It's the worst kept secret in television: after another hugely successful run of Julian Fellowes' period drama Downton Abbey, ITV has commissioned series four.
The cast and crew will begin filming another run of eight episodes at Highclere Castle and Ealing Studios in February next year - with the new series due to be broadcast on ITV in the autumn. The opening and closing episodes will again be feature length plus another Christmas special for 2013.
Downton Abbey's recently-concluded third season sent viewers on a rollercoaster ride with Matthew and Mary's highly-anticipated wedding, Lady Sybil's shock death from pre-eclampsia and a family estate nearly ruined by Lord Grantham's poor investments. Throw in to the mix Bates's release from prison, Thomas's scandalous crush on new footman Jimmy and Sir Anthony Strallan jilting Lady Edith at the altar - all in the space of just eight episodes - and it was far from plain sailing at the Crawley residence.
But the dramatic events at Downton were well received by British audiences, with consolidated ratings averaging 11.9 million viewers and the series finale drawing in over 12 million - the highest rating drama of the year according to ITV. The most recent episodes are yet to air in the States, with the third season set to premiere on January 6 2013 on PBS.
Gareth Neame - executive producer of Downton Abbey - said: "Viewers can look forward to more drama, comedy, love, hatred, jealousy, rivalry, ambition, despair and romance."
And he was quick to sing the praises of show creator Julian Fellowes: "Not only is he a superb craftsman, he also has an extraordinary work ethic," explained Neame. "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.
"Everyone who works to bring Downton Abbey to the screen is incredibly proud of the show and want to cherish it. We're in rude health and have a long way still to go - starting with a not to be missed and truly memorable Christmas Day episode."
Director of Drama at ITV, Laura Mackie, added: "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 across the globe.
"Creator, writer and executive producer Julian Fellowes and the production team, led by Gareth and the producer Liz Trubridge, never rest on their laurels and have exciting plans for the fourth series."