Wolf Hall is BBC2’s best drama series debut in almost a decade

Lavish period piece starring Damian Lewis and Mark Rylance is the channel’s biggest-rated drama series debut since Rome

Wolf Hall attracted plaudits last night – and it also pulled in the viewers.

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An average of 3.9 million people, a 16.5% share of the total available audience, were glued to the first episode of BBC2’s adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies starring Damian Lewis and Mark Rylance.

This figure is the channel’s highest ever debut by a new drama series since Rome first aired on BBC2 nearly ten years ago. The swords and sandals epic co-produced with HBO secured 6.6 million, a 27.2% share, in November 2005.

Wolf Hall beat the debut of The Fall in 2013, which drew 3.5m (15.4%), and the series two premiere of Torchwood, which attracted 3.7m (14.8%) viewers in 2008.

However, the first episode of Wolf Hall, which charts the political career of Rylance’s Thomas Cromwell, wasn’t the most watched show on the night. The National Television Awards on ITV outgunned the BBC2 drama with 6.7m –28.9% of the audience – tuning in.

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Crimewatch on BBC1 had 2.4 million viewers (10.2%) over the 9pm hour, and Channel 4’s 24 Hours in A&E had an average audience of 1.7m (7.2%). Over on Channel 5, Celebrity Big Brother pulled in 2.3m (9.6%) viewers between 9pm and 10pm.