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EastEnders beats Downton Abbey in Christmas ratings battle

DOWNTON Abbey’s Christmas special – which went out on Christmas night on UTV and last night on TV3 - may have ended on a happy note for Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley, but viewers preferred the gloomy goings-on in Albert Square.

EastEnders was the most-watched show on Christmas Day, dashing the hopes of ITV bosses who believed Downton could end the BBC’s dominance of the festive schedule.

The soap's relentless diet of mayhem and misery proved irresistible for 9.9 million viewers in the UK, according to figures published yesterday.

Figures for Irish viewership is not available yet.

Downton Abbey was an altogether more festive affair but drew just 8.1 million viewers - two million less than expected.

The period drama managed only fourth place in the Christmas Day ratings, behind Coronation Street.

The ratings came as a surprise because an audience of 10.5 million watched the finale of the second series. The Christmas Day special included the high drama of Mr Bates’ murder trial and an engagement for Lady Mary and Matthew.

But the figures showed that Christmas Day viewing on the whole was significantly down on last year.

The top five most watched programmes drew a total audience of 43.7 million, compared with 51.2 million for Christmas Day 2010.

Some complained that there were few Christmas films to watch, with the terrestrial broadcasters focusing instead on drama and factual entertainment.

Television insiders suggested that the unseasonably mild weather contributed to the drop in viewing figures, as families headed outdoors during the day.