Published on January 19th, 2016 | by Daniel Pellegrini

Review – The Rack Pack

Snooker was once king of the televised sports in the UK. In its 1970s-80s heyday, audiences approached 20m for the World Championship.

BBC drama The Rack Pack told the dramatic story of that most eventful period in the sport’s history, and the larger-than-life characters who made it happen.

“The Hurricane’s fast, aggressive style of play was pure box office, and he knew it”

Through the smoky haze of 80s snooker halls emerged a new kid on the block, Essex youngster Steve Davis, played by Will Merrick who perfectly captured the awkward nervousness of a shy young man about to be thrust into – and transform – a man’s world.

Promoter Barry Hearn (Kevin Bishop) took the young Davis under his wing, and the pair began their journey to change the nature of the snooker forever.

Beneath his brash style and Del Boy persona, Hearn had a gift for being able to sell anything; a combination of that skill, Davis’s talent and a gap in the sporting market all at the same time meant snooker was about to enjoy its greatest-ever era.

At the opposite extreme from Davis’s robotic, ultra-controlled approach was 1972 world champion, Northern Ireland’s Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins – the George Best of snooker, from the same part of the world, with a similar talent and lifestyle.

Aggressive style

The culture clash between Davis and Higgins soon developed into a fierce rivalry which dominated the remainder of Higgins’ career and can ultimately be seen as the catalyst for his self-destructive downward spiral, as the sport he helped make popular grew bigger and bigger – without him.

“The one man who could save Higgins – the all-powerful Hearn – wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole”

The Hurricane’s fast, aggressive style of play was pure box office, and he knew it – but with Hearn in the background, pulling the strings, Steve ‘Boring’ Davis became the public face of the game, to Higgins’ fury.

The Rack Pack chronicles snooker’s journey from a quiet minority-interest pub/club game to a sport watched by millions, with rivalries and bitter feuds battled out across the baize.

The toll this took on Higgins, with his battles with drugs and alcohol becoming increasingly public and costing him his marriage and career, are there for all to see.

Drink seemed to be Higgins’ escape, to try and erase Davis and Hearn from his mind, but his obsession with them meant the bottle soon became his refuge, destroying his career.

Kindred spirits

The one man who could save him – the all-powerful Hearn – wouldn’t touch him with a bargepole, and instead chose to sign up other players like his fellow Northern Irishman Dennis Taylor, and Higgins’ London equivalent Jimmy White.

‘The Hurricane’ and ‘The Whirlwind’ were kindred spirits, but crucially, White realised that if he were to achieve his dream of being world champion – one which, sadly, eluded him – for the sake of his career, he had to side with Hearn over Higgins.

The Rack Pack was a fascinating tale of a clash between two very different characters, with different approaches, and different destinies, whose personas were significantly defined by one another.

But as much as they needed one another to spark off,  just like in a game of snooker, only one could triumph.

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