Downton Abbey has been commissioned for a fourth series which will feature eight new episodes and a feature length Christmas special.

Laura Mackie, Director of Drama at ITV, said: ''We're thrilled to welcome back a drama series that has become a much anticipated part of all our lives every autumn and achieved success around the globe".

Gareth Neame, Managing Director of Carnival Films, praised creator Julian Fellowes with Downton Abbey's extraordinary success.

He said: ''Not only is he a superb craftsman, he also has an extraordinary work ethic. It is a mammoth undertaking to write all those episodes.

''The main credit for the success of Downton is by far and away down to Julian. I've not had the fortune to work with anyone else who combines so many talents".

Speaking about the two-hour special to be screened on ITV1 at 9pm this Christmas Day, Laura said: “We hope the Downton family of viewers will gather together to watch this major TV event as a shared Christmas night experience.

“Last year’s special episode set the nation talking on Boxing Day and 2012's Christmas Day episode is no different. As ever, Downton will take its audience through a whole range of emotions. All of life's experiences will feature in this episode.

“This is one episode you will want to see live with millions of others - and best have the tissues ready.”