ROWAN Atkinson’s Maigret failed to match up to rival drama Line Of Duty in the ratings as it returned on Sunday night.

The crime drama, which aired on ITV at 8pm for two hours, was praised by fans, but scored an average audience of only 3.8 million viewers according to overnight ratings. This number includes those watching on catch-up channel ITV +1.

Line Of Duty’s episode, the fourth of the current series, was the highest-rated show of the night. Overnight data show 5.7 million viewers tuned in to the hour-long episode at 9pm, with a 27.3 per cent audience share compared with Maigret’s 18.5 per cent.

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It was previously beaten in the ratings on a weekly basis by ITV’s Vera, which finished last week.

The numbers for Line Of Duty are expected to rise when those watching on iPlayer are counted.

The first episode of the fourth series had been watched by an average of five million viewers in the overnight figures, but consolidated numbers later showed it had been seen by 7.4 million.

Atkinson reprised his role as the pipe-smoking French detective Maigret after receiving mixed reviews upon his debut last year, and was this time given a thumbs-up by viewers.

Fans were delighted with his performance in the episode, entitled Night At The Crossroads, and many said they would happily forget the actor’s famous comedy roles Mr Bean and Blackadder for the drama.

One fan wrote on Twitter: “Rowan Atkinson is such a great actor, I forget he was Mr Bean unlike someother people lol.”

Another said: “Outstanding performance by Rowan Atkinson in #Maigret.

“So good, I never expect him to say, ‘wibble’.”

Meanwhile, Line Of Duty viewers were enthralled by the episode, which saw DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) wake up after being brutally attacked and falling down several flights of stairs in the previous instalment.

One viewer enthused on Twitter: “Thank the lord I managed to catch @Line_of_duty before I saw any spoilers. What an episode. Might have been the best yet?”

Another said: “Wow, wow, wow! @Line_of_duty How could you possibly top that.Just brilliant all involved and breath. that Steve Arnott is 5 alive!”

Over on BBC Two, one million viewers watched the grand finale of Robot Wars at 7pm - which saw Team Carbide crowned the champion.