A peak audience of just under 27m tuned in to the spectacular opening ceremony of the London Olympics, according to early estimates.

The figures suggest that an average of 22m watched the events at the Olympic Stadiu
in East London, with a five- minute high of 26.9m viewers.

That gives the show the highest audience rating so far in 2012, ahead of England’s Euro 2012 clash against Italy which scored an audience of 23m, and Andy Murray’s defeat in the Wimbledon men’s singles final which attracted 17.1m viewers.

A BBC spokesman said it was the largest television audience since the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board was introduced in 2002 – and it was a considerably greater audience than tuned in to the start of the Beijing games in 2008.

That ceremony attracted 5.9 million UK viewers, while 10.7 million watched the start of the Athens Olympics in 2004.

The opening, directed by Slumdog Millionaire’s Danny Boyle, included such highlights as the Queen being parachuted into the ceremony by Daniel Craig as James Bond, and a Chariots of Fire spoof featuring Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean.

The show ended with a performance from Paul McCartney just before 1am.