Daniel Mays may be playing famous diarist Samuel Pepys in ITV’s new four-part drama The Great Fire, but he doesn’t have happy memories of his own foray into writing a diary.

“I kept a diary when I first went to secondary school and it was stolen by two girls from my biology class who I should name and shame,” laughs Daniel, whose previous credits include Mrs Biggs and Ashes to Ashes.

“I caught them reading it, but it scared me so I didn’t do it any more. I dread to think what a 13-year-old Danny Mays was writing about! It is incredible and a real discipline and that is why I had so much respect for Pepys.”

The Great Fire, which screens on ITV on Thursday, sees Pepys advise King Charles II when the fire breaks out in London in 1666, but the drama also looks at the writer’s turbulent marriage.

“[Pepys] has always been played a bit tongue-in-cheek and bawdy and for laughs so we are really consciously trying to move away from and make it a bit gritty,”  Daniel told TV & Satellite Week.