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ROBBIE STILL FITZ THE BILL (23rd September 2006)


Delighted Coltrane returns after 10 years for a Cracker special


ROBBIE COLTRANE is returning as Fitz the shrink for a one-off episode of Cracker, his first check-in with the character for almost a decade. At the end of series three, Robbie thought enough was enough, and checked out, with Fitz decamping to Australia with long-suffering wife Judith. Now Fitz, Judith and their young son James are back in the UK for their daughter Katy's wedding in Manchester.And Robbie claims he agreed to reprise his role to please Princess Anne. He said: "Fitz only has to see a bit of police tape at a murder scene, and he's back at the old routine like a dog to broth. "He can't resist it. Fitz in Australia? Can you really see him there? Being asked to barbies on the beach, and him turning up in his black suit without a tie? Doesn't actually resonate does it? He thinks it is a great place for a 25-year-old, but after that, when you reach 40, you look a bit bloody daft in shorts at a party when you are his size. But Judith loves it and he's torn. The end of the new one-off, which I did purely because Jimmy McGovern, who created Cracker, wrote it for me, sees Judith writing him a note. It says: 'Wife in Australia, dinner in the oven', and there were several endings shot for that, one of which was Barbara Flynn, who plays Judith, reading a voice-over, saying what she really felt. That's not in the final version, the writing on the note is all a bit of a blur, slightly out of focus, and the viewers will have to make up their own minds as to what is going on and what Fitz might do. Would I do more? Most certainly, if the scripts were up to much, and if they gave me some good stuff to work on. 


"Princess Anne, who is a big fan of the series, once said to me at a reception that she thought bits of series four 'weren't exactly Cracker material', and I was a bit miffed at first. Then I thought "Actually, she's right!" - they weren't, which is why I haven't done any for a while. I wanted to make sure. I also wanted to keep HRH happy." He continued: "I didn't feel anything odd about getting back into Fitz's shoes. I don't do naff introspection things, agonising about a character I return to. I just think, 'Is this a good script', if it is, then yes, I'll do it, and then I'm back with Cracker in about 10 seconds flat. Am I laid to rest with him? Not at all, if scripts like this come along. If anything inspires me, I will do it." The actor admits he is still slightly saddened that the character didn't succeed in the US. He said: "Well, they couldn't get a grasp on this bloke who really doesn't care what he says or does, or whom he offends. They wanted to make him a little bit too nice. He's that sort of dreadful uncle you get at a party, when someone shows him the latest addition to the family and says "Isn't he cute?" and the uncle says 'No.' Fitz tells it how it is. He's not at all interested in the feelings of others. He's the sort of man that I would like to get completely p***ed with in a bar - but not a man I would ever invite home for dinner. He would totally confuse and horrify the children."


While Robbie did do a guest appearance on the US show's finale, he did not like the experience. He said: "They offered me huge pots of money. I did not find the director very sympathetic. It was like working in a factory. Acting should not be like that." So there's not one American cent in the new Cracker. Robbie said: "That's probably because it is all about a revenge killing by a bloke who is fired up by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who starts out on a killing spree of his own. I don't suppose for one minute they'd have liked that concept. Although ironically, HBO in the States buys us in, and it's huge in Australia and New Zealand. It's very good all-round drama - and Jimmy McGovern is one of the best in the business. I would hate to think what his nightmares are like."


When Robbie, now 56, is not on the film set, he can normally be found with his collection of vintage cars - and he has even bought one for his son Spencer. Robbie said: "There must be, erm, erm. Oh, I don't bloody know. A few. A dozen? More? Obsessed with them? Yes, I am. A complete nut." Spencer, 13, has just been given a veteran Triumph Herald but Robbie said: "I've told him that it was for him to work on, not to muck about on. I said that if he wanted to take it seriously, I'd be happy with that. Equally, if he didn't, then I'd be OK. No in-betweens. Fortunatel, he's taken to it like a duck to water. He loves it. And that makes me very happy indeed. The collection includes a 1931 Bentley, and then there's the 39 Dodge that I saw someone had advertised for sale in the middle of County Wicklow in Ireland. They then explained that it has a tree growing through it. So I went and saw it, bought it for a pittance, and, managed to get it going."


Robbie shipped the Dodge back to Scotland and proudly drove it around Glasgow, but quickly had a close call. He said: "I was bowling along at speed on one of the motorways, and a police car passed us. I fully expected to be pulled over, but all the lads in the car did was to give me a grin, put the thumbs up and get left behind in my wake." He added: "Dear old Robert Hardy, who I work with in the Harry Potter films, once said that he could not figure out how I got under cars to fix them. Well, I do, I do all the work myself - or virtually unaided. Completely self-taught. Enthusiasm for your hobby whatever it may be, is the key. Robert is a marvel in himself. Do you know that he is in his eighties now, and that he is as sharp as a knife? If I know a bit about cars, then what he doesn't know about the English strong bows and archery can be written on the back of a postcard. His knowledge of medieval history is amazing. There's this little well-bred actor who can fire a bow with deadly accuracy and there's this big bloke who likes mechanics and cars - and we both like each other's company - it's surreal. Funny thing is that we both film the Harry Potter movies in Scotland together and more often than not the mist comes in on the outdoor set, and we are sent back to the hotel, along with Michael Gambon. We are all very grateful, because we have some terrific lunches together, loving every second."


ROBBIE is deeply angered by the fact Britain's car industry is in the last throes of decline. He said: "Such a heritage, and nearly all of it gone. Just like the shipyards on the Clyde, the Tyne and the Mersey. Even 30 years ago, they were there - and thriving. Same as the coal industry. And then along came Maggie Thatcher. It disgusts me. I got into industry and technology because of my dad. He was a Glasgow doctor, and was fascinated by everything mechanical. He would turn up at the gates of my school in his car, and would send a note in saying that 'Robin's grandmother has sadly passed away, may he be released for the funeral to pay his last respects?' They'd let me out for a few hours, and the old devil would take me down to a ship launch on the Clyde, where dad would spend his time saying, 'Just look at that son, just look at that.' And I did, and I was mightily impressed."


Neither of his children, Spencer and Alice, eight, have seen their dad in in his role as Fitz. "It is far too far over their heads, and a bit too gruesome for them," he said, although they adore him as the hairy giant Hagrid in the Harry Potter franchise. "They might get to see me in other things as they grow older," said Robbie. He also reflected for a few minutes on his first big TV break, Tutti Fruiti, which is being revived as a musical on tour. "Oh, I wish them all well, I really do," he said. "It was amazing fun to do. Back then - 20 years ago - it was so relevant to the time. The closure of the Scottish shipyards, the mining industry, and manufacturing. We'd go all over to little places to film, communities like Buckie, and we'd have awhale of a time, while also getting a sense of what they were going through. So I wish the show a 'Wham bam a loo-laa a wham bam loo' of a time."


The Unofficial Guide To Cracker 1999-2006