BBC iPlayer's 'first comedy drama film' will depict snooker rivalry between Alex Higgins and Steve Davis

'The Rack Pack' is aimed at engaging a young audience in the table-top sport

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The snooker rivalry between firebrand Alex “Hurricane” Higgins and his ice-cool opponent Steve Davis has been made into a dramatized feature film to be shown on the BBC iPlayer.

By putting The Rack Pack on the online platform, the BBC will hope to engage a young audience in the charms of the table-top sport, which was a staple of 1980s BBC schedules when players had the status of modern football stars.

Will Merrick, star of the Channel 4 teen drama Skins, has been cast as Davis and Luke Treadaway, who recently appeared in Sky Atlantic’s Fortitude, plays Higgins. Older viewers who remember the tension between two former World Champions who were diametrically opposed in their styles of play might be surprised to discover that the film is a comedy.

Shane Allen, the BBC’s Controller of Comedy Commissioning, said: “Higgins was to snooker what George Best was to football - a Northern Irish folk hero whose mesmerising talent made for a fascinating world class champion on the snooker table, but his explosive personality made for a troubled life off the table. Our cast are perfect to do this vibrant story and era justice.”

The Rack Pack places the rivalry in its wider context of the vibrant Seventies and Eighties snooker scene, when Chas & Dave reached number six in the charts with “Snooker Loopy”, featuring Davis and other famous players on backing vocals. In 1985, the climax of the world snooker final in the early hours of a Monday morning was watched by 18.5 million people in the UK. That remains a record for a post-midnight audience for any channel in the country.

The film, which will be shown in December, also features London actor and comedian Kevin Bishop as snooker impresario Barry Hearn (who managed Davis) and James Bailey as the whirlwind player Jimmy White. Nichola Burley plays Higgins’s wife Lynn. The hard-drinking, heavy-smoking Northern Irishman died in 2010 at the age of 61.

The Rack Pack is directed by Brian Welsh, who worked on Charlie Brooker’s TV anthology series Black Mirror. Victoria Jaye, Head of TV Content, BBC iPlayer, said The Rack Pack was the “first comedy drama feature film” made exclusively for the online platform.

The cavalier and roundhead of snooker

Alex “Hurricane” Higgins was known as “The People’s Champion”, because of his willingness to take on the riskiest of shots. Steve “The Nugget” Davis was mockingly dubbed “Interesting” by 1980s satire show Spitting Image because he built his breaks with an almost mechanical efficiency. Essex-born Davis was clean cut. Belfast’s Higgins was often dishevelled and eschewed a tie. Davis was more successful - with six world titles to the Ulsterman’s two – and won most of their head-to-heads. But Higgins had his day at the Coral UK Final in 1983 when, after trailing 7-0, he clinched the final set to win 16-15.