In Brief

The UK's top 20 most-watched TV programmes of all time

From Del Boy's success to Princess Diana's bombshell Panorama interview, here are the shows we all tuned in to

Only Fools and Horses

It is more than 80 years since the first official broadcast on British television. Since then there have been a handful of shows and special broadcasts that have stopped the nation.

To see what has made the country turn on and tune in, the Press Association compiled a list of the most-watched TV programmes.

Easily topping the list is the final episode of Only Fools and Horses, with more than 24 million people tuning in to watch David Jason's Del Boy finally become a millionaire on 29 December 1996. The show features three more times in the rankings, including two other shows from Christmas 1996.

Perhaps surprisingly, in second place is a November 1979 episode of To the Manor Born, starring Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles. The show features again on the list, drawing over 20 million people in both cases.

Martin Bashir's 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana, where she discussed Prince Charles's extra-marital affairs, is the highest ranked interview, coming in fifth on the all time list

Coronation Street features prominently as well, as does the Royal Variety Performance.

"It appears the oldies really are the goodies, with no programmes from the last 15 years making the list," says Sky News.

The chart suggests audience numbers have been declining since the 1980s, in part because of the explosion of channels but also as viewers are increasingly being offered the option to watch shows at times that suit them using on-demand services.

The first regular TV service was launched in November 1936, when only a small number of people had TVs, but the UK now has more than 300 channels to choose from.

Here are the top 20 most-watched TV shows:

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

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

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

4. Panorama (BBC1, 20 November 1995): 22.77 million

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

6. Dallas (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

What about in the US?

Unsurprisingly, the most-watched list in the US differs hugely from the UK.

According to Nielsen's measurements of the top network telecasts of all time, which excludes sporting events such as the Super Bowl and awards shows, the most-watched TV episodes includes the finales of Roots in 1977, Cheers in 1993 and Seinfeld in 1998.

More than 40 million people tuned in to find out who shot J.R. in Dallas in 1980 (which also made the UK list) but it was the final episode of Korean War-comedy M*A*S*H that topped the list, drawing over 50 million viewers when it aired in 1983.

One thing the two lists do share, however, is the fact that neither contains shows that are less than 15 years old, indicating that like in the UK viewing habits in the US have changed over time.


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