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Birds of a Feather's return is a ratings hit

Sitcom Birds of a Feather returned after a 16-year absence with nearly 8m viewers on ITV on Thursday night.

The unofficial overnight figures mean that the sitcom – which switched from the BBC to ITV for the new series – is ITV’s biggest sitcom launch in more than a decade, according to Broadcast magazine.

The comedy, which reunites Pauline Quirke, Linda Robson and Lesley Joseph, had an average of 7.8 million viewers, a 31.9 per cent share, between 8.30pm and 9pm on Thursday.

The Media Guardian says it's ITV's best-performing sitcom since Barbara in 2000.

Its audience matched the 7.8 million who watched the EastEnders special on Christmas Day, and not far off the 8.3 million who saw Matt Smith regenerate into Peter Capaldi in the Christmas Day Doctor Who.