Hugh Bonneville has described ITV1’s new costume drama Downton Abbey as ‘Gosford Park with bells on’.

The actor plays Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham in the new seven-part series.

Written by Gosford Park’s Julian Fellowes, it focuses on the lives of the masters and servants of an Edwardian country house in 1912.

Revealing what happens in the first episode, showing next Sunday, September 26, Hugh told “What kicks the whole thing off is the loss of my heir, who would keep the house within the family.

“Unfortunately, he dies and the next male heir is someone we’ve never met. My character has to reassess what’s going to happen to the estate in time to come.”

Some viewers will compare Downton Abbey with 1970s drama Upstairs Downstairs, but Hugh thinks it’s more like Julian’s Oscar-winning film from 2001.

Hugh says: “I don’t really think of it in terms of Upstairs Downstairs, I think of it far more as Gosford Park The Series. It’s aspirations are far greater than a small domestic setting. It’s Gosford Park with bells on!”

Downton Abbey begins on Sunday, September 26 at 9pm on ITV1.