Richard E Grant has admitted he was worried he’d missed the boat when it came to getting a part in Downton Abbey.

The Withnail & I star told Vulture he had been desperate for a role in the hit ITV period drama, but didn’t want to send an embarrassing request to writer Julian Fellowes.

He said: “Journalists over the years have said to me, ‘Are you going to be in Downton? Why aren’t you in Downton?’ I didn’t feel like I could email Julian to say, ‘Oi! Can you please write me a part?’

“He knows who everyone is. He was an actor.”

Richard, who starred in 2001 film Gosford Park, which Julian also wrote, said he had resigned himself to not being in the period drama.

He said: “I thought, ah well, I’ve missed out on the Harry Potter franchise, and I’ll miss out on the Downton phenomenon. Then a month ago I got an email asking if I’d do four episodes. And instead of playing someone downstairs, like I did in Gosford years ago, would I play someone upstairs? I said yes, fast.”

Richard, who will play art historian Simon Bricker, said he wasn’t convinced he was Julian’s first choice.

“It’s possible someone else turned it down or dropped dead. Who knows?”