The London Olympics opening ceremony drew a British television audience of 26.9 million, the BBC said Saturday -- the biggest in 14 years. The showpiece on Friday, which lasted nearly four hours, averaged 22.4 million viewers, or 82 percent of all people watching television in the kingdom. The British population is around 62.2 million, meaning that around 43 percent of residents tuned in. It is the highest rating since the 1998 football World Cup clash between England and Argentina, screened by ITV, which drew 23.78 million viewers. The ceremony was the biggest BBC audience since an edition of the comedy series "Only Fools And Horses" in 1996. The biggest audience ever in Britain for a single programme is 30.5 million, set by a Christmas Day episode of BBC soap opera "EastEnders" in 1986. By contrast with other Olympic opening ceremonies, Beijing 2008 attracted 5.9 million viewers in Britain, while 10.7 million watched Athens 2004. Before that, four million watched Sydney 2000; 1.1 million saw Atlanta 1996 and 11.3 million watched Barcelona 1992. The disparity is attributed to time differences, with ceremonies taking place in Europe attracting a higher audience. Organisers said they expected the London ceremony to attract a global TV audience of over one billion. The ceremony, created by Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle, cost £27 million ($42 million, 34.5 million euro) to stage.