Magic Moments: TV gold from this week in 1974, 1993 & 2000
He was, his exasperated lover DS Jane Penhaligon once remarked, the kind of man who could ‘spot a guilty cough in a football crowd but not know if World War Three was breaking out in his living room’.
Criminal psychologist Dr Eddie ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, the brilliant and unconventional hero of powerful crime drama Cracker, was a genius at working out what made a criminal tick, but his private life was a mess. He was overweight and he drank, smoked and gambled compulsively. His wife Judith (Barbara Flynn) walked out on him and he had a tempestuous affair with the long-suffering Penhaligon (Geraldine Somerville), who had the task of chaperoning him while he assisted the police in their enquiries.
Yet, for all his flaws, viewers loved him. Robbie Coltrane’s magnificent, larger-than-life performance, together with creator Jimmy Mcgovern’s uncompromising storytelling, turned Cracker into one of ITV’S biggest drama hits of the 1990s.
The first story, The Mad Woman in the Attic, featured a series of gruesome razor murders on trains, with Fitz using intuition and sheer bloody-mindedness to prove the amnesiac prime suspect, Thomas Kelly (Adrian Dunbar), was innocent.
The dark and disturbing tone continued, no more so than the harrowing episode To Be a Somebody, in which DCI David Bilborough (Christopher Eccleston) was stabbed to death.
‘People seemed surprised that I should have wanted to leave,’ recalled Christopher later. ‘But leaving played right into Jimmy’s hands because Cracker never gave you what you expected. Bilborough’s death was perfect Cracker.’
In 2006, following a 10year hiatus, Robbie, by then an international star thanks to the Harry Potter films, reprised the role of Fitz one last time. Was the wayward genius, TV Times wondered, someone the actor liked?
‘He’s a guy you’d like to go drinking with,’ mused Robbie, who is currently starring in C4’s National Treasure. ‘But would he be the type of person I’d like to share a flat with? I don’t think so. He wouldn’t do the dishes and he’d probably eat the sausages you’d been saving for breakfast!’
As Fitz, Robbie probed inside many head cases