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Final episode of Bodyguard breaks viewing figure records for UK TV drama

Richard Madden in Bodyguard (World Productions / Sophie Mutevelian)
Richard Madden in Bodyguard (World Productions / Sophie Mutevelian)

THE final episode of BBC drama Bodyguard was the most watched episode of any drama series in the UK since records began in 2002.

A bumper audience of 17.1 million people watched the final part of the story of Sergeant David Budd, played by Richard Madden, according to 28-day, four-screen consolidated figures.

It’s the largest audience recorded for a TV programme outside of sporting and national events since 2010, and equates to roughly a quarter of the UK’s population.

Bodyguard is also BBC iPlayer’s most successful box set ever, where it currently has over 38 million requests.

The full series, written and created by Jed Mercurio and made by World Productions for BBC One, remains on the catch-up service for the next five months.

The drama proved to be popular ‘appointment television’ with experts hailing the way it kept audiences gripped and made them want to tune in as it was broadcast live.

Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden in Bodyguard (World Productions / Des Willie)

John Cook, a media professor at Glasgow Caledonian University, told The Sunday Post earlier this year: “Bodyguard proves that broadcasting, rather than catch-ups and boxset binges, has a future.”

“It shows that we still want to have a shared national experience. When it’s done this well with drama, it can work really powerfully.

“Mercurio’s work, like Line Of Duty, is always full of plot twists and incidents. He crams a lot in over a few episodes and they are classic potboilers.

“They work perfectly for serial dramas like this where you have a weekly interruption and have to wait seven days for the next episode. Mercurio is very much in the traditional drama market of telling a gripping story over a small number of episodes, unlike many of the slower, long-form dramas on the likes of Netflix.

“People don’t want to watch at different times and at a different pace. And they don’t want to hear about what’s happened before they’ve caught up, so it is the perfect ‘appointment to view’ television.”

Bodyguard’s viewing figures were measured using BARB’s updated 4-screen 28-day measure, which was introduced in August 2018 and includes viewing through TVs, as well as online non-TV devices.

Measured using the previous standard 28-day consolidated method, the figure for Bodyguard’s finale (15.9 million) still remains the highest number for an episode of a drama series since current records began in 2002.


The UK’s most watched TV


The most watched special events

1. 1966 FIFA World Cup final (BBC One & ITV, 30 July 1966): 32.30 million

2. Funeral of Princess Diana (BBC One & ITV, 6 September 1997): 32.10 million

3. Royal Family documentary (BBC One & ITV, 21 and 28 June 1969): 30.69 million

4. Apollo 13 Splashdown (BBC One & ITV, 17 April 1970): 28.60 million

5. 1970 FA Cup Final replay (BBC One & ITV, 29 April 1970): 28.49 million

6. Wedding of Charles and Diana (BBC One & ITV, 29 July 1981): 28.40 million

7. Wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips (BBC One, 14 November 1973): 27.60 million

8. 2012 Olympics closing ceremony (BBC One, 12 August 2012): 24.46 million

9. 2012 Olympics opening ceremony (BBC One, 27 July 2012): 24.24 million

10. Torvill and Dean – Olympic Ice Dance Championship (BBC One, 21 February 1994): 23.95 million


The most watched programmes

1. Final episode of Only Fools and Horses (BBC1, 29 December 1996): 24.35 million

2. To The Manor Born series one finale (BBC1, 11 November 1979): 23.95 million

3. The Royal Variety Performance (ITV, 29 November 1967): 22.80 million

4. Panorama, featuring Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana (BBC1, 20 November 1995): 22.77 million

5. The Royal Variety Performance (ITV, 14 November 1965): 21.70 million

6. Dallas, featuring the reveal of who shot JR (BBC1, 22 November 1980): 21.60 million

7. To The Manor Born (BBC1, 9 November 1980): 21.55 million

8. The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show (BBC1, 25 December 1977): 21.40 million

= Coronation Street (ITV, 2 January 1985): 21.40 million

10. Only Fools and Horses (BBC1, 25 December 2001): 21.35 million

11. Only Fools and Horses (BBC1, 27 December 1996): 21.33 million

12. Only Fools and Horses (BBC1, 25 December 1996): 21.31 million

13. The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show (BBC1, 25 December 1977): 21.30 million

14. The Royal Variety Performance (ITV, 10 November 1963): 21.20 million

= The Silver Jubilee Royal Variety Gala (ITV, 4 December 1977): 21.20 million

16. Bread (BBC1, 11 December 1988): 20.95 million

17. The Benny Hill Show (ITV, 14 March 1979): 20.85 million

18. Coronation Street (ITV, 18 December 1980): 20.80 million

19. Just Good Friends (BBC1, 21 December 1986): 20.75 million

20. Sale of the Century (ITV, 19 November 1977): 20.60 million

= Coronation Street (ITV, 9 January 1985): 20.60 million

= Coronation Street (ITV, 16 January 1985): 20.60 million