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At 9.4 there is some value to be had in opposing the Christmas Day TV ratings standard bearer of the modern era - Eastenders - currently trading at a screaming red hot 1.27 to win again. 'Enders' is no Morecambe and Wise. In the halcyon days of 1977, Eric and Ernie clocked a still unbeaten Christmas Day Record 28.5 million viewers.

These days, you do well to get half that rating figure on Christmas Day. Wallace and Gromit did it in 2008 with A Matter of Loaf and Death which clocked a respectable 14.3 million. Eastenders won the next day rating release in 2009 with 10.9 million which is roundabout its total of addicts and devotees nowadays.

That figure was consolidated to 11.6 million when the complete figures were published a few weeks later - as is the Broadcasters Audience Research Board's way of doing things - and thus in 2009 it was officially pipped for top spot by Caroline Aherne's mercurial The Royle Family whose consolidated figure was rounded up to 11.7 million from an initial next day figure of 10.2 million.

Bets are always settled on the next day figure so you only got paid out on Eastenders last year but the proximity in the numbers last time out suggests the betting this year has got things wrong.

The appeal of The Royle Family is very strange. Documented as being like Han**** Half Hour classic Sunday afternoon in that we laugh at that lampoon of stupid people bored senseless by a life of inert lethargy, I actually think there is a bit more to The Royle Family's appeal than simple comedy. The programme originally grew in 1998 from Aherne's friendship with the poet Henry Normal who co-wrote the first series along with ever present Craig Cash. Henry's poetic fingerprints remain on the programme still in my eyes. He peeled away to work with Steve Coogan after the first series finished but that hangdog,melancholic Romanticism - so prevalent in Normal's poetry - remained. Like the lost wet dog who stands on the corner in the rain looking for someone to love.

The guy who didn't cry at Denise Royle's bathroom pre-wedding bawl in the arms of her useless Dad is not a man to get married to and every woman knows it!

Of course it makes us laugh aswell and that helps the ratings as Eric and Ernie found out. Surely a programme that makes us weak with laughter has to have a better chance of securing the viewers than a secretive soap opera that is desperate not to reveal what is going to happen in case we all say 'so what'?

I watched Eastenders back in the day but can't say I know all the ins and outs of what's going on in Walford these days. Good television though it still is, at 1.27 and up against a cult comedy that edged it last year in the consolidateds, there's only one place for betting value.

And that's working on the principle that the other contenders don't really have a squeak. Coronation Street has been bigging itself up for its fiftieth but its day of having plotlines revealed over the tannoy at Old Trafford are long gone. Its core is down around 8 million now and you can't really see it attracting much in the way of floating voters so that 30.0 is on the short side whilst 9.0 about Doctor Who is shorter than a straw.

The regenerated superman managed 12.2 million when David Tenant and Kylie Minogue teamed up and if Catherine Tate was still on board the Tardis I might give it a chance of increasing its 10 million share of last year.

In 1995, I booked Henry Normal to run a poetry workshop in Salford and he spent the day introducing himself to people by his real name. He was christened Peter Carroll and he tried hard all day to get people to call him Pete and gave us the hangdog eyes every time we laughed and told Henry to knock off being daft.

That quality launched Caroline Aherne's career via the inimitable (What did you Debbie McGee find so attractive about the millionaire Paul Daniels?) Mrs Merton character and has clung about her ever since and is slowly getting The Royle Family into even the doubters' hearts. Its ratings have been on an upward curve now for the twelve years (with six year gap) of its life.

It's not Morecambe and Wise yet, but it's worth a bet!

By Gary Boswell

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