Martin Smith column: Rack Pack pays tribute to faces – and places – that made snooker great

Steve Davis and Alex Higgins are in the spotlight of a new BBC drama
Steve Davis and Alex Higgins are in the spotlight of a new BBC drama
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Sheffield and snooker go together like Higgins and White, Lowe and Everton, lager and fags.

Or at least they did in the 1970s and 80s.

Any lover of the game and observer of social history has a treat in stall.

Despite the BBC’s over-lavish trailing of their snooker drama The Rack Pack during the dead time created by Ronnie O’Sullivan’s lightning 10-1 win over Barry Hawkins in Sunday’s Masters final, the film is a gem.

You don’t even have to like snooker to love it.

Hilarious, touching, ridiculous and perfectly credible the drama looks at the growth of the game from mis-spent youth to major sport with 18 million TV viewers.

Sheffield and the Crucible theatre are front and centre of the whole thing, with a nod to the Lucania snooker club in Romford, a superbly portrayed young Barry Hearne and a nerdy teenage snooker and Space Invaders obsessive called Steve Davis.

The drama takes liberties, makes it up as it goes along in parts and doesn’t always get things in proportion - just like the characters in it.

But it is compelling viewing with some great characterisations, sharp humour and brilliant lines.

One in particular from Alex Higgins’ character who just about captures some of the mercurial madness of the man’s destructive genius.

When he first meets up with his future wife Lynn Avison he’s giving her the charm and telling her how tough his life is on the road as she teases him about his ‘poor me’ chat-up line.

“I’m a snooker player in the end I’m always on my own,” says Higgins summing up in one line the indulgent self-analysis that excused and condoned the excesses that eventually destroyed him.

We get a reminder of his talent with a reconstruction of his coruscating 69 break in the 1982 world semi-final against Jimmy White - all done while Higgins battled a hangover of biblical proportions.

Towards the end of the 87-minute drama with Higgins well into the process of destroying his life, he dismisses Steve Davis’ counsel of concern with the brilliantly self-indulgent line: “Remember this, I’ll get the romantic obituaries when I die, you can keep your f-ing money.”

The Rack Pack could have been one of those cringe-making attempts to recreate the 70s or 80s with all the clichés and none of the character of the age.

But it works.

Every fan of snooker and Sheffield should see it.