Final of Alan Sugar's The Apprentice peaks at 10.3 million

Stella English's triumph in the final of the BBC's 'The Apprentice' averaged 9.7 million viewers in its first hour last night, placing it on a par with last year's successful final, according to unofficial overnight figures.

The Apprentice: 2010 final winner Stella English
The Apprentice: 2010 final winner Stella English

The final of the sixth series of 'The Apprentice' peaked at 10.3 million viewers, between 9pm and 9.15pm, and maintained a strong audience share between 35% and 31% throughout its first 60 minutes.

However, unlike previous years, the BBC attempted to capitalise on the show’s popularity by extending its usual hour-long format to include the previously standalone show, 'The Apprentice: You're Hired'.

The resulting two-hour programme averaged 8.3 million viewers and a 32.2% share of the total TV audience.

English, 31, won 'The Apprentice 2010' after beating Chris Bates in the final task that involved creating and marketing a new brand of alcoholic drink.

The finalists were asked to choose flavours, design a bottle and shoot an ad, before pitching their product to "industry experts".

English, a former head of business management at a Japanese bank who grew up on the Thamesmead estate in London, will now command a six-figure salary working for Lord Sugar’s IT company, Viglen.

'The Apprentice' was shifted from its usual spring slot after concerns were raised over Lord Sugar's role as a government adviser around the time of the general election in May.

The first time the final of the programme was switched to Sunday, in June 2009, it attracted 9.8 million viewers, a 38% share of the available audience.

Last year's final of the 2009 series peaked at 10.4 million, when Lord Sugar, then known as Sir Alan, chose restaurateur Yasmina Siadatan to be his next apprentice. The standalone spin-off programme 'The Apprentice: You're Hired', attracted an average of 7.7 million viewers, equating to a 36% share of the audience.

The decision to combine the two shows this year ensured that the BBC dominated last night’s viewing, with the show following the annual 'Sports Personality of the Year' awards, won by jockey AP McCoy.

An average of 7.1 million viewers tuned into BBC1 between 7pm and 9pm to see McCoy, who has ridden more than 3,000 winners, become the first jockey to win the award.

ITV’s decision to show children’s favourite 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' from 6.30pm managed to secure 4.4 million viewers, representing a 17.2% share.

The strength of the two channels kept average viewing figures for the remaining terrestrial channels down last night: Five’s 'A Christmas Carol' (1.9 million viewers) and 'Blood Work' (1.4 million); BBC2’s 'Edwardian Farm' (2.3 million) and 'The Hairy Bikers' (two million).

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