EastEnders’ single-hander episode featuring Dot Branning was watched by 8.7 million viewers on Thursday night, according to unofficial overnight ratings.

A first for a TV soap, the half-hour monologue centred on the veteran character, played by 80-year-old actress June Brown, as she recorded a tape for her ill husband Jim.

More than 8.7 million viewers tuned into the moving episode – a 37 per cent share of the audience in the half hour from 7.30pm.

The BBC1 soap won its slot against ITV1’s line-up of regional programming, which averaged 4.9 million – a 21 per cent share.

But it was down on the previous week’s figures for EastEnders, when the soap achieved an audience of 9.4 million – a 43 per cent share. It was EastEnders’ worst Thursday viewing share since November.

ITV1 had a strong night with dramas The Bill and Trial & Retribution both winning their slots.

The Bill was watched by 5.5 million viewers at 8pm, ahead of BBC1’s Waterloo Road, which attracted 4.7 million.

In the 9pm slot, the third part of Lynda La Plante’s thriller Trial & Retribution was seen by 6.1 million viewers – up 700,000 on the previous week.

The final instalment of Fairy Tales, BBC1’s series of one-off dramas giving popular children’s stories a modern twist, was watched by an audience of just 2.5 million viewers.

Earlier in the night, ITV1’s soap Emmerdale attracted 7.9 million viewers against the BBC1’s The One Show with 5.2 million.