EastEnders villain’s demise wins ratings fight

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Evil Derek Branning’s last gasp helped EastEnders retain its traditional spot at the top of the Christmas Day ratings as the BBC dominated festive viewing once again.

The main channels’ period drama hits Call The Midwife and Downton Abbey tied, with an average audience of 7.3 million viewers each, although ITV1’s Downton was 1.3 million down on the previous year.

Overnight figures show East-Enders pulled in an average of 9.4 million viewers for the climactic episode on Tuesday night in which fearsome Branning, played by Jamie Foreman, keeled over and died from a heart attack. ITV’s Coronation Street was runner-up with 8.8 million.

Many had expected the period blockbusters to lead the field, but soaps were still the strongest force. However, viewing figures were down for many shows, with EastEnders slipping half a million on 2011, and the show’s ratings were thought to be the lowest for Christmas Day for a decade.

Call The Midwife drew its smallest audience since launching earlier this year, and Doctor Who, on 7.6 million viewers, also had 1.3 million fewer viewers than in 2011.

However, the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special was up 300,000 year on year to 7.8 million viewers.

The Queen’s Christmas message was seen by 36,000 people in 3D on the BBC’s HD channel – the first time it has been broadcast in that format – although 6.3 million saw it on BBC1 and 2.2 million saw it on ITV1.

BBC1 had seven of the top ten programmes, while ITV1 (which includes viewers for its +1 catch-up channel) accounted for the other three.

BBC1 took 31.7 per cent of the audience from 6pm to 10:30pm – when many of the biggest shows are broadcast – with ITV1 landing 26.9 per cent.