Only Fools And Horses most-watched show in Britain's 80 years of TV

Updated: 

BBC sitcom Only Fools And Horses has topped a new chart of the most-watched programmes in the 80-year history of British television.

Just over 24 million people tuned in for the episode broadcast on December 29 1996, in which David Jason's Del Boy finally got rich after auctioning an antique watch.

It is the biggest audience ever recorded for a single transmission of a TV programme in the UK.

A total of four episodes of Only Fools And Horses appear in the top 20, along with favourites such as Morecambe And Wise, Coronation Street and the Royal Variety Performance.

But there are no episodes of EastEnders, and nothing from the past 15 years.

The chart has been compiled by the Press Association to mark the 80th anniversary this week of the start of television in the UK.

The BBC launched the nation's first regular TV service at 3pm on November 2 1936, broadcasting live from from Alexandra Palace in north London.

Since then television in Britain has grown from one channel to more than 300, and the way we receive TV has moved from an aerial on the roof to underground cables, satellite dishes and online.

But while there are now more ways than ever to watch television, the PA's chart suggests the days of record audiences have been declining since the 1980s.

A total of eight programmes in the top 20 were broadcast in that decade, compared with four from the 1990s and just one from the noughties: an episode of Only Fools And Horses shown on Christmas Day 2001.

The oldest programme to appear in the chart is an edition of the Royal Variety Performance transmitted by ITV on November 10 1963, which featured a performance by The Beatles.

Light entertainment dominates the chart, with three-quarters of the places filled by comedies, variety shows or quizzes.

Other programmes include the 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales and the 1980 episode of US soap opera Dallas that revealed who shot oil tycoon JR Ewing.

The chart also boasts some surprising entries, such as an episode of The Benny Hill Show from 1979 and an edition of the Norwich-based quiz show Sale Of The Century from 1977 hosted by Nicholas Parsons.

One notable omission is EastEnders, however. Although the BBC soap has sometimes claimed audiences as high as "30 million" - such as at Christmas 1986 when Den Watts told his wife Angie he wanted a divorce - these figures were never for individual broadcasts and instead were calculated by adding together the original transmission plus repeats.

Here is the top 20 in full: 

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

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

3. The Royal Variety Performance (ITV, November 19 1967): 22.80 million

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

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

6. Dallas (BBC1, November 22 1980): 21.60 million

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20. Sale Of The Century (ITV, November 19 1977) 20.60 million

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

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

:: The chart was compiled by the Press Association using figures from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board (Barb) and historic data held in the British Film Institute archive. It includes only programmes that were made for television, and does not include 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.