11.6 million people watched the return of Gavin and Stacey to a special Christmas Day, smashing the show’s own viewing record and marking the biggest festive ratings success in over a decade.
It made it the most watched scripted television show of the year, significantly ahead of the 9.6 million people who watched the season finale of Line of Duty in May and just behind the 11.7 million who tuned in to watch England’s 2-1 defeat in July at the women’s football World Cup semi-final.
Last year, when 6.3 million tuned in for the Queen’s Christmas message, it was also almost twice the viewing figures for the most-watched program. This year the Queen’s message was watched by 6.4 million viewers as she admitted that 2019 was a “quite bumpy” year.
The results were a victory of the BBC’s Christmas ratings, with the top seven most-watched shows broadcast by the corporation. Coronation Street, with 4.5 million viewers, was the best-placed show on a commercial channel eighth.
The 11.6 million viewers who watched the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special at that time represented a 49.2% share of viewers watching TV. Since 2008, when 14.3 million tuned in to watch Wallace and Gromit, this seasonal success has been unmatched.
The figures highlight the show’s enduring popularity, created by James Corden and Ruth Jones and starring in it. It drew 10.2 million viewers when it was last broadcast in 2010, with a New Year’s Day special.
The series follows the lives of the titular couple played between Wales ‘ Barry Island and Essex by Mathew Horne and Joanna Page and their families and friends.
The episode of Christmas Day ended on a cliffhanger as the character of Jones, Nessa, suggests to Smithy, played by Corden.
Gavin and Stacey, first screened on BBC Three where they enjoyed follow-up cults and instant critical success, became the British Comedy Awards ‘ most nominated show in 2007.
After switching to BBC One, it gained more mainstream acclaim. It also established Corden’s global career, which has since become the host of the U.S. talkshow The Late Late Show, featuring a section of Carpool Karaoke where he sings along with celebrities while driving a SUV.
The estimates of Christmas viewing buck a trend of decreasing live television audiences and rising audiences for streaming services like Netflix and Apple TV.
But Elliot Gonzalez, founder of the blog I Talk Telly and a self-confessed superfan of Gavin and Stacey, said the rise in streaming services had helped find new audiences for the show. “The show has put on almost 1.5 million since it was last on. Streaming services have helped with that growing fan base, because a lot of this new audience will only have seen it in the last few years on these new streaming services.”
He also argued that social media had increased the number of viewers. “Live viewing for a show like Gavin and Stacey has been brought back by social media. When you can watch it on catch-up whenever you like, there’s a fear of missing it by not watching it live. And people don’t want to read spoilers online and find out what happens. Gavin and Stacey ends with such a massive cliffhanger [that] if you hadn’t watched it live, it could have ruined it for you.”
But Gonzalez said the show’s success masked the downturn in live TV over the long term. “If there wasn’t a Gavin and Stacey this year then viewing numbers are the same, if not lower, than last year. For Coronation Street to get 4.5 million is quite low for any day of the year.”
BBC content director Charlotte Moore said: “Christmas Day on BBC One brought the nation together and entertained them in their millions with the much anticipated return of Gavin and Stacey taking the top spot in 2019, and making it the biggest in a decade.
director Charlotte Moore added that, “We delivered something for everyone with the seven most popular programmes that cap off an incredible year for BBC One celebrating British talent and creativity.”