Belfast Telegraph

‘Crocodile’ Dundee beats Del Boy to top of TV ratings Christmas tree

Paul Hogan’s 1980s comedy film holds record for biggest Christmas Day audience.

Del Boy (David Jason) and Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) in the 2001 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special (PA Images)
Del Boy (David Jason) and Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst) in the 2001 Only Fools and Horses Christmas special (PA Images)

Some of Britain’s best-loved TV faces, including David Jason and the Two Ronnies, have been beaten by a reptile-wrestler from Australia in a new survey of the all-time most-watched Christmas television.

‘Crocodile’ Dundee, the 1980s comedy smash hit starring Paul Hogan, is the surprise record-holder of the UK’s biggest Christmas Day TV audience.

Some 21.8 million viewers tuned in for the film’s UK premiere on December 25 1989 – a figure that no single TV broadcast has managed to beat since current records began.

Biggest Christmas Day TV audiences (PA Graphics)

Second place in the chart with 21.3 million viewers is the episode of Only Fools And Horses shown on Christmas Day 2001, which saw the Trotters lose their fortune and Del Boy attempt to win it back on a game show.

In total there are seven episodes of Only Fools And Horses in the top 20, along with editions of comedy classics Just Good Friends, Bread and One Foot In The Grave.

Barbara Windsor and Richard Wilson (Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave) promote BBC Christmas programmes

But EastEnders appears only twice, Coronation Street just once, and there is nothing from the past 16 years.

The chart, which has been compiled by the Press Association, reflects the traditional domination of Christmas TV by the BBC, with 17 of the top 20 having been shown on BBC One.

While films make up a fifth of the chart, soap operas – a permanent fixture on December 25 for decades – barely appear, suggesting they are not quite as popular on Christmas Day as TV executives assume.

The two episodes of EastEnders in the chart are from 1986, when Den Watts famously surprised his wife Angie with divorce papers hidden inside a Christmas cracker.

Coronation Street is represented by the episode in 1987 that saw veteran resident Hilda Ogden leave Weatherfield for a new life in Derbyshire.

Jean Alexander, who played Hilda Ogden, together with the Coronation Street cast on the set of the Christmas episode in 1987 (PA Images)

Missing from the top 20 entirely are Morecambe and Wise, whose most popular star-studded Christmas specials date from before the modern system of compiling ratings began in 1981.

The pair’s 1977 Christmas show is sometimes mentioned as having been watched by as many as 28 million people, but this figure was publicised by the BBC based on its own audience surveys, and is not comparable with the current system.

Ernie Wise (left) and Eric Morecambe promote one of their Christmas shows, with guests David Frost, Glenda Jackson and Des O’Connor (PA Images)

Another person absent from the chart is the Queen. Ratings for her annual Christmas message have not always been published and on other occasions have been split across different channels, meaning reliable comparisons are impossible to make.

The biggest TV audience on Christmas Day last year was for BBC One’s Call The Midwife, which was watched by 9.2 million.

Here is the top 20 in full:

1. ‘Crocodile’ Dundee (BBC1, 1989): 21.77m
2. Only Fools And Horses (BBC1, 2001): 21.34m
3. Only Fools And Horses (BBC1, 1996): 21.31m
4. Just Good Friends (BBC1, 1986): 20.76m
5. Only Fools And Horses (BBC1, 1992): 20.14m
6. Only Fools And Horses (BBC1, 1989): 20.10m
7. Only Fools And Horses (BBC1, 1993): 19.59m
8. EastEnders (BBC1, 1986, early evening): 19.50m
9. Birds Of A Feather (BBC1, 1993): 19.39m
10. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (ITV, 1984): 19.33m
11. Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom (BBC1, 1987): 18.95m
12. EastEnders (BBC1, 1986, late evening): 18.90m
13. Only Fools And Horses (BBC1, 1986): 18.76m
14. Ghost (BBC1, 1993): 18.53m
15. The Two Ronnies (BBC1, 1985): 18.48m
16. Bread (BBC1, 1988): 18.00m
= It’ll Be Alright On Christmas Night (ITV, 1987): 18.00m
18. Coronation Street (ITV, 1987): 17.97m
= Only Fools And Horses (BBC1, 1990): 17.97m
20. One Foot In The Grave (BBC1, 1995): 17.77m

Note: the chart was compiled by the Press Association using archive data published by Barb. Ratings for EastEnders and Coronation Street show just the number of viewers who watched the episodes on Christmas Day, and do not include repeat showings.

Press Association


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