The hit period drama Downton Abbey nearly lost its historical accuracy in a row over table manners, star Hugh Bonneville has revealed.

Although the show employs an etiquette expert, Professor Alastair Bruce, to supervise the period detail, a scene which saw characters eating asparagus presented both cast and crew with a dilemma.

And Hugh – who plays the Earl of Grantham in the show – said that even its creator Julian Fellowes was dragged in to the ensuing argument.

“There was one particular day that became known as ‘asparagusgate’,” he recalled, “because Alastair wasn’t actually with us that day and there was a furious discussion as to whether we would use fingers or use a fork.

“And because we couldn’t get a definitive answer – because Julian said one thing, Alastair said another and somebody else said a third – we ended up slicing the asparagus up and pretending they were beans.”

The new series of the show, which begins in September, will see the cast involved in the First World War – with a number of characters sent off to fight in the trenches and the abbey itself turned into a convalescent home for injured troops.

And the show – which has been sold to 22 countries following the success of the first series – is set to be on screens for some time yet, with a third series planned and possibly more.

“I think it can continue for series four, five and six!” said executive producer Gareth Neame. “It could move up to the 1930s, as long as the audience wants it.”