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NME Interview with Jimmy McGovern


Ratings-guzzling uber-TV show Cracker is back to peel away the scabs of post Hillsborough Britain. Steven Wells hails the best British psycho cop drama ever and shares a pint of bitter pessimism with the shows creator, Jimmy McGovern. The final episode of the last series of the utterly addictive, psycho-cop whydunnit Cracker ended with DS Jane Penhaligon straddling rapist rozzer Jimmy Beck and ramming a large gun down his throat and telling him to "suck it". A nation screamed "PULL THE F--ING TRIGGER! OFF THE PIG!" and screen faded to black. Bastards. In the first episode of the current Cracker series, Brotherly Love, you are smashed in the face with screamed misogynist abuse, a savage headbutt, a prostitute flashing her breasts, a violent murder, a chisel rammed up a vagina, a blood drenched corpse in stockings and suspenders, a gut-wrenching bereavement, an autopsy, unprotected sex, and arson. None of it gratuitous, all of it utterly convincing. The series ends with a breathtakingly well directed act of violence and left the preview audience I saw it with stunned into silence. TV just isn't mean to be this good. "After every series,"says writer Jimmy McGovern, "we get this letter from Granada saying 'Does it have to be so aggressive? Can you cut down on the violence?' We just ignore it and get on with the next one".

Cracker is a Maradona on PCP of a programme - painfully intricate, psychological dribbling is suddenly interrupted by savagely paced and expertly timed bursts of mondo-violence, and trouser wetting tension. Robbie Coltrane's Fitz - a fat, chain smoking, alcoholic, adulterous gambling addict with the IQ of a super computer, the personality of a dysfunctional pig, and the incredibly annoying if useful ability to read minds - is without a doubt the best written, best acted and coolest fictional TV detective since the late Jeremy Brett's definitive arrogant bastard cokehead Sherlock Holmes. There's nothing particularly flashy about Cracker, it uses none of the cinematic post modern gimmickry of Homicide - Life on The Street or NYPD Blue. Cracker is a straightforward, meat and potatoes Brit TV and yet when compared to the cream of the crop mega million dollar psychological cop thriller Silence Of The Lambs, wins hands down in every department. This is uber TV. Cracker has no competition. Heartbeat? Backup? Don't make me laugh! The only programme that EVER gets mentioned in the same breath is Prime Suspect and Jimmy is having none of that, "Good TV writing has narrative simplicity and emotional complexity. Everyone goes on about Prime Suspect. It's a bag of shite! A narratively complex story going up its own arse…." 


Cracker is classic pop product. Massively popular (15 million viewers and counting), without ever pandering, patronising or taking the piss out of its audience. Cracker, like all truly great late 20th century art, hits the head, heart, guts and groin at the same time and with extreme violence. At a time when TV is stuffed with Cambridge educated tossers who seem to believe that to gain a large (and therefore working class) audience, a programme has to be soft, moronic, and insultingly banal, Cracker is proof that popularity and quality are NOT locked in a directly inverse relationship. Cracker doesn't so much kick sacred cows to death as slowly torture them and then carry out intricate autopsies while theyr'e screaming. We've had a black rapist who rapes white women to avenge himself on a racist society (Men Should Weep) and an eloquent, articulate and sympathetic white, working class ex-socialist who spouts BNP-style shite to justify his racist murders (To Be A Somebody).

This is dangerous, potentially lethal stuff. If either rapist Floyd or skinhead Albie has been mere caricatures (PC liberal or Tory worldview reactionary), if we hadn't been able to actually get inside their twisted, burnt out heads and identify with the bastards, then the use of such characters would have been inexcusable. But Jimmy McGovern pulled off the near impossible, he made us both sorry for them AND want them to end the episode dangling from piano wire nooses. And that refusal to patronise its audience, to give them sloppy mock-complicated answers to pseudo-subtle questions, is what the smother mummies and would be censors hate most about Cracker. And its also one of the reasons why 15 million viewers, sick of being insulted, think Cracker rules. To Be A Somebody is the episode that reveals most about McGovern's motivation as a writer. When Albie (the murderer) is pushed over the edge by Hillsborough, McGovern reveals the working class male victims as not only predictably abused as mindless animals by the right wing press (the series ended with a scumbag Sun journalist being blown to shit by a bomb - YES!), but also dismissed by that he describes as the "intellectual Islington Left" as worthless, useless "paki bashers". "I always describe Cracker as not post-modernist, not post-feminist but post Hillsborough. I saw Hillsborough as the collapse of the Leftist ideology. The spokespeople for the victims of Hillsborough should been on left, these were young trade unionists who died. They were caged, betrayed and treated like animals and 96 people died…." 


I think he's wrong. I know any number of Lefties who put the blame of Hillsborough and the ensuing shit storm exactly where it belonged, on the police, on the arrogant, fan-despising football authorities and on Wapping. I know any number of socialists who have never dismissed the young, white, male working class as "paki bashing" scum. But I think I know where Jimmy's head is at. Like an awful lot of the brightest, best and most decent working class people he's seen the ideological certainties badgered, stomped and shat upon - not only by the right but also by whole sections of the left who despise the very people they claim to represent. He's seen allegedly Left-wing trendies "score brownie points in espousing lots of minority causes", while openly dismissing the culture, lifestyles and politics of Hillsborough males as, at best, irrelevant or at worst, fascistic. McGovern, which he claims to be "good company - I'm not a manic depressive" has had the optimism squeezed out of him. "I'll tell you my vision of the future. The vacuum on the Left is going to be filled by fascism. Within 15 years this country is going to have a fascist government".

Another reason for Cracker's success, perhaps, is that there's an awful lot of people who feel as confused and angry as Jimmy McGovern. Fundamentally, decent working class voters who were seduced by the brutal lies of Thatcherism and the hard core of working class Socialists, who have always stayed true to a vision of Britain as a potentially decent, compassionate society, have woken up from the Tory nightmare only to discover that the Labour party, instead of dragging politics back to the Left, is trying to make itself indistinguishable from the Tories. Labour is telling these people that ever watered down socialism doesn't work anymore, that the ground gained against stupid ideas like racism, sexism and homophobia is being chipped away by the anti "PC" lobby. Nobody seems to know what is going on. That is why Cracker isn't just the best programme on TV, its an acute and horribly fascinating portrayal of a confused and twitching Britain which is teetering precariously on the edge of a nervous breakdown. It might be that Jimmy McGovern's bitter, pessimistic and confused (his word) worldview verges on the melodramatic, but it is obviously a diagnosis that rings bells with a hell of a lot of people. And that itself is scarier than any individual rapist, child molester or serial killer.


The Unofficial Guide To Cracker 1999-2006