Bodyguard audience peaks with 10.4m viewers for series finale

BBC drama had larger average audience than any other show this year outside World Cup

WARNING: This article is for readers who have seen Bodyguard and contains spoilers

Bodyguard hit a new ratings high on Sunday night, with 10.4 million viewers tuning in for the final episode of the drama – a larger average audience than any other UK TV programme this year outside the World Cup.

The show, starring Richard Madden, grew its audience through its run and gave hope to traditional broadcasters that it is still possible to attract large audiences in an era in which streaming services such as Netflix are growing their market share. Millions more viewers are expected to watch the show’s dramatic final 75-minute episode on the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service.

The ratings meant Bodyguard gained the largest audience for a drama on British TV since ITV’s Downton Abbey at the start of the decade. The last time the BBC had a comparable audience for one of its dramas was the Christmas Day episode of Doctor Who in 2008.

The only comparable audience this year in British TV was coverage of this spring’s royal wedding, which briefly peaked at about 18 million viewers across all channels, although the average audience was substantially lower.

Bodyguard, written by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio, has attracted praise but was also accused of perpetuating stereotypes by including a Muslim woman as a hijab-wearing suicide bomber.

Anjli Mohindra, who played the character Nadia, told the Daily Telegraph that she was initially concerned by the role: “When I first read that the show opens with a suicide bomber on a train who was wearing a hijab, I just felt like I didn’t want to be a part of the Islamophobic perpetuated narrative”

“I have a huge amount of respect for Jed and his choices and a huge amount of trust in the decisions he makes, but I didn’t feel the hijab was completely necessary.”

She also said many ethnic minority characters were two-dimensional and it felt “empowering” to overturn the stereotype in the final episode. “We have this idea that women who wear hijabs are oppressed and do so not of their own will, and that is something we need to think about and take stock of because that is absolutely not the case.”

Meanwhile, former home secretary Alan Johnson said there was a “glaring” mistake in one of the episodes of the thriller. Johnson, who served as home secretary from June 2009 to May 2010, told ITV’s This Morning: “David Budd is in the restaurant with somebody else while the home secretary is having dinner and there are the two coppers plonked down at a table not eating or drinking anything.

“That wouldn’t happen because big signals are going off, ‘we are bodyguards’. What they do is blend in with the background and when you go for a meal they always come with you but they are there looking like two other diners so of course they have to order food.” 

Bodyguard has massively outperformed ITV’s update of Vanity Fair, which was aired in the same 9pm Sunday night time slot. There was success elsewhere for the BBC – Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday night attracted an average audience of 8.9 million, well ahead of ITV’s X Factor.

Direct comparisons to hit shows such as Netflix’s The Crown are difficult, since streaming services do not release data on viewing figures. It was announced last week that Bodyguard will be shown on Netflix outside the UK, with the streaming service having quietly signed up the rights to the show before production began.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Strictly Come Dancing launch show draws more than 10m viewers
BBC1’s ballroom dancing show beats opening weekend of ITV’s X Factor, which sees lowest launch ratings in 10 years

Damien Gayle

04, Sep, 2016 @4:06 PM

Article image
Strictly Come Dancing triumphs in Christmas Day TV ratings battle
BBC1 claims first and second most popular programmes as more than 7.2m tune in for dance show and 6.3m watch Bake Off

Esther Addley

26, Dec, 2016 @1:45 PM

Article image
Losing their shine: X Factor and Strictly kick off in fight for survival
Hit Saturday night TV shows are struggling with falling ratings and lacklustre line-ups, but the contest format is far from dead, say experts

Nadia Khomami

09, Sep, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Strictly Come Dancing's most popular series yet ends with 13.1m viewers
Finale fails to beat 2010’s high, but show has pulled in average 11m viewers each week – beating last year’s record of 10.9m

Alexandra Topping

17, Dec, 2017 @11:39 AM

Article image
Strictly Come Dancing beats X Factor by 2.3m viewers
Both BBC1 and ITV talent shows’ Halloween specials down on last year’s ratings, despite Simon Cowell’s elimination twist. By John Plunkett

John Plunkett

03, Nov, 2014 @11:19 AM

Article image
Michael Palin drama Remember Me bags 5m viewers for BBC1
Supernatural series starring former Python notches up respectable figures against ITV behemoth I’m a Celebrity …

Mark Sweney

24, Nov, 2014 @11:40 AM

Article image
Sherlock draws largest festive TV audience
The Abominable Bride attracts 8.4 million viewers, beating the EastEnders wedding, Queen’s speech and Downton Abbey

Nadia Khomami

02, Jan, 2016 @12:48 PM

Article image
Strictly Come Dancing opener with first same-sex couple proves a hit
BBC show scores highest first-day ratings in three years as Covid rules change its feel

Lanre Bakare Arts and culture correspondent

18, Oct, 2020 @3:07 PM

Article image
Strictly Come Dancing hits series high as Ed Balls goes green
Despite drawing a bigger audience than last year on Saturday, ITV’s The X Factor trailed the BBC show by 3 million viewers

Jasper Jackson

10, Oct, 2016 @10:15 AM

Article image
X Factor hits high note of 10.7 million viewers
ITV show had highest peak of any programme over the weekend with a 9.6 million average and 37.6% share during 8pm to 9pm. By Mark Sweney

Mark Sweney

09, Sep, 2013 @11:30 AM