The BBC will restrict EastEnders to four episodes a week, after dismissing the idea of increasing the soap to five nights a week.

This week the London-set soap won Most Popular Serial Drama at the National Television Awards for the third time in a row, but BBC chairman Sir Michael Lyons said the corporation wants to keep its schedules ‘distinctive’.

He told the Royal Television Society that the BBC needed to take ‘creative risks’, ‘set standards’ and make programmes that ‘you simply won’t get from other broadcasters’.

He said: “There is always a tension for the BBC here, between distinctiveness and competitiveness – since it is much easier to gain competitive edge by concentrating on certain genres than others, but only with a loss of distinctiveness.

“That’s the challenge we’ve put to the Executive. And the Executive’s recent decision, for example, not to commission a fifth weekly episode of EastEnders, reflects their response to our challenge to them to keep BBC schedules distinctive.”

A BBC spokeswoman said: “EastEnders is a fantastic jewel in the BBC1 crown and is much loved by BBC audiences, as demonstrated by its success at the National Television Awards [on Wednesday].

“However, in addition to continuing dramas, we are focusing new investment on a range of high-impact, distinctive drama series of wide appeal… [including] modern drama that captures the imagination of audiences, such as Life On Mars, Doctor Who and Spooks.”