Only Fools And Horses has been revealed as the most-watched programme in British television history.
In a new set of data compiled by the Press Association to mark the 80th anniversary of British television this week, John Sullivan's sitcom has been named as the single most watched programme in the medium's history. Over 24 million viewers tuned in to the 1996 special Time On Our Hands to see the Trotters finally make their millions at auction, after discovering an extremely valuable timepiece in their storage garage.
Comedy programmes - almost all sitcoms - take 11 of the places in the top-20 list, with comedy-packed Royal Variety entertainment shows filling another four of the slots. Only Fools And Horses appears in the list four times in total, with writer John Sullivan's concurrent early-1980s hit Just Good Friends making appearance at number 19, cementing his status as one of British television's greatest ever writers.
The Press Association's list comprises of programmes that were made especially for television; coverage of news and sporting events that would have taken place regardless of whether TV cameras were present, such as royal weddings and football matches, are omitted. For example, the 1966 World Cup Final and the funeral of Princess Diana, both of which attracted more than 32 million viewers, are not included.
The figures have been calculated from BARB (Broadcasters Audience Research Board) data and historical information held by the BFI, and represent single broadcasts only, excluding repeats. If audience figures for repeat broadcasts were included, the 1986 Christmas Day episode of EastEnders, in which Den served divorce papers to Angie (30 million viewers), and the 1987 Christmas Day episode of Coronation Street, which featured the departure of character Hilda Ogden (26 million), would have been included.
BBC One, 29th December 1996: 24.35 million
BBC One, 11th November 1979: 23.95 million
3. The Royal Variety Performance
ITV, 19th November 1967: 22.80 million
BBC One, 20th November 1995: 22.77 million
5. The Royal Variety Performance
ITV, 14th November 1965: 21.70 million
BBC One, 22nd November 1980: 21.60 million
BBC One, 9th November 1980: 21.55 million
BBC One, 25th December 1977: 21.40 million
= Coronation Street
ITV, 2nd January 1985: 21.40 million
BBC One, 25th December 2001: 21.35 million
BBC One, 27th December 1996: 21.33 million
BBC One, 25th December 1996: 21.31 million
BBC One, 25th December 1977: 21.30 million
14. The Royal Variety Performance
ITV, 10th November 1963: 21.20 million
= The Silver Jubilee Royal Variety Gala
ITV, 4th December 1977: 21.20 million
BBC One, 11th December 1988: 20.95 million
ITV, 14th March 1979: 20.85 million
18. Coronation Street
ITV, 18th December 1980: 20.80 million
BBC One, 25th December 1986: 20.75 million
ITV, 19th November 1977: 20.60 million
= Coronation Street
ITV, 9th January 1985: 20.60 million; & ITV, 16th January 1985: 20.60 million
History of British Television
The BBC launched the world's first regular 'high definition' television service - not the high definition that we know today - at 3pm on Monday 2nd November 1936, from its studios at Alexandra Palace in north London, and so this week marks its 80th anniversary.
A British invention, the new medium of broadcast had a very limited initial reach in areas of north London, and would close down less than 3 years later, upon the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. It resumed on 7th June 1946, and 29th November of that year saw the broadcast of the first television sitcom, Pinwright's Progress.