Rob James-Collier, who plays Thomas the footman in Downton Abbey, has said that his character’s sexuality is further explored in the new series, having taken a back seat in the previous one.

The actor joked that he wasn’t even sure if his character was “still gay”.

In the first series, Thomas had an affair with a Duke and after misreading a situation badly, made a disastrous overture to a Turkish envoy.

But in the second series, his sexuality was scarcely mentioned, with the programme instead concentrating on the carnage of World War I.

James-Collier told the Sun that he asked creator Julian Fellowes about the issue, and that the latter promised that Thomas’s sexuality would be further explored in the future.

“The gay thing comes back in this series – he stopped being gay in series two. I had to ring upstairs and ask Julian, ‘Am I still gay?’

“Seriously, in series two the drama focused on the First World War and the huge impact it had on people back home in Britain, in dealing with the dead and wounded. The gay thing was largely ignored.

“But Thomas has a beautiful storyline which evolves right through the new series and there has a massive pay-off.”

He added that he had a number of “emotional” scenes to in the new series, which he found “very challenging”.

“I hope the audience will identify with why Thomas is the way he is – he has this secret which he can’t tell anyone about because [homosexuality was] illegal.”

The new series, which is set in the early 1920s and will feature Shirely MacLaine in a guest-starring role as the Countesses’ mother, will be screened in the UK in autumn.