Most-watched shows of the 80s

Monday, January 26, 2009 by

A slight return to OTT’s chart of the decade.

By way of a comparison, Glenn wondered what might be the 20 most-watched programmes of the 1980s. Here’s the list:

1) Live And Let Die (ITV, 20/1/1980) – 23.50m
2) Jaws (ITV, 8/10/1981) – 23.25m
3) The Spy Who Loved Me (ITV, 28/3/1982) – 22.90m
4) Diamonds Are Forever (ITV, 15/3/1981) – 22.15m
5) Dallas (BBC1, 22/11/1980) – 21.60m
6) To The Manor Born (BBC1, 9/11/1980) – 21.55m
7) Coronation Street (ITV, 2/1/1985) – 21.40m
8) Bread (BBC1, 11/12/1988) – 20.95m
9) Coronation Street (ITV, 18/12/1980) – 20.80m
10) Just Good Friends (BBC1, 21/12/1986) – 20.75m
11) Coronation Street (ITV, 16/1/1985) – 20.60m
12) The Royal Variety Performance (ITV, 25/11/84) – 20.55m
13) Coronation Street (ITV, 14/11/84) – 20.45m
14) Dallas (BBC1, 8/11/80) – 20.25m
15) Coronation Street (ITV, 28/11/84) – 20.25m
16) Coronation Street (ITV, 21/11/84) – 20.20m
16) Coronation Street (ITV, 21/1/85) – 20.20m
18) To The Manor Born (BBC1, 19/10/80) – 20.15m
18) Coronation Street (ITV, 14/1/85) – 20.15m
18) Bread (BBC1, 4/12/88) – 20.15m

Intriguing stuff. Bond films have three of the top four places. I’m guessing 3) was the premiere. Could 2) have been a premiere as well?

You’ve no fewer than eight episodes of Coronation Street, three from November 1984. Was this the departure of Billy Walker, driving off down the M62 during the end credits? Any thoughts on the other ones? No sign of EastEnders, mind, and just two showings for Dallas, both from November 1980. 5) must be the unmasking of JR’s killer; was 14) a repeat of the one where he was shot?

Surely nobody remembers Bread with much fondness nowadays. At least To The Manor Born outpolled it by 600,000. And just two programmes from the 2000s have so far won enough viewers to outrank Bread at 18): the episode of Only Fools And Horses from Christmas Day 2001 (21.4m) and the BBC’s coverage of the Portugal v England match in Euro 2004 (20.7m).

Lastly, as a footnote, just outside the top 20 is The Benny Hill Show from 7th January, 1981, with exactly 20 million viewers.


14 Responses to “Most-watched shows of the 80s”

  1. Mark Thompson on January 26th, 2009 4:31 pm

    Am I right in thinking that the main reason that To The Manor Born which was , let’s face it a fairly ordinary sitcom had such high viewing figures is because it debuted in 1979 in the midst of the ITV strike. Therefore the mainstream viewers had very little alternative. And then this large audience was habituated to watching it and followed it through the next couple of years.

    I guess it would be hard to be sure about this but that is my suspicion.

  2. Gervase Fen on January 26th, 2009 8:17 pm

    The November 1984 episodes are the ones marking the death of Stan Ogden.

  3. Nick H on January 26th, 2009 8:55 pm

    Er..Eastenders 1986? Den and Angie, divorce papers….30m wasn’t it?

  4. Ian Jones on January 26th, 2009 10:41 pm

    30 million or so people did see that episode, but not at the same time. Around 19 and a half million watched it on Christmas Day, another 10m saw the omnibus repeat a few days later. 30m has passed into mythology, thanks to people like Michael Grade who always like to go on about how “30 million sat down on Christmas night to watch Den and Angie blah blah”.

  5. Chris Hughes on January 27th, 2009 9:49 am

    Some of those Corrie episodes…

    2 January 1985
    Sarah Ridley calls at The Rovers and tells Bet she’s to be the new Rovers manager. Elaine fails to persuade Kevin to change his mind about moving to Southampton and Hilda takes in a new lodger, Henry Wakefield (Corrie does the miners’ strike!).

    16 January 1985
    Mike Baldwin lures Christine Millward to his flat on the pretext of talking about her designs. Meanwhile, Hilda discovers that Henry has been seen in the Reference Library in Manchester in the middle of the day when he was supposed to have been working.

    14 November 1984
    Tony pesters Rita for a date and after being told by Alf and Betty that most of Bet and Tony’s relationship is in Bet’s imagination, she finally agrees. Hilda is upset that Trevor is too busy to visit Stan and Percy is delighted to have Elaine to stay whilst she’s on leave.

    28 November 1984
    Hilda is sick of moping about and returns to work. Sarah Ridley summons Billy to the brewery and suggests that she buys him out. It is agreed and they toast the end of the Walker empire.

    21 November 1984
    The neighbours rally around Hilda who is devastated. Rita tells Tony that she can’t see him again and Percy tells Elaine that Bill is too common for her.

    21 January 1985
    Mike likes Christine’s design ideas and has a few samples made. Henry confesses to Hilda that he doesn’t have a job at all and Frank plans a night out with Gloria.

    14 January 1985
    Designer Christine Millward finally catches up with Mike Baldwin in The Rovers and persuades him to look at her designs at the factory. Betty, fed up with the staff shortage at The Rovers decides to do something about it herself but Frank Harvey shoots down her suggestions.

    The episode with Billy Walker driving down the motorway was on 3 December 1984.

  6. Chris Hughes on January 27th, 2009 10:08 am

    The episode of Dallas at 14) was actually shown on Sunday 9 November 1980, due to the Festival Of Remembrance the previous night. It was the first episode of the new series following the shooting of JR.

    The episode on 15 November 1980 had JR undergoing an operation, and the Who Shot JR reveal was on 22 November 1980 (on ITV at the same time – Hammer House Of Horror!)

  7. Roger Crow on January 27th, 2009 12:00 pm

    Look-in ran a Live and Let Die cover for the 1980 screening. (I covered my science book in it and got told off for colouring it in). Loved Jaws. It was a Thursday night – even remember the bad ATV pre adverts title card. Bread – who would have thought that was so popular?

  8. Chris Hughes on January 27th, 2009 4:59 pm

    Diamonds Are Forever at 4) wasn’t even a premiere! There was a repeat of Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson on BBC1 at the same time. Maybe nobody wanted to watch that.

    There’s a full list of ITV Bond premieres here…

    Remarkably, just three of them were at Christmas.

  9. Nick H on January 27th, 2009 7:07 pm

    Did the BBC repeat the episode where J.R. got shot before they showed the new series? I know it was orginally transmitted in March 1980, but I wonder if there was a recap…

  10. Glenn Aylett on January 28th, 2009 7:25 pm

    The power of Bond was immense for the ten years after Dr No debuted with 26 million viewers in 1975. Even a second outing for Diamonds Are Forever- the premiere didn’t do so well as it was shown against Some Mothers Do Ave Em on BBC 1 on Christmas Day- achieved 22 million viewers. I suppose a lot of the mega ratings for Bond films in the late 70s/ early 80s had to do with the fact videos were still rare, a lot of kids hadn’t seen the films first time round at the pictures and the Bond brand had millions of followers. Also I wonder if the BBC waved the white flag against such popular films

  11. Glenn Aylett on February 6th, 2009 7:36 pm

    Bread was never THAT funny, so I’m surprised at its height it attracted over 20 million viewers. I would have thought the far superior Only Fools and Horses would have been in the Top 20 for its Christmas specials, but mustn’t be that far out as the 1989 series averaged 19 million viewers. Funnily enough, or not if you’re Carla Lane, everyone has their favourite Fools moment but no one can ever recall a great moment in Bread and even the She is a tart catchphrase soon fell out of favour.

  12. Iain Griffiths on February 6th, 2009 11:14 pm

    Bread is a weird one , its certainly something of its time . i remember watching it , and enjoying the first couple of series at least – but it fell into that ‘Croft and Perry’ trap of relying on catchphrases and stock situations to get laughs. Its slot on telly probably helped – the dead zone between tea and proper Sunday night telly which gave it an audience. Initially at least it had something. The turning point for me was when the first Joey And Aveline left/first appearance of Lilo Lil (not sure which was first). after that it descended to it less well regarded phase.

  13. Glenn Aylett on February 21st, 2009 6:29 pm

    To The Manor Born developed a huge audience due to the ITV strike in 1979 when it had no mainstream competition and audience figures even after the strike averaged 20 million, making it one of the most successful sitcoms of all time. It was funny in a gentle, slow way and made better by secondary characters such as Brabinger and Peter Bowles mother. In a period of recession and cold war, it was the perfect antidote to the times, which explains its massive success. However, the success of Bread defeats me as after the first two series, it became a vehicle for Carla Lane’s obsessions with green issues and relationship crises. No one seems to remember it with great affection today.

  14. Glenn Aylett on July 6th, 2009 2:35 pm

    Also worthy of note that unlike charts for the nineties and noughties, football doesn’t make one entry into the Top Twenty. People under 30 won’t remember that for a time in the eighties the game had become so plagued by hooliganism and dull games that people were turning against it in droves and television companies were losing interest. I believe the highest rated sports event of the eighties was the 1985 Snooker World Championship final.