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LEASTENDERS; BBC soap's ratings plunge to new low as it loses in head-to-head war with ITV rival Emmerdale.

Byline: By NICOLA METHVEN, TV Editor

EASTENDERS has had its worst-ever viewing figures in a head-to-head battle with rival soap Emmerdale.

Just 5.2 million tuned in to watch the BBC1 show on Tuesday, when it was up against the ITV1 soap from 7.30pm.

Emmerdale got 5.6 million for an hour-long special to mark the return to its normal 7pm slot. During the World Cup it was shown later in the evening - usually at 10pm.

But this new humiliating defeat will come as a blow to EastEnders bosses, who had hoped the show was back on form after losing out to Emmerdale regularly two years ago.

And they are bracing themselves for another mauling tonight when they go up against another Emmerdale special when Sadie King (Patsy Kensit) is involved in a house blast.

In 2004 EastEnders audience figures plummeted to below 7 million so regularly - mainly because of Emmerdale - that executive producer Louise Berridge quit.

The most recent low came 16 months ago when the audience fell to 6.2 million amid claims that Albert Square had become overrun by gangsters.

But in the past year, under new boss Kate Harwood, the show improved and even won the Bafta for best soap earlier this year.

Now Harwood is quitting the programme after being promoted within the BBC.

New boss Diederick Santer has now got his work cut out to boost the ratings once again.

Last night Emmerdale chiefs were thrilled that the latest big storyline, in which doctor Adam tried to murder Steph, had proved so popular with viewers.

A spokeswoman said: "We are delighted that Emmerdale continues to go from strength to strength."

But the BBC were not the only ratings losers on Tuesday - ITV also suffered later in the evening.

Ant and Dec's new quiz PokerFace dropped a million viewers from its first outing on Monday, with only 3.8 million tuning in.

Channel 4's Big Brother is the clear winner of the ongoing reality TV battle - with 4.7mil-lion tuning in to watch at 9pm.

But over on ITV's Love Island - in which 12 single celebrities live together on an island off Fiji and try to pair up - could only muster 2.9 million at 10pm, a drop of 300,000 on the launch ratings.

THE BBC's head of news and current affairs in Scotland has suddenly quit after six years - amid workers' anger at job cuts.

Blair Jenkins, 49, told staff his shock decision yesterday - and said it had been "very difficult". The Glasgow newsroom applauded his brief speech.

His resignation follows corporation plans to axe 240 jobs in Scotland by 2008, saving pounds 10million.

Peter Murray, of the National Union of Journalists, said: "This is the most significant resignation at the BBC since the Hutton affair.

"It must be seen in the context of growing staff anger over the continuing job cuts, threats of compulsory redundancies and the BBC's attack on the staff pension scheme."

nicola.methven@mirror.co.uk

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5.2m LOSER: Sonia has drink to forget woes' 5.2m. WINNER: Gripping Steph and Adam murder plot' STAR: Patsy as Sadie' THE UPS AND DAHNS OF ALBERT SQUARE
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 13, 2006
Words:529
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