Monday 23 July was quite a day for the Olympic torch as it was borne through the streets of London by the likes of Michael Owen, Andy Murray, Sir Patrick Stewart… and Billy Mitchell from EastEnders.
But while the torch attracted thousands of spectators regardless of who carried it, Billy – aka actor Perry Fenwick – had the biggest audience of all, as a peak of 7.9 million viewers tuned in on BBC1 and BBC1HD at 9:25pm to see him carry the flame through Walford in a live section of the soap.
Last night’s EastEnders double bill centred around Billy’s moment in the spotlight, with the 8:00-8:30pm episode featuring the residents of Albert Square gathering for the arrival of the torch, and the second instalment, from 9:00pm to 9:30pm, showcasing the run.
Both episodes attracted fairly typically-sized audiences for a Monday edition of the soap, avergaing 7.6m viewers (a 35.1% share) and 7.3m (30.9%), respectively – impressive considering the country had been bathed in sunshine for the first time this summer and the smell of barbeque was on the breeze.
Certainly, EastEnders’ slot competitors didn’t fare so well. Between 8pm and 8:30pm BBC2’s University Challenge was watched by 2.2m (a 10% share), with ITV1’s Countrywise garnering 2.9m (13.2%), Phil and Kirsty’s Location, Location, Location on Channel 4 pulling in 1.1m (5.1%) and the first half of Channel 5’s Megastructures, about London's Olympic stadium, watched by just 600,000 viewers (2.4%)
It was a similar story for programmes up against the second episode of EastEnders between 9:00pm and 9:30pm. BBC2 managed an average of 2 million viewers (8.6%) for the first half of its Horizon documentary The Truth about Looking Younger, while ITV1 talent show Superstar was watched by 2.5m (10.5%), Channel 4's Undercover Boss drew 1.2m (5%) and Big Brother's audience languished at 900,000 (3.8%).
Picking up the London 2012 baton from EastEnders at 9:30pm, the Absolutely Fabulous Olympics special on BBC1 at 9:30pm drew an average audience of 5.6m (24.1%), apparently failing to spark as much interest as the sitcom's Christmas and New Year comeback episodes, which were seen by 7.4m and 7.1m respectively over the festive season.
All figures include HD channel audiences, except BBC2.