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Times Article on Cracker


SANDRA MITCHELL explains why the TV industry sent for Robbie Coltrane.


Fighting fit and festive, Robbie Coltrane hits Edinburgh this morning for a Cracker breakfast with Britain's TV moguls. The star of the successful Granada drama has taken a break from filming the second series to take part in an early morning workshop today at the Edinburgh Television Festival. As Dr Eddie Fitzgerald, better known as Fitz, the hard drinking, smoking, unfaithful, unreliable, sharp-tongued and hugely overweight compulsive gambler, he may not seem the sort of person to turn to for some friendly advice. But the crime-solving psychologist has become one of TV's most wanted men, and the industry is turning to him for the secret of how to pull 12m viewers on the network. Coltrane, who used to have a reputation of his own for hell-raising, has been specially flown in by the festival organisers. His comic abilities and penchant for answering questions in any voice but his own should make for lively listening, but they are hoping he will play it straight for long enough to shed some light on Cracker's success. The series has been sold to 15 countries so far, and has won a clutch of major prizes, including a Bafta for Coltrane. He sees Fitz as a thoroughly modern hero: "I don't want to rubbish other shows, but what I liked about these scripts was that they are a realistic look at life in the 1990s. And that means including psychologists in police work.'' 


Coltrane, himself the son of a police surgeon, had no trouble at all in bringing Fitz's excessive side to life."Those people who say they have a small glass of sherry before dinner, I don't know what bloody planet they're on. It's like having one chop or saying 'Let's go quite fast in the car' or snogging and then going home. No thank you. Excuse me, I'm a bottle of whisky or nothing man.'' With him on the workshop panel will be Jimmy McGovern, Cracker's writer; Andy Wilson, one of the first series directors; and Gub Neal, who dreamed up the series, produced it, and is now working on a tie-in feature film. Neal attributes Cracker's success to a combination of McGovern's writing and Coltrane's acting. "A lot of detective series fail to create an ongoing sense of development in the character. In Fitz, Jimmy has created a man, warts and all, who is struggling on a day to day basis with life as we understand it. It's difficult and it's boring. He's also created a character who doesn't like himself very much, and that's something we can all identify with without having to experience it. "Robbie has found a way of animating a man who on paper is not really likeable. He plays him so we are pulled along by a sense of his own frailty, at the same time as being completely compelled by his intellect. He's totally credible, but he's also a little bit special. Within the ordinary, there's something completely extraordinary.'' So will Coltrane's new role as advisor to the TV industry mean a rash of whisky-swilling Fitz look-alikes on our screens? "Cracker works because Jimmy wrote it and Robbie is in it,'' says Neal. "It wouldn't necessarily work without them. What we want to do is stimulate people to break boundaries. We need to present viewers with material that's less predictable, that stops TV turning into wallpaper.


The Unofficial Guide To Cracker 1999-2006