Almost 10 million people watched Britain's first televised election debate, which polls and pundits say was won by the little-known leader of the third-place Liberal Democrats.

Overnight ratings show viewership for the 90-minute debate averaged 9.4 million.

Friday's newspaper headlines are declaring Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg the victor over Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative Party leader David Cameron. The Times headline reads, "Clegg comes of age."

Opinion polls also made 43-year-old Clegg the clear winner.

Britain has never before held a televised leaders' debate, and most commentators judged it a success despite a rules-heavy format that barred audience applause.

Two more debates are planned before May 6 elections.