Magic moments that bring the nation to a standstill are more special than ever

Thank the stars for Tv — the one force that still has the power to bring the nation together.

On Sunday night, as the BBC1 police thriller Line Of Duty finally revealed the bent copper at the heart of its web of corruption, up to 13 million Brits were glued to their sets . . . at the same moment.

Whatever you thought of that finale — and many applauded it as subtly ingenious, while others denounced it loudly as a letdown — it achieved its purpose. We're all still talking about it.

There's a magical sense of community in knowing that millions of us are watching together. Every gasp of surprise and grunt of puzzlement is echoed across the land.

Bob Hoskins and  Cheryl Campbell in the television programme Pennies From Heaven in 1978

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Bob Hoskins and  Cheryl Campbell in the television programme Pennies From Heaven in 1978

Actor Dan Stevens in the ITV acclaimed period drama series Downton Abbey

Actor Dan Stevens in the ITV acclaimed period drama series Downton Abbey

Actors David Tennant and Olivia Coleman in the ITV thriller Broadchurch

Actors David Tennant and Olivia Coleman in the ITV thriller Broadchurch

No other medium can do that. It's true that lockdown has seen us rediscover the joys of radio and reading, and more people than ever are hooked on podcast serials and streaming video shows.

But we experience those stories individually, drop by drop — not in a great tidal surge together, as we do with live telly. And it's been that way for more than half a century.

The national fascination with Line Of Duty is no different to when we were all still watching in black-and-white, in 1967. 

The country was divided by Soames's domineering treatment of his wife (Eric Porter and Nyree Dawn Porter) in The Forsyte Saga. That provoked arguments in homes and offices that made Brexit look like a wry difference of opinion.

Or a decade later when almost everyone was mesmerised by Bob Hoskins and Cheryl Campbell in Dennis Potter's mini-series Pennies From Heaven in 1978.

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In 1980, normal life all but came to a halt as in our millions we turned in to the glossy soap Dallas, to find out Who Shot J.R. (Larry Hagman). Insiders refer to shows like this as 'appointment-to-view TV' — the ones we are so determined to see, we clear our diaries.

And they remain as highpoints for years. You might think you don't remember anything special about Christmas 2012 . . . until you realise it was the night Cousin Matthew (Dan Stevens) suffered his fatal car wreck, moments after becoming a father in Downton Abbey.

Downton's forerunner was Upstairs Downstairs, with Gordon Jackson as the stiff-necked butler and Nicola Pagett as the family's flighty daughter, Elizabeth.

Stars Sarah Lancashire and James Norton in the British crime drama Happy Valley

Stars Sarah Lancashire and James Norton in the British crime drama Happy Valley

Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden in the BBC crime drama Bodyguard

Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden in the BBC crime drama Bodyguard

The Night Manager with Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Debicki, Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie

The Night Manager with Tom Hollander, Olivia Colman, Elizabeth Debicki, Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie 

The sense of scandal that gripped Britain in 1972, when Elizabeth's sexually repressed husband handed her over to a friend so she could conceive a child, can hardly be exaggerated.

Now, it's mainly crime (though not always) that brings us together in breathless anticipation. Broadchurch in 2015 did it, when DS Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) broke down as she learned who killed her best friend's son.

You could add to that list James Nesbitt in The Missing, Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley, Hugh Laurie in The Night Manager, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies — superb actors in cunningly constructed compelling dramas.

And the 2019 Christmas special of Gavin & Stacey delivered what every fan of the series had wanted to see — although it was Nessa going down on one knee to propose to Smithy (Ruth Jones and James Corden) rather than the other way round.

That episode was watched by 17.1 million people, the most for any scripted, ie non factual, show of the decade. 

On Sunday, more than half the entire viewing audience — 56.2 per cent of everyone watching TV — was tuned in.

The average figure of 12.8 million viewers surged at one point to 13.1 million, the biggest for any crime drama in 20 years. 

The fact that this was by no means one of the show's better episodes (or even series) was irrelevant. Kelly Macdonald as DCI Jo Davidson was neither a likeable nor credible officer — unlike predecessor Keeley Hawes as DI Lindsay Denton, who could be brutal, obnoxious and vulnerable all in one breath.

We were watching because we were finally going to find out the solution to the mystery.

For ten years we'd seen the dogged sleuths of AC-12 turning over stones to expose layers of squirming corruption. 

At last, they had a chance to get their man (or woman) — the fabled 'H'. There's a huge expectation in any long-running story that the writer will bring all the threads together. Every loose end will be tied off, every question answered, every detail revealed to be significant.

Lucy Davies and Martin Freeman as Dawn and Tim in the British comedy The Office

Lucy Davies and Martin Freeman as Dawn and Tim in the British comedy The Office

James Corden and Ruth Jones in the much-loved British comedy Gavin and Stacey

James Corden and Ruth Jones in the much-loved British comedy Gavin and Stacey

Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principle, Charlene Tilton, Barbara Belle Geddes, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray in Dallas

Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principle, Charlene Tilton, Barbara Belle Geddes, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray in Dallas

Art of the ending

The longer the series, the more desperate we become for a great conclusion. But which ones left us fulfilled and which ones were simply frustrating?

MISS Game Of Thrones: The finale of this blood-drenched fantasy's first season was staggering. It sent millions reeling to bed, unable to believe what they'd seen. The climax of the third season topped even that. So the damp squib that brought the story to an end felt like an outright betrayal. Eight seasons, 2011-2019.

HIT Blackadder: Rowan Atkinson's historical comedy took a year or so to get into its stride, but gradually evolved to give us some of the best-loved characters in sitcom — especially Tony Robinson as

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