (1993-09-27) 
1 October 2006 (2006-10-01)

Cracker is a British crime drama series produced by Granada Television for ITV, created and principally written by Jimmy McGovern. Set in Manchester, the series follows a criminal psychologist (or "cracker"), Dr Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald, played by Robbie Coltrane, who works with the Greater Manchester Police to help them solve crimes. The show 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.



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 become victims of crime or themselves commit criminal acts like rape, obstruction of justice and assault and battery.


Main cast

Notable guest stars



The first two series were written by Jimmy McGovern, excepting the fifth serial "The Big Crunch," which was contributed by Ted Whitehead. 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. Each serial had a different director, with the exceptions of "To Be a Somebody" and "True Romance", both 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 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 a decade after "White Ghost" in the 2006 special episode, "Nine Eleven", written by McGovern and directed by Antonia Bird. Coltrane, Flynn and O'Brien were the only actors to return 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 third series) to attend his daughter Katy's wedding. The murder of an American nightclub comedian sends the police to ask Fitz for his help.


Cracker storylines often begin by showing the crime being committed, a format popularised by Columbo . [2] Both series feature a lead character who solves crimes while masking an intelligent, perceptive nature behind a slobbish exterior, a debt acknowledged by Cracker creator Jimmy McGovern; [3] Fitz delivers his summing-up in "To Say I Love You" while doing a Peter Falk impression. [4]

Cracker's conception was also partly 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." [5] 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." [6]


The series was principally filmed in south Manchester, at locations including Didsbury (where Fitz lived at the fictitious address of "15 Charlotte Road" [7] ) 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, UMIST, University of Salford, the Ramada Hotel, the Star & Garter pub, Fairfield Street (opposite Piccadilly Station) and the Safeway supermarket (now Morrisons) in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. The Hulme Crescents were also used for filming in the first two episodes of series one and the first episode of series two; during which time they were being demolished. The first episode involved several railway scenes which were filmed on the East Lancashire Railway in Bury (north Manchester) both on the trackside and inside the Carriage & Wagon Works, where working volunteers from the railway used crowbars to push the carriage springs up and down to suggest a moving train, while water was poured on the windows to suggest rain between a black polythene sheets and the window to indicate darkness.

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 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. It was broadcast in the UK, retitled Fitz.

Home media

SeriesTitleRegion 1Region 2
The Mad Woman in the Attic14 October 2003 [8] 12 May 2003 [9]
To Say I Love You12 May 2003 [4]
One Day A Lemming Will Fly12 May 2003 [10]
To Be a Somebody24 February 2004 [11] 12 May 2003 [12]
The Big Crunch12 May 2003 [13]
Men Should Weep12 May 2003 [14]
Brotherly Love20 April 2004 [15] 12 May 2003 [16]
Best Boys12 May 2003 [17]
True Romance12 May 2003 [18]
White Ghost
12 May 2003 [19]
Nine Eleven/A New Terror28 August 2007 [20]
The Complete Collection10 March 2009 [21] 16 October 2006 [22]

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  1. 'Head case'; 30 September 2004
  2. "'Cracker' comes off as a little stale". The Buffalo News . Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  3. Billingham, Mark (10 September 2007). "I'm Just Another Cop. My Name Is Columbo". The Rap Sheet. Retrieved 16 May 2020.
  4. 1 2 "Cracker: To Say I Love You [DVD][1993]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  5. Wells, Steven (28 October 1995). "Ratings-guzzling uber-TV show Cracker is back to peel away the scabs of post Hillsborough Britain". NME . IPC Media.
  6. Crace 1994 , pp. 22–24
  7. From the business card that Fitz presents to his stalker in the episode "True Romance".
  8. "Cracker: Series 1 DVD". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  9. "Cracker: The Mad Woman In The Attic [DVD][1993]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  10. "Cracker: One Day a Lemming Will Fly [DVD][1993]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  11. "Cracker: Series 2 DVD". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  12. "Cracker: To Be a Somebody [DVD]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  13. "Cracker: The Big Crunch [DVD]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  14. "Cracker: Men Should Weep [DVD]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  15. "Cracker: Series 3 DVD". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  16. "Cracker: Brotherly Love [DVD]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  17. "Cracker: Best Boys [DVD]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  18. "Cracker: True Romance [DVD]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  19. "Cracker: White Ghost [DVD]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  20. "Cracker: A New Terror DVD". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  21. "Cracker: The Complete Collection DVD". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  22. "Cracker Complete Collection Box Set [DVD]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.