Downton Abbey ends on a happy note in swansong episode
Spoiler alert: Irish television viewers say goodbye to the Crawleys in Christmas finale
The final episode of Downton Abbey ended on a high. Photo: ITV/PA Wire
The final episode of Downton Abbey beat Strictly Come Dancing to win the battle of the Christmas Day ratings as 6.6 million tuned in to wish a fond farewell to the Crawleys.
With peak figures of 7.1 million, the two-hour long episode of Julian Fellowes’ drama just pipped the Strictly Christmas special, won by Harry Judd, which was the BBC’s most-watched show of the day with a peak of seven million viewers and an average of 6.5 million.
The real ratings winner was the Queen, whose 3pm broadcast had the biggest overall figures for the day, drawing 6.1 million on the BBC and 1.1 million on ITV, excluding +1 and catch-up services.
In its swansong episode, viewers watched as Downton’s Lady Edith finally got her happy ending with Bertie Pelham, Lady Mary discovered she was pregnant and Anna and Mr Bates welcomed their first child — with no tragic deaths to break the reverie.
ITV said: “This is the first time a Downton Christmas special has topped the ratings in the UK on Christmas Day.”
It was a drop from the 8.8 million who tuned in for the penultimate episode of the series in November and failed to replicate the figures from the first-ever Downton Christmas episode in 2011 when it pulled in a consolidated audience of 12.1 million.
Downton Abbey bosses have denied reports the show ended because they could not secure Dame Maggie Smith for a seventh series.
The Sun reported that executive producer Gareth Neame said the show would struggle to continue without Lady Violet Crawley actress Dame Maggie so a decision had been made to call time on the ITV hit.
“We easily could have gone for a seventh season but if I’d have said ‘We haven’t got Maggie’, it would have been a shadow of itself,” he told the newspaper.
He added: “We all feel very blessed. Nobody regrets ending when we did. We have a final season that’s as strong as the first because we quit while we were ahead.”
A spokeswoman for production company Carnival Films denied the cast had any part to play in the decision to end Downton after six series, with the final episode airing on Christmas Day.
“Downton Abbey ended at season six because the producers and writer wanted to close the show on a high and that has been clearly demonstrated with the Downton Abbey finale on ITV being the most-watched show on television across all broadcasters on Christmas night,” she said. “The show did not end because any of our cast wanted to leave.”
The BBC claimed eight of the 10 most watched Christmas shows, with Mrs Brown’s Boys and Stick Man drawing in an average of 6.4 million, and Doctor Who and Call the Midwife pulling in an audience of 5.8 million each.
Downton went head-to-head with an hour-long special of EastEnders in the 8.45pm slot but even a shock car crash involving the Mitchell and Beale families only captured the attention of 5.7 million fans.
Coronation Street triumphed as the most-watched soap on Christmas Day as it pulled in an average of 5.9 million viewers, including on +1 services, while Emmerdale got 4.4 million.
BBC One controller Charlotte Moore said: “BBC One brought the nation together with a distinctive range of programmes on Christmas Day and eight of the top 10 most popular shows.
“There are many more television treats for viewers to enjoy on BBC One over the rest of the festive season including Billionaire Boy, The Great Barrier Reef, Still Open All Hours, David Beckham special, And Then There Were None, Dickensian and Sherlock.”