“I smoke too much, I drink too much, I gamble too much… I am too much”

We’re going to attempt to do a few weekly features and this – Throw Back Thursday – is designed to celebrate crime drama series from yesteryear. If you have any particular favourites do get in touch with suggestions, and we’re happy to dig into the ones you’ve put forward. 

UK channel: ITV
25 episodes

Cast: Robbie Coltrane, Geraldine Somerville, Ricky Tomlinson, Lorcan Cranitch
Writer: Jimmy McGovern

The lowdown:
It’s almost easy to forget that when Robbie Coltrane landed the role of Edward Fitzgerald, it raised more eyebrows than a Roger Moore fan convention. Coltrane had previously been thought of as a comic actor, thanks to his work at the forefront of the 1980s Alternative Comedy boom, especially his appearances in the Comic Strip series.

Jimmy McGovern, on the other hand, had come from writing for Brookside to garnering a reputation for hard-hitting drama of the kind that hadn’t been seen since Alan Bleasdale. And then came Cracker.

It told the story of a deeply flawed criminal psychologist, or profiler, whose methods weren’t exactly textbook and his personal life was a mess of epic proportions. His famous quote, “I smoke too much, I drink too much, I gamble too much… I am too much” never told a truer story.

Why we love it:
introduced the British public to a new kind of crime character – the anti-hero. This man – this brilliant man – was as easy to hate as he was to love and audiences were conflicted as to what to feel for him. Sympathy? Pity? Loathing? Fitz could quite easily provide oodles of loathing himself, but this paradigm of the anti-hero broke the mould of hero detectives hitherto endemic on British television. Cracker was different. Instead, it ushered in a new method of investigation – profiling – and saw Fitz get into the mind of rapists, murderers and the very worst and twisted parts of society. No wonder Fitz couldn’t get it together to lead a ‘normal’ family life.

It was these twisted parts of society that McGovern seemed to revel in. His stories strongly and explicitly suggested that society – an unjust and unforgiven society driven by greed spawned villains. But the villains in Cracker weren’t any old villains. They were fully formed, human characters that had been mangled by cruel social circumstance. McGovern always gave a reason for their murderous exertions, another way the series broke moulds.

The stories were ingenious exercises in ways to test Fitz and his playful and incisive intellect. Over time the characters he had to evaluate – and the crimes they committed gnawed away at his soul – to the extent that the job broke him and his ability to fashion loving relationships his natural charm and wit led him into. In the end the work destroyed him, but it was only the work that mattered.

With Manchester as a foreboding backdrop, sparkling dialogue, intriguing peripheral characters, perfectly cast actors who revelled in McGovern’s skill and some noteable, villains with affecting stories, Cracker (and Prime Suspect) was a class apart in the 1990s. Watching it now it does feel a bit dated – rooted as it was in the issues and social maladies of the day – but there’s no doubt that Cracker was indeed a cracker and a genuine influence for crime dramas in years to come.

Also, the guest stars: Robert Carlisle, Christopher Eccleston, Susan Lynch, John Simm and Ted Hastings himself, Adrian Dunbar all appeared. Speaking of Adrian Dunbar…

What they said:

“CSI may have cemented this as TV’s decade of forensic science, but the ’90s were the epoch of the criminal psychologist, and they never got any better than Fitz.” Empire


8 Comments Add yours

  1. magaluf10 says:

    How about Trial and Retribution?

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    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dan Campling says:

    One of my all time favourites. Would love to see articles on NYPD Blue, Hill Street Blues, Waking The Dead, Trial and Retribution, Taggart, Murphy’s Law, Murder In Mind, Spender, Messiah, Wire In The Blood, In Deep, Columbo, A Touch Of Frost, Inspector Morse, Poirot, P.D. James (Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh), Bergerac, Thriller, Miss Marple (Joan Hickson), The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, The Sweeney, Hawaii Five-0, Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., The Shield, Inspector Lynley, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and New Tricks


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      Blimey, Dan! Give us a bit of time ;) FYI one of these is next week’s TBT

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Seija says:

    Cracker and Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren all time faves of the 90s. P.s. Dan missed one essential 90’s show, Dalziel and Pascoe!


    1. Paul Hirons says:

      We could keep this feature going until 2068!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Seija says:

        Well, aren’t you ;)?


      2. Dan Campling says:

        I hope so, as I forgot to mention Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett), The Bill, Murder One, The Rockford Files, Homicide: Life On The Street, Juliet Bravo, Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes, Between The Lines, A Mind To Kill, Touching Evil, Shoestring, Hunter, Quincy M.E., The Equalizer, Z Cars, Special Branch, The Streets Of San Francisco, The Vice, Perry Mason, Ironside, Dempsey and Makepeace, Cannon, Mannix, and Kojak.


  4. Julie says:

    Loved this series. Rewatched it a few years ago and enjoyed it as much in the rewatch as I did 1st time round. My husband who is not the biggest crime drama fan also enjoyed it. Every time he sees Robbie Coltrane on anything he always says “That’s Cracker”. Come to think of it whenever he sees Ian McShane, he always remarks “That’s Lovejoy”.

    Liked by 2 people

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