Downton Abbey is to bid farewell to one of its longest-serving cast members when Allen Leech exits the series in the Christmas special, according to reports.

Allen has played Tom Branson, the former chauffeur and widower of Lady Sybil, since the first series of the ITV period drama, but will bow out at the end of this year, according to the Radio Times.

Tom, who has been living with his daughter Sybbie in the Crawleys’ home since Sybil died, has been considering making a fresh start for a while and the series five finale saw him confirm his intentions to leave after Christmas and go in search of the American dream.

He will say his goodbyes in the Christmas Day episode of Downton, taking Sybbie with him to begin their new life away from the Abbey.

But while fans may be sad to hear of Allen’s departure, it looks set to be a much more cheerful parting than two years ago, when the festive episode ended with Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) dying in a car crash moments after his son was born, in a shock twist for upset viewers.

Last year, Downton Abbey went on a summer holiday for the seasonal special, but this year viewers have been promised a traditional Downton Christmas with all the trimmings.

Allen recently took a starring role alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, a film about Alan Turing breaking the Enigma code during World War II.