Hit BBC drama Bodyguard kept an average 10.4 million viewers on tenterhooks as the series drew to a close on Sunday. The audience reached its peak – 11 million – in its final five minutes.
The overnight ratings make the show – the brainchild of Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio – the most watched drama of the year so far. In fact, it is the biggest overnight drama figure since 10.5 million saw Downton Abbey’s series two finale in November 2011. No BBC drama has drawn a bigger audience since Doctor Who, whose Christmas Day episode in 2008 was seen by 11.7 million people.
The most watched programme of 2018 so far is ITV’s broadcast of England’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia, which drew an average audience of 24.3 million. That figure did not take into account the number of people watching in pubs or on outdoor big screens. Without giving anything away, it’s fair to say the Bodyguard finale served up a big helping of shock and suspense.
Star Richard Madden – who played the show’s ex-soldier turned protection officer David Budd – retweeted a thank you from the BBC to everyone who was watching the “epic finale”. Director John Strickland had whipped up fans ahead of the broadcast by tweeting lyrics from Frank Sinatra’s My Way.
He posted: “For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels. “The record shows he took the blows and did it his way.”
In a statement Mercurio said: “I’m completely stunned by the exceptional response to Bodyguard which reflects the star quality of our brilliant cast led by Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes and our outstanding crew led by producers Priscilla Parish and Eric Coulter and directors Thomas Vincent and John Strickland.”
The Line of Duty writer also found time to set his followers right over some “Bodyguard pedantry”.
The director of BBC content, Charlotte Moore, praised the finale for the way it “gripped the nation and got everyone talking… in a display of masterful storytelling”.
Simon Heath the CEO and creative director of World Productions said: “At a time when we’re told that linear TV is dying, it’s been thrilling to see the number of viewers flocking to watch Bodyguard live. We’re so grateful for all their support.”
So what did the critics make of it all?
Sara Wallis, Daily Mirror
“If the nation’s heart rate could have been monitored during the mind-blowing finale of BBC1’s Bodyguard, it would have been off the scale.”
Andy Halls, The Sun
“There were moments last night where, for a good 30 seconds or so, I genuinely held my breath… Don’t get me wrong, there were moments of genuinely ludicrous action… But is it the best new drama we’ve had in years and the best thing on TV in 2018? Yes, ma’am.”