Cracker (UK TV series)

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Created by Jimmy McGovern
Starring Robbie Coltrane
Geraldine Somerville
Christopher Eccleston
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 3
No. of episodes 25
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)
Production location(s) Manchester
Running time 50 to 120 mins
Original network ITV
Original release Series:
27 September 1993 –
27 November 1995
28 October 1996
1 October 2006
External links
[{{#property:P856}} Website]

Cracker is a British crime drama series produced by Granada Television for ITV and created and principally written by Jimmy McGovern. Set in Manchester, the series is centered on 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 themselves commit criminal acts or become victims of crime.


Main cast

  • Robbie Coltrane as Dr. Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald (Series 1-3, special episodes): the classic anti-hero, an alcoholic chain-smoker and gambling addict whose acerbic attitude annoys everyone he meets, but at the same time a brilliant psychologist with a good heart. Often clashed with the police, particularly DCI Bilborough, over his theories, which were often right but on occasion could make worse an already tense situation. He has a very rocky relationship with his wife Judith and an on-off relationship with Jane Penhaligon, often going from one to the other. The character is named after the English poet and writer Edward FitzGerald. Coltrane won three consecutive BAFTA Awards for the role.
  • Christopher Eccleston as DCI David Bilborough (Series 1, 2.1): the Detective Chief Inspector who first hires Fitz. Narrow-minded and bumbling, he shows little to no interest in truth or justice and will readily charge an innocent man with a crime, often clashing with Fitz over their ideals. He appears excessively desperate to succeed and often fails in the process, but has occasional moments of integrity (usually involving Penhaligon). He is killed by Albie Kinsella in To Be a Somebody, but Eccleston made cameos in "Men Should Weep" as a churchgoer and "Brotherly Love" as John Bilborough, David's brother.
  • Ricky Tomlinson as DCI Charlie Wise (Series 2-3, Special episode "White Ghost"): the Scouse replacement of Bilborough following his death. He appears much more strict than Bilborough, which often puts him at odds with the other officers and the Chief Super. Unlike Bilborough, however, he values the truth above a fitting result and thus has a much better working relationship with Fitz, although it is badly strained when Fitz unknowingly gives Wise's wife more reason to file for separation.
  • Geraldine Somerville as DS Jane Penhaligon (Series 1-3): Fitz's main love interest throughout the series, after she unwillingly falls for him in "To Say I Love You". Fitz finds solace in her when he and his wife are separated, but their relationship is strained more than once by Fitz standing her up, Bilborough's death and her rape. After Fitz goes back to his pregnant wife at a time when she needs him most, it serves as the final straw for Penhaligon. She definitively ends Fitz's hope for a reconciliation in "True Romance," much to his dismay. In the special episode "White Ghost", she is mentioned as having been promoted to DI, despite announcing that she was resigning from the police force at the end of Series 3.
  • Lorcan Cranitch as DS Jimmy Beck (Series 1-2, 3.1): Irish, short-tempered and not especially competent, Beck and Fitz have a mutual and very strong dislike for one another, as Beck repeatedly mocks and dismisses Fitz's insights even when they are proven correct. From the beginning he is shown to be unstable, often willing (even eager) to get violent with suspects; Bilborough (whom he idolizes) is then forced to restrain or reprimand him, despite their shared lack of interest in the truth. He also appears somewhat misogynistic, stemming from an experience when he emigrated to England as a boy and was shunned by everyone in school except some girls, who showed him some "compassion" only to dump him later. The death of Bilborough - which Fitz spitefully suggests he could have prevented - hits him so hard that he falls into a depression, rapes Penhaligon, and ultimately commits suicide.
  • Barbara Flynn as Judith Fitzgerald (Series 1-3, special episodes): Fitz's long-suffering wife and secondary love interest. Fed up with Fitz's addiction to gambling, she leaves him twice and at one point attempts to divorce him after falling for a therapist called Graham. Despite this, she still loves Fitz, and reluctantly makes attempts to repair their relationship, which rarely last. When she falls into a depression after learning of Fitz's affair with Penhaligon and the birth of their third child fails to improve their marriage, Judith seeks solace with Fitz's brother, Danny, and very nearly begins an affair of her own with him.
  • Kieran O'Brien as Mark Fitzgerald (Series 1-3, special episodes): Fitz's son, who seems to spend most of his time smoking and lazing about the house. Though he loves his father, he and Fitz share a love-hate relationship whenever Fitz drives Judith away, and he takes a particular dislike to Penhaligon (who is nearer to his age than Fitz's) when Fitz begins an affair with her. In "The Big Crunch", Mark claims that he is older than Penhaligon, although whether or not this is true is unknown. In the same episode, he helps Fitz solve a case, in the process showing a level of intelligence in contrast to his normal attitude. His near-death experience in "True Romance" makes Fitz realise just how much he loves Mark.
  • Tess Thomson as Katy Fitzgerald (Series 1-3, special episodes): Fitz's daughter, who goes to live with her mother and grandfather each time Judith walks out on Fitz. Though what effect this has on her is only implied, she is shown to be upset about it. Having appeared as a youngster in the first three series, the role was re-cast for the special episode "Nine Eleven", in which a grown-up Katy (played by Stefanie Wilmore) gets married, the catalyst for Fitz to return to the UK following a very long stint living abroad.
  • John Evans as James Fitzgerald (Special Episode "Nine Eleven"): Fitz's second son and youngest child. He is born in "Brotherly Love" and played by uncredited infants throughout Series 3. Evans plays James in the second special "White Ghost," when the character is age eleven.
  • Ian Mercer as DS George Giggs (Series 1): A married man with three children, but known to be a serial womaniser. He is killed in "To Say I Love You" by a couple whom he interviews in connection with a murder. Penhaligon appears to have somewhat taken a shine to Giggs, as she is particularly upset by his brutal death.
  • Colin Tierney as DC Bobby Harriman (Series 2): DS Giggs' replacement following his murder. Appearing timid at first, his self-confidence soon grows and he proves to be a competent officer. In his first appearance he is caught leaking information about a murder case to the press, but Bilborough declines to punish him for it. He also appears to be more receptive to Fitz's theories than most officers; at one point Fitz takes advantage of this after being shut out of an investigation. Harriman left the CID at the end of the second series but no explanation was given as to his departure.
  • Robert Cavanah as DC Alan Temple (Series 3): DC Harriman's Scottish replacement. He has an implied romantic fling with Penhaligon, much to Fitz' dismay, and becomes close friends with DC Skelton. Wise is suspicious of Temple's actions, and agrees with Fitz that his romantic intentions with Penhaligon are somewhat deluded.
  • Stan Finni as Sgt. Smith (Series 1): The only black officer on the force. Though a minor character, he very notably arrests Fitz in "To Say I Love You" when he refuses to leave Judith alone after she has left him and gone to her parents' house. He also appears briefly in "The Mad Woman in the Attic" as the desk sergeant.
  • Wil Johnson as PC/DC Michael Skelton (Series 2-3): The only black member of the CID and apparent replacement of Sgt. Smith. He becomes close friends with DC Temple. In "To Be a Somebody", he is subjected to monkey chants from a member of a skinhead gang during the investigation into the murder of Albie Kinsella's first victim, a Pakistani shopkeeper; the offending skinhead is arrested for racial harassment on the orders of Bilborough. Following Beck's death, Skelton is promoted from PC to DC.
  • Clive Russell as Danny Fitzgerald (Series 2-3): Fitz's estranged brother. They briefly reconcile after the death of their mother, but their relationship becomes strained when Danny realises the stress Judith is going through thanks to Fitz's actions. Judith very nearly begins an affair with him as a result of this. Russell was cast at Coltrane's recommendation.
  • Edward Peel as the Chief Super (Series 1-3): The head of Anson Road CID. His rather boorish nature does not endear him to others, and he has a combative relationship with Fitz, Bilborough and Wise (despite choosing the latter to replace Bilborough). Perhaps his only compassionate moment comes when telling Bilborough's wife of his death. He frequently questions or belittles the decisions of Bilborough and Wise, the latter of whom he gets into furious arguments with, and tells Fitz that he is only hired for good publicity.

Guest stars

  • Adrian Dunbar as Thomas Kelly: a man who becomes the prime suspect in a series of gruesome razor murders in "The Mad Woman in the Attic". He claims to have amnesia.
  • Nicholas Woodeson as Michael Hennessy: a serial killer known as "Sweeney" who murders young women with razors. He is the antagonist of "The Mad Woman in the Attic".
  • Andrew Tiernan as Sean Kerrigan: a stutterer who can only speak when singing or angry, and with a mental instability. He is the main antagonist of "To Say I Love You".
  • Susan Lynch as Tina Brien: Sean's lover and eventually partner-in-crime, neglected by her family in favour of her blind sister. A secondary antagonist of "To Say I Love You".
  • Christopher Fulford as Nigel Cassidy: a teacher who becomes the suspect of the murder of a homosexual boy in his class. He is the antagonist of "One Day a Lemming Will Fly".
  • Robert Carlyle as Albie Kinsella: a hard-working Liverpool fan and survivor of Hillsborough, who is driven over the edge soon after his father's death and becomes a killer. Among his victims is DCI Bilborough. He is the main antagonist of "To Be a Somebody".
  • Jim Carter as Kenneth Trant: the head of a Christian cult who murders one of his students after accidentally impregnating her. He is the antagonist of "The Big Crunch".
  • Samantha Morton as Joanne Barnes: a young girl involved with a Christian sect. She is the victim in "The Big Crunch".
  • Graham Aggrey as Floyd Malcolm: a black serial rapist who lashes out at the white community and begins killing. He is the main antagonist of "Men Should Weep".
  • Mark Lambert as David Harvey: a man addicted to sex with prostitutes who murders one when she threatens to expose him to his wife. He is the antagonist of "Brotherly Love".
  • Brid Brennan as Maggie Harvey: David Harvey's wife, who begins killing prostitutes the same way as her husband but with a darker agenda. An antagonist of "Brotherly Love".
  • John Simm as Bill Nash/Preece: a lonely factory worker who harbours a vendetta towards his former foster parents, particularly their little boy. He is the antagonist of "Best Boys".
  • Liam Cunningham as Stuart Grady: A closet homosexual, he befriends Preece and develops feelings for him, but gets involved in Preece's activities. An antagonist of "Best Boys".
  • Emily Joyce as Janice: a lab technician who harbours feelings for Fitz and begins committing murders to get his attention. She is the main antagonist of "True Romance".
  • Barnaby Kay as Dennis Philby: an English businessman who is driven over the edge by his girlfriend's unexpected pregnancy. He is the main antagonist of "White Ghost".
  • Anthony Flanagan as Kenny Archer: a rogue policeman with a great hatred for Americans because of the War on Terror. He is the main antagonist of "Nine Eleven".


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 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. 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.


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, 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.


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]

Title Writer Director Episodes Original
Airdate(s) (UK)
1-1 "The Mad Woman in the Attic" Jimmy McGovern Michael Winterbottom 2 27 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 McGovern Andy Wilson 3 11 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 explosive climax.
1-3 "One Day a Lemming Will Fly" Jimmy McGovern Simon Cellan Jones 2 1 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 McGovern Tim Fywell 3 10 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 Whitehead Julian Jarrold 3 31 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 McGovern Jean Stewart 3 21 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 McGovern Roy Battersby 3 22 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 Abbott Charles McDougall 2 6 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 Abbott Tim Fywell 2 20 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 Abbott Richard Standeven 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 "Cracker" (Original title)
"Nine Eleven" (UK promo title)
"A New Terror" (USA promo title)
Jimmy McGovern Antonia Bird 1 1 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.


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

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.

References and notes

  1. 'Head case'; 30 September 2004
  2. From the business card that Fitz presents to his stalker in the episode "True Romance".
  3. 'BFI episode listing';; 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.
  • Crace, John (1994). Cracker: The Truth Behind The Fiction. Granada/Boxtree. ISBN 0-7522-0974-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Duguid, Mark (17 April 2009). Cracker. BFI TV Classics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan/BFI Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84457-263-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links