Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Cracker (1993-95, 1996, 2006)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Cracker (1993-95, 1996, 2006)
Granada Television for ITV, 27/9/1993-27/11/1995
23 x 50 min episodes in three series, plus two specials, colour
Directors includeMichael Winterbottom
 Simon Cellan Jones
 Tim Fywell
 Antonia Bird
ProducersGub Neal
 Paul Abbot
 Hilary Bevan Jones
WritersJimmy McGovern
 Paul Abbott
 Ted Whitehead

Cast: Robbie Coltrane (Fitz); Christopher Eccleston (DCI Billborough); Geraldine Somerville (DS Penhaligan); Lorcan Cranitch (DS Beck); Barbara Flynn (Judith Fitzgerald); Kieran O'Brien (Mark Fitzgerald); Ricky Tomlinson (DCI Wise)

Show full cast and credits

After a murder case in which the chief suspect claims amnesia, Psychology professor Eddie Fitzgerald, known to all as 'Fitz', develops a professional relationship with the Greater Manchester Police. Meanwhile, he battles with his own personal demons.

Show full synopsis

Originally conceived as a replacement for ITV's (temporarily) retiring Inspector Morse (1987-1993), Cracker turned out to be the antithesis of its forerunner: brash, urgent and fiercely contemporary where Morse was genteel, sedate and nostalgic. Developed from an idea by producer Gub Neal for a 'totally new-age detective', Cracker's hero, Fitz, was not a policeman but a forensic psychologist - a breed previously unseen on British television. But if Neal provided the concept, the character was very much the creation of writer Jimmy McGovern.

McGovern fashioned Fitz from the darkest elements of his own character: angry, confrontational and self-destructive (a harddrinking chainsmoker and a chronic gambler), not to mention arrogant and manipulative. But Fitz was also compassionate, breathtakingly smart and sharply witty, and in the hands of Robbie Coltrane he became one of 90s television's most compelling heroes. Where traditional crime stories concerned themselves with unmasking the criminal, Cracker went deeper, exploring moral choices and concealed motives in a way that reflected Fitz's (and McGovern's) Catholic past, and examining the consequences of crime for both perpetrator and victim with rare determination.

Fitz's outsider status, meanwhile, allowed for a fresh perspective on modern policing at a time when a series of miscarriages of justice had seriously dented public confidence in the force. His police associates - the talented but undervalued DS Jane Penhaligon (with whom Fitz embarks on an ill-starred affair), the inexperienced, inconsistent DCI Bilborough and the brutal, prejudiced DS Jimmy Beck - highlighted policing at its best and worst, and represented a beleaguered, sometimes cynical police force for which the pursuit of truth frequently took a back seat to satisfying media and public demand for a 'result'.

But McGovern's most furious writing was fuelled by what he considered the most heinous of recent injustices, the death of 96 Liverpool football supporters in the 1989 Hillsborough stadium tragedy. Through the vengeful Albie (memorably played by rising star Robert Carlyle) in 'To Be a Somebody', McGovern enacted a kind of dramatic restorative justice for the Hillsborough dead, culminating in the violent deaths of the flawed Bilborough and a mercenary Sun reporter.

After two series, McGovern was succeeded as writer by Paul Abbott, who played down the Catholicism in favour of a focus on dysfunctional family relationships (including Fitz's) partly inspired by his own troubled upbringing. After a disappointing Hong Kong-set special, Fitz was mothballed, but re-emerged in 2006 for a McGovern-penned one-off, with mixed results.

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The great British public (2:18)
2. 'I know he's guilty' (0:53)
3. Welcome home (2:17)
4 'I'll share your burden' (1:31)
5. Truth and results (6:49)
Complete episode: 'One Day a Lemming Will Fly' part 1 (15:09)
Part 2 (17:16)
Part 3 (19:19)
Expert, The (1968-71, 1976)
Human Jungle, The (1963-65)
Inspector Morse (1987-2000)
Prime Suspect (1991-2006)
Abbott, Paul (1960-)
Coltrane, Robbie (1950-)
Eccleston, Christopher (1964-)
McGovern, Jimmy (1949-)
Simm, John (1971-)
Tomlinson, Ricky (1939-)
Winterbottom, Michael (1961-)
TV Police Drama
TV Sleuths