Women emerge as more likely to read a book right through, but they are much more likely to read the end before deciding whether to persevere.
Although the poll, commissioned by the BBC and the Arts Council, concludes that half the nation reads books regularly, it also finds that a quarter either never does, or does so less than once a year.
The poll's findings will be given in a new BBC book programme The Bookworm, to be presented on BBC 1 on Sundays from 30 October. It finds that women are more eager bookworms than men. Fifty- five per cent of readers read in the living room, but 51 per cent of women prefer the bedroom, compared with 37 per cent of men. Young adults read mostly in bed (61 per cent).
Three in ten people feel they have a book in them, but only two in every hundred have actually written it. Literary ambitions are most common in London (32 per cent), the Midlands (31 per cent) and the South (31 per cent). Budding authors mostly intend to write biographies, including autobiographies. This is particularly popular among women, while men are much more likely to want to write science fiction and fantasy.
True stories top the country's reading list. Twenty-four per cent say they regularly read non-fiction and 19 per cent enjoy biographies. In the fiction category, romances are most popular, attracting 19 per cent of readers, closely followed by 17 per cent reading crime.
The BBC could not confirm yesterday that it would be showing the documentary series on The Beatles next year, which the surviving Beatles have been working on. But the head of music, Avril MacRory, said she was 'quietly confident' of winning the rights.