History Files

CRACKER

 

Robbie Coltrane starred as criminal psychologist Fitz in the drama series written by Jimmy McGovern. It was his first straight role since Alive and Kicking, a one-off drama for BBC1 with Lenny Henry, and was created specially for him by McGovern. Coltrane drew on memories of his Glasgow childhood in thinking himself into the atmosphere of this potent drama. "I've never been a violent person myself," he said at the time, "because it doesn't solve anything. But in the 1960s, when I was a teenager, it was always there." And it's there, of course, in the background to Fitz's work, and in his sometimes physical response to psychological problems. The dangerous but brilliant character he portrayed had a knack of getting the right results, and usually with a perceptive comment or a dry, humorous quip close to hand. The series was a masterpiece of drama and thriller combined, not quite orthodox in its background because Coltrane's Fitz wasn't an orthodox character; his private life was a mess and he was a heavy drinker, a chain-smoker and a compulsive gambler. But the audience and critics lapped it up with almost complete unanimity, and a second series was promised almost immediately.

Apart from Coltrane, the series boasted a quality cast: Barbara Flynn, from such diverse programmes as The Beiderbecke Trilogy, A Peculiar Practice, and as the milkwoman in episodes of comedy Open All Hours. Geraldine Sommerville played Penhaligon, or 'Panhandle' as Fitz dubbed her. A detective sergeant on Bilborough's team, she very quickly became Fitz's closest associate in their joint investigations, at first finding Fitz very hard to work out, but, as the weeks passed, growing to like him more and more, until her boss noticed how she was even beginning to sound like Fitz. There was the chance of a holiday for two at the series' close, but Fitz backed out at the last minute, making the choice to stay at home and work at patching up his turbulent marriage to Judith. Panhandle left on her own and their relationship for the second series was left in a very uncertain position.

Also present was Kieran O'Brien as Fitz's son. He managed to appear in no less than two other programmes at the same time as Cracker was first screened: playing an unlucky thief in Casualty, and Tracy Barlow's first serious boyfriend in Coronation Street. Unfortunately, season two lacked in the originality of its predecessor, preferring to go for shock stories with more than a hint of sensationalism. The most obvious examples of this populist approach were the murder of DCI Bilborough in To Be A Somebody, and the rape of DS Penhaligon in Men Should Weep. Still, it didn't affect the now all-important ratings, and the series stuck to its 10 million-plus level. Planned for a fixed three-season run, Cracker ended on a popular high in 1995 with a season that was mainly concerned with the painful mental and physical scars the characters had suffered in past episodes.

 


REGULAR CAST

Edward Fitzgerald (Fitz) Robbie Coltrane
DS Jane Penhaligon Geraldine Sommerville (Seasons 1-3)
Judith Fitzgerald
Barbara Flynn (Seasons 1-3)
DS Beck
Lorcan Cranitch (Seasons 1-3)
DCI Bilborough
Christopher Eccleston (First 10 Episodes Only)
DCI Wise
Ricky Tomlinson (Season 2-4)
Mark Fitzgerald Kieran O'Brien (Seasons 1-3)
DS Giggs
Ian Mercer (First 4 Episodes Only)
DC Temple
Robert Cavanah (Season 3
)

 


Writer: Jimmy McGovern
Executive Producer: Sally Head
Producers: Gub Neal (Season 1),
  Paul Abbott (Season 2), Hilary
  Bevan Jones
(Seasons 3-4)
Music: David Ferguson


Season One

The Mad Woman In The Attic

(A 2-part story)
A woman is murdered on a train and a man is found unconscious by the tracks. He claims to remember nothing. Reluctantly the police turn to Fitz, who is busy trying to save his marriage and quit gambling. The pressure begins to mount as Fitz finds out more about the police's one suspect in the brutal murder inquiry. Kelly can't help them and they are forced to let him go, but he agrees to be released into Fitz's care, and more and as more of his past comes back to him, Fitz realises that the case wasn't as straight forward as Bilborough thought.

Kelly Adrian Dunbar
Anne Appleby Kika Markham
Simon Appleby Ian Mercer
Hennessy Nicholas Woodeson
Hennessy Snr Don Henderson

Director: Michael Winterbottom

To Say I Love You

(A 3-part story)
The ever-troubled Fitz finds he has a modern day Bonnie and Clyde to sort out at the same time as his wife is laying down the conditions upon which she will return to the marital home. But Fitz has a rival for Judith in the form of another psychologist, Graham, whom Fitz dislikes with some obvious intensity. Bonnie and Clyde, in the form of Tina and Sean, dispose of a dangerous loan shark who has been pestering Tina, and the police begin interviewing people who knew him. DS Giggs meets Tina, who lures him back to her flat so that Sean can kill him, as he has become too inquisitive. This only intensifies matters for Giggs' colleagues, and when Fitz manages to entrap Tina events move towards an explosive climax. Sean takes Tina's hated sister, Sammy, hostage in her own home and turns on the gas, not realising that the heating is on a timer switch that will destroy the whole building when it comes on. Then Fitz has to go in to try and persuade Sean to give up. At the same time, there is an unexpected turn in Fitz's relationship with 'Panhandle', while he himself lives a double life where the chilling deduction and analysis of murder and murderers bears no resemblance to a private world that goes from bad to worse. "If I was a house I'd be condemned," as the man says himself.

Fitz's mother Beryl Reid
Katie Fitzgerald Tess Thomson
Tina Brien Susan Lynch
Mrs Brien Patti Love
Mr Brien Keith Ladd
Sean Kerrigan Andrew Tiernan
Graham David Haig
Sammy Susan Vidler
Judith's father Tim Barlow

Director: Andy Wilson

One Day A Lemming Will Fly

(A 2-part story)
When a boy goes missing, Fitz and the police are called in to find out what has happened. Matters are complicated when a crowd, demanding action, gathers at the police station. Pressure mounts as DCI Bilborough's wife is about to give birth and he is distracted from his work. The police make an arrest, but their focus on one man has violent consequences.

Nigel Cassidy Christopher Fulford
Julie Lang Francis Tomelty
Mr Lang Tim Healy
Andy Lang Lee Philip Hartney
Lindsay John Vine
Catriona Bilborough Amelia Bullmore
Leslie Trevyn McDowell

Director: Simon Cellan Jones

 

 

Season Two

To Be A Somebody

(A 3-part story)
After a violent murder, Fitz knows the police are on the wrong track, but he and Bilborough have yet to resolve their differences. And his relationship with 'Panhandle' is even worse after he left her standing at the airport. As the police clutch at straws, Fitz, hell-bent on self-destruction, has to decide whether to help. Help he does, but Bilborough doesn't like what he comes up with, that the murderer, Albie Kinsella, is out to avenge the deaths at Hillsborough football ground by killing an equal number of policemen. His first target is Bilborough himself, and Albie lures him into a trap, fatally stabbing him. Albie goes on the run, breaking into a quarry's explosives store on the way, but Fitz is able to successfully predict where he will turn up. Albie is arrested and charge, although he doesn't mention the surprise package he has sent to newspaper reporter Clare Moody...

Albie Kinsella Robert Carlyle
DC Harriman Colin Tierney
Clare Moody Beth Goddard
Jill Kinsella Tracy Gillman
Catriona Bilborough Isobel Middleton
DCI Wise (intro) Ricky Tomlinson
Chief Superintendent Edward Peel

Director: Tim Fywell

The Big Crunch

w Ted Whitehead
(A 3-part story)
With the disappearance of a teenage girl, Fitz comes face to face with the dark side of suburban life, and the complexities of over-enthusiastic religion. As if things weren't complicated enough, Fitz's wife has left him, taking half the furniture and their daughter with her. However, he is proved right when the girl, Joanne, is found alive, in a distressed an incoherent state. She gradually weakens and later dies in hospital. The boy who saved her is then arrested by Beck and threatened into signing a confession. Fitz does a good job in rectifying the matter, but the boy, mentally restricted and in some confusion, hangs himself in his police cell. Tormented by another senseless death, Fitz sets out to bring the Trant family to justice, pursuing them almost to the point of obsession. Panhandle does her best to help him, and, after an evening in, they decide to spend the night together.

PC Skelton Wilbert Johnson
Kenneth Trant Jim Carter
Virginia Trant Maureen O'Brien
Norma Trant Cherith Mellor
Michael Trant James Fleet
Joanne Barnes Samantha Morton
Dean Saunders Derren Tighe
Mrs Barnes Ellie Haddington
Mr Barnes Roger Sloman

Director: Julian Jarrold

Men Should Weep

(A 3-part story)
Fitz faces a series of chillingly executed attacks on women. The rapist, a young mini-cab driver named Floyd, is a particularly arrogant character who not only turns up at a police reconstruction of one of his earlier attacks, but also calls up a radio phone-in featuring Fitz to ask how the rapist should best protect himself against detection. For Fitz and Penhaligon it is the most stressful case they have worked on and one which changes their relationship forever. DS Beck is still suffering from the nagging certainty that he was responsible for the death of Bilborough, and Fitz's wife returns to their family home with a surprise - she is five months pregnant, and Fitz is going to be a father again. The police pay a terrible price for failing to catch Floyd: Penhaligon is raped by a copycat attacker, although this doesnít become immediately apparent, and Floyd decides to kill his latest victim to prevent any unnecessary risk of capture. Fitz exposes the savage damage of racism as he delves deeper into Floyd's story, once the rapist has been apprehended. But there is not enough evidence to support Fitz's theories, and Floyd goes free, only to strike at Fitz's weakest link - Judith. At the same time, Penhaligon is taking the law into her own hands in an explosive climax to the season.

Floyd Malcolm Graham Aggrey
Tom Carter John McArdle
PC Skelton Wilbert Johnson
Andrew Wiley Andrew Readman
Deborah Wiley Clare Hackett
Marcia Reid Marianne Jean Baptiste
Catriona Bilborough Isobel Middleton

Director: Jean Stewart

 

 

Season Three

Brotherly Love

w Jimmy McGovern
(A 3-part story)
A prostitute is found raped and murdered, opening old wounds at the station. Beck returns to work after a breakdown, and tensions rise between him and Penhaligon. With the main suspect under lock and key, the police are stunned to uncover two more brutal murders in the space of a few days, and whilst suffering the distraction of becoming a father again, Fitz has to cope with a complex case, the tormented Penhaligon, and a far from recovered Jimmy Beck.

Michael Harvey David Calder
Danny Fitzgerald Clive Russell
David Harvey Mark Lambert
Maggie Harvey Brid Brennan
Denise Fletcher Polly Hemingway
Jean McIlvanney Ruth Sheen
Barney Ron Donachie
Pathologist Paul Copley
Helen McIlvanney Barbara Young
Katie Fitzgerald Tess Thomson
Catriona Bilborough Isobel Middleton
Chief Superintendent Edward Peel

Director: Roy Battersby

Best Boys

w Paul Abbott
(A 2-part story)
Despite attending his funeral, Fitz finds that Jimmy Beck is still twisting the knife in his relationship with Penhaligon. While he tries to come to grips with that, and the difficult time Judith is having with the new baby, a murder is committed as a result of the strange relationship between two men, Grady and Danny, one a thirtysomething ex-soldier and the other a naive teenager who has been bought up by a series of foster parents.

Skelton Wilbert Johnson
Chief Supt Edward Peel
Danny Fitzgerald Clive Russell
Grady Liam Cunningham
Bill John Simm
Aileen (Jimmy's sister) Aisling O'Sullivan
Diane Nash Annette Ekblom
Mrs Franklin Jackie Downey
Mr Franklin David Hill
Pathologist Will Knightly
Gloria Carla Richee
Brian Nash John Langford
Steven Nash Anthony Lewis
Philip Nash Dominic Rigby
Janet Emery Jane Wheldon

Director: Charles McDougall

True Romance

w Paul Abbott
(A 2-part story)
Now his home life is beginning to settle into something approaching normality, and he strives to kick the gambling and drinking, Fitz receives love letters while on a new, relatively minor murder case when a student becomes obsessed with his motives and methods. Even though the woman, Janice, is caught after her first three murders, she still brings Fitz as close as possible to breaking point when she refuses to reveal where Mark Fitzgerald is being held captive. He is her intended fourth victim, and is bound hand and foot to the instrument of his impending death, the minutes of his life ticking away.

Chief Supt Edward Peel
Danny Fitzgerald Clive Russell
Janice Emily Joyce
Irene Jackson Rosemary Martin
Reenie Wise Liz Estensen
Nena Fleur Bennett
Skelton Wilbert Johnson

 

 

Special Episode

White Ghost

w Paul Abbott
(A 1-part double-length story)
While on a lecture tour of Hong Kong, Fitz is called in to investigate the motives behind the bizarre murder of a high-flying businessman and the disappearance of a young Chinese girl who was about to abort the child of a failed English businessman.

DCI Janet Lee Cheung Freda Foh Shen
Dennis Philby Barnaby Kay
Cmdr Gordon Ellison Michael Pennington
Su Lin Rene Liu Jo Ying
Junior Detective David Tse
Detective Lawyer Tom Wu
Catherine Wilson ZoŽ Hart
Freddie Dennis Chan
Gerald Freeman Mark Hadfield
Doctor Sunny Glen Goei
Wei Wei Pik Sen Lim
Frank Carter David Bradley

Director: Richard Standeven

 

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