ITV controller Peter Fincham has admitted that greenlighting Downton Abbey was a major gamble.

Speaking during his Meet the Controller session at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Fincham said that the hugely successful period drama had been considered a "bloody great risk" when it was commissioned.

"There's an idea that risk naturally exists only on BBC Two and Channel 4 but it's different in mainstream," he said, meaning UK channels BBC One and ITV. "Viewers don't sit there on a Saturday and think, 'Has the controller taken a risk?', they're just thinking, 'Is it entertaining?'."

After highlighting Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway as his "channel-defining" programme, he added: "There is nothing to be embarrassed about a channel-defining programme being Ant & Dec, there's a snobbery around risk. We rested the show for a couple of years which is risk.

"We're bringing back [variety show] Sunday Night at the Palladium, which is a risk because people may not want it back. The word risk is used and overused to the point it requires definition."

Fincham, speaking at his tenth controller session, added: "It's like when people say with Downton Abbey, 'You must have known all along', no, it was a bloody great risk."

Fincham also said that he was "delighted" with Simon Cowell's return to The X Factor, which begins its eleventh run next weekend.