Downton Abbey star Brendan Coyle is hoping to follow in Mr Bates' footsteps by finding true love.

The 48-year-old’s character married Anna the housemaid – but Coyle admits that he is still searching for a "meaningful" relationship despite his legion of female fans.

"I'm going to be 50 soon. I'm single, I'm looking for something meaningful," he told Radio Times. "By the time you've been single for quite a long time, you can get quite specific about what you can and can't put up with.

"If this TV success had come in my twenties and I'd become a heart–throb, I would have been very stupid. I would have got into a lot of situations that I really wished I hadn't. But in my forties, that's not going to happen."

The actor has had many long–term girlfriends but never married. "I don't know if it's a good or bad thing, but only now am I truly ready for a relationship," he said.

Asked about the future of the show, Coyle would not say how many seasons of Downton Abbey were planned, but humorously pointed out that, by definition, the period drama could only go so far.

"I can pretty much say all of us know when Downton is going to end,” he said. “This is a show with a finite life. If we bring this into the 1950s, it's Emmerdale."