Cracker (UK TV series)

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Created by Jimmy McGovern
Starring Robbie Coltrane
Geraldine Somerville
Christopher Eccleston
Ricky Tomlinson
Lorcan Cranitch
Barbara Flynn
Kieran O'Brien
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 5
No. of episodes 25 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Sally Head
Producer(s) Gub Neal
Paul Abbott
Hilary Bevan Jones
John Chapman
Location(s) Manchester, England, UK
Running time 50 mins. (Series 1-3)
120 mins. (Series 4-5)
Original network ITV
Original release 27 September 1993 – 1 October 2006

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 is centred 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[edit]

  • 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. Fitz often clashes with the police, particularly DCI Bilborough, over his theories, which are usually right but on occasion can make worse an already tense situation. In "To Be a Somebody", he expresses the belief that police work is the only thing that gives him purpose, despite the havoc it wreaks on his personal and professional lives. 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 was named after the English poet and writer Edward FitzGerald, according to series creator Jimmy McGovern. Coltrane won three consecutive BAFTA Awards for the role, a streak only matched by Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.
  • Christopher Eccleston as DCI David Bilborough (Series 1, 2.1): the Detective Chief Inspector who first hires Fitz. A stubbornly narrow-minded man, he shows little to no interest in truth or justice and frequently clashes with Fitz over their ideals. In "One Day a Lemming Will Fly", when Fitz discovers a murder suspect has actually made a false confession, Bilborough decides to charge him anyway to avoid embarrassment; this pushes Fitz to sever ties with the police for a time. He appears excessively desperate to succeed and often fails in the process, incurring the disdain of the Chief Super, but has occasional moments of integrity (usually involving Penhaligon). His death at the hands of Albie Kinsella in "To Be a Somebody" has a lasting effect on the remainder of the series (Eccleston makes cameos in "Men Should Weep" as a churchgoer and "Brotherly Love" as John Bilborough, David's twin brother).
  • Ricky Tomlinson as DCI Charlie Wise (Series 2-3, Special episode "White Ghost"): the Scouse replacement of Bilborough following his death. He turns out to be a far more strict and abrasive boss, frequently at odds with his officers (particularly Jimmy Beck) and the Chief Super. As an older man, he shows more tolerance of the "boys club" attitude of the police, although he is similarly protective of Jane Penhaligon. Also unlike Bilborough, however, he values the truth above a fitting result and thus has a much better working relationship with Fitz, although he briefly fires him when Fitz unknowingly persuades Wise's estranged wife to file for separation. In "White Ghost", Fitz tells the Hong Kong police he wants an officer from Anson Road to assist on a case and requests Jane Penhaligon; instead Wise is sent, much to Fitz's consternation.
  • 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". A subplot throughout the series is her struggle to be taken seriously in the "boys club" atmosphere of the police force; Bilborough often designates her to inform a victim's family of a murder, because she is "good at that sort of thing," to which she shows obvious annoyance. 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, the last of which profoundly disturbs her. After Fitz goes back to his pregnant wife at a time when she needs him most, it serves as the final straw for Penhaligon; Judith Fitzgerald's hatred for her does not help matters. She definitively ends Fitz's hope for a reconciliation in "True Romance", much to his dismay. In the same episode she tells Judith she is resigning from the police force; however, in the special episode "White Ghost", Wise mentions that she has been promoted to DI.
  • Lorcan Cranitch as DS Jimmy Beck (Series 1–2, 3.1): Irish, short-tempered and more impulsive than intelligent, Beck takes an instant – and reciprocated – very strong dislike to Fitz, and Beck never misses an opportunity to mock and dismiss 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 rein him in, despite their shared lack of interest in the truth. He also has a deeply-rooted misogynistic streak, 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 "compassion" only to dump him later. Bilborough's murder - which Fitz spitefully but correctly tells him he could have prevented - hits him so hard that he falls into a guilt-ridden depression, rapes Penhaligon, and ultimately commits murder-suicide.
  • Barbara Flynn as Judith Fitzgerald (Series 1-3, special episode "Nine Eleven"): 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. She harbors a deep dislike for Penhaligon, at one point going so far as to tell her that her rape was a kind of "poetic justice." At the end of "True Romance" her marriage to Fitz seems to have been irrevocably broken; however, they are still together as of "Nine Eleven", set several years after the end of the original series.
  • Kieran O'Brien as Mark Fitzgerald (Series 1-3, special episode "Nine Eleven"): Fitz's son, who seems to spend most of his time smoking and lazing about the house. He and Fitz share a love-hate relationship brought on by Fitz's habit of driving 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 even wonders aloud if he is older than Penhaligon. In the same episode, he helps Fitz translate some esoteric religious symbolism, in the process showing a level of knowledge and intelligence in contrast to his normal attitude. His kidnapping and near-death experience in "True Romance" makes Fitz realise just how much he loves Mark, as news of his survival drives Fitz to tears.
  • Tess Thomson as Katy Fitzgerald (Series 1-3, special episode "Nine Eleven"): 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 "Nine Eleven," 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 womanizer. He is killed in "To Say I Love You" by a couple whom he interviews in connection with a murder, not realizing they themselves are the killers. 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 reasonably competent officer despite occasional mistakes. In his first appearance he is caught leaking information about a murder case to the press, but Bilborough declines to punish him for it. After being shut out of the same investigation, Fitz uses him to present his theories to the squad (though Penhaligon sees through this). In fact, he is one of the few officers in the unit who is even vaguely receptive to Fitz. He also helps to capture a rapist-murderer at the end of "Men Should Weep." Harriman has left CID by the start of the third series, though no explanation is given.
  • Robert Cavanah as DC Alan Temple (Series 3): DC Harriman's Scottish replacement. He and Fitz dislike each other almost instantly; besides trading barbs, they tend to call one another out on their personal and professional failings. Similar to Bilborough, he is shown to be not all that competent but desperate to succeed. It is mentioned that he was demoted from DI to DC, something he is occasionally mocked for. He has an implied romantic fling with Penhaligon, much to Fitz' dismay, and is protective of her to the point of being overbearing. He is also friends with DC Skelton, although after failing to realize someone he interviewed was a murderer he tries to make Skelton take the blame, angering both him and Penhaligon. Wise is frequently and openly disdainful of Temple, 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. A minor character, he most notably arrests Fitz in "To Say I Love You" when Fitz 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, although he has a much more hands-on involvement in several cases. 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. In "Men Should Weep" he is assigned to surveillance on a suspected rapist along with Harriman; however, the rapist manages to outwit and humiliate them. Following Beck's death, Skelton is promoted from PC to DC and proves to be a smart, resourceful officer.
  • 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 and resents him for it, becoming a kind of surrogate husband-father in the household. Fitz, in turn, dismisses him as an unremarkable, eager-to-please busybody. Danny and Judith are clearly attracted to one another, and she very nearly begins an affair with him in "True Romance", though this is thwarted, leaving Danny despondent. Russell was cast at Coltrane's recommendation.
  • Amelia Bullmore (Series 1.3) and Isobel Middleton (Series 2.1, 2.3, 3.1) as Catriona Bilborough: David Bilborough's wife and later widow. She is said to be pregnant with their first child in "To Say I Love You," and a recurring subplot in "One Day a Lemming Will Fly" is their anxiety about the impending birth, which finally occurs near the end of the episode. In "To Be a Somebody" she is approached by Albie Kinsella at a supermarket; he forces his hand between her legs to get Bilborough's attention and lure him to his death. When Fitz tells her she has nothing to feel guilty about, she reminds him about his falling out with her husband, insisting he would never lock up an innocent man and come home with a clean conscience; Fitz, in a moment of compassion, lies that Bilborough had caught the right man. Catriona remains in touch with Jimmy Beck, who dotes on and attends the baptism of her son in "Men Should Weep." During this, she mentions that she has dreams about Bilborough, which greatly disturbs an already guilt-ridden Beck. In "Brotherly Love", Bilborough's twin brother John has moved into the household and become a surrogate father to his nephew; the sight of John causes Beck to have a panic attack. Catriona, however, insists that no one can replace David.
  • 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 informing Catriona Bilborough of her husband's 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[edit]

  • Adrian Dunbar as Thomas Francis 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 on moving trains. ("The Mad Woman in the Attic")
  • Andrew Tiernan as Sean Kerrigan: a stutterer who can only speak when singing or angry, and with a volatile personality. ("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. ("To Say I Love You")
  • Christopher Fulford as Nigel Cassidy: a teacher who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a homosexual boy in his class. ("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 decides to "act like scum," feeling that people regard him as such. Among the victims in his rampage is DCI Bilborough. ("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. ("The Big Crunch")
  • Samantha Morton as Joanne Barnes: a young girl involved with a Christian sect who is made pregnant by Kenneth Trant, threatening his status in the church and community. ("The Big Crunch")
  • Graham Aggrey as Floyd Malcolm: a black serial rapist who lashes out at the white community, particularly the wives of those he feels look down on him, and takes Fitz's radio-host advice as an instruction to begin killing his victims. ("Men Should Weep")
  • Mark Lambert as David Harvey: a man addicted to roleplay sex with prostitutes who impulsively murders one when she threatens to expose him to his wife. ("Brotherly Love")
  • Brid Brennan as Maggie Harvey: David Harvey's long-suffering wife, who begins killing prostitutes in the same way as her husband, but with a darker, more deliberate agenda. ("Brotherly Love")
  • John Simm as Bill Nash/Preece: a lonely and volatile factory worker who harbours a vendetta towards his former foster parents, particularly their little boy. ("Best Boys")
  • Liam Cunningham as Stuart Grady: A closet homosexual, he befriends Preece and develops feelings for him, to the point of being drawn into Preece's crime spree. ("Best Boys")
  • Emily Joyce as Janice: a lab technician who harbours feelings for Fitz and begins committing murders to get his attention. ("True Romance")
  • Barnaby Kay as Dennis Philby: a struggling, deeply-frustrated English businessman in Hong Kong who is driven over the edge by his girlfriend's unexpected pregnancy. ("White Ghost")
  • Anthony Flanagan as Kenny Archer: a rogue policeman with a great hatred for Americans because of the War on Terror. ("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. 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.


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[edit]

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.


  1. ^ 'Head case'; 30 September 2004
  2. ^ From the business card that Fitz presents to his stalker in the episode "True Romance".
  • Crace, John (1994). Cracker: The Truth Behind The Fiction. Granada/Boxtree. ISBN 0-7522-0974-4. 
  • Duguid, Mark (17 April 2009). Cracker. BFI TV Classics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan/BFI Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84457-263-2. 
  • Dunn, Josephine M (2018-03-20). Jimmy McGovern's Cracker. KDP. ISBN 9-7819-8062-5452. 

External links[edit]