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Olympic ceremony watched by 27m

London Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony (27 July) Friday’s opening ceremony lasted more than three-and-a-half hours

The UK’s TV audience for the Olympic opening ceremony peaked at 26.9m, the BBC has said.

The average viewing figure for Friday’s four-hour show was 22.4m, making it the UK’s 13th most watched programme ever.

The programme also had an 82% share – almost twice that of the previous high for an Olympic opening ceremony, in Barcelona in 1992.

Highlights of the ceremony, shown on BBC One and BBC HD, included a meeting between the Queen and James Bond.

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It’s hard for a programme lasting nearly four hours and going on till 00:45 BST in the morning to hold its audience throughout, but Danny Boyle’s spectacular Olympic opening ceremony did just that.

It averaged 22.4m viewers and during the peak five minutes, 26.9m saw Mr Bean playing Chariots of Fire.

No fewer than 20m were still watching at half past midnight.

The ceremony didn’t quite reach the all-time TV top ten, but those programmes were mostly much shorter – or were broadcast when there were only three or four TV channels.

The biggest audience of all was compiled under different rules. Angie Den’s audience of 30.1m included the repeat showing, which is no longer Barb’s practice, as you can read about in my analysis of 30 years of the most-watched programmes.

Millions of people worldwide watched the opening ceremony on television along with 80,000 in the Olympic Stadium.

UK viewing figures for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games in 2008 averaged at 5m and peaked at 5.4m.

During the Athens games in 2004, 8.68m UK viewers watched the official opening.

The disparity is attributed to the time difference between the host nation and the UK: two hours ahead of British Summer Time for Greece, and seven hours for China.

Friday’s viewing figures were “absolutely amazing”, tweeted the BBC’s director for London 2012, Roger Mosey.

The biggest audience ever in the UK for a single programme remains the 30.5m for EastEnders on 25 December 1986 – but the figures were compiled differently at the time.

Ice-dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were watched by 23.95m during the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo – the only Olympic event to make the viewing top 10.

Parachuting Queen

The ceremony was also the biggest BBC One show since an episode of Only Fools And Horses in 1996.

BBC One controller Danny Cohen described Danny Boyle’s production as an “absolute triumph”.

He said: “BBC One is all about bringing the nation together for its biggest moments and I’m thrilled by the huge audiences who tuned in to watch last night’s historic events.

“I am very proud of the two BBC Drama films that formed part of the ceremony – the audience response to the film featuring Her Majesty the Queen and James Bond was one of my highlights.”

There were cheers around the Olympic Stadium when the crowd saw the film featuring the Queen and agent 007.

“Good evening Mr Bond,” the Queen said in the clip, before they left together, apparently heading towards the stadium in a helicopter.

An aircraft then flew over the stadium to the sound of the Bond theme tune, as two figures parachuted down, one dressed as the monarch.

The show also featured British celebrities and sportspeople, including David Beckham, Bradley Wiggins, and comic actor Rowan Atkinson, as Mr Bean – an unexpected member of the orchestra playing the Chariots of Fire theme.

Billed as a quirky take on UK life, the ceremony began with iconic images of London and Britain, before running through the “great revolutions in British society”, from an agricultural setting through to the Industrial Revolution, and more modern decades – accompanied by favourite British music.

The ceremony also celebrated the National Health Service by featuring a cast of more than 1,000 volunteers recruited from hospitals across the country, including Great Ormond Street children’s hospital in London.

The three-and-a-half hour show was rehearsed more than 200 times, with each of the 7,500 volunteers spending on average 150 hours practising during the build-up.

The event used 12,956 props and boasted a million-watt PA system using more than 500 speakers.

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