WHEN the valet John Bates married Anna the housemaid in Downton Abbey, the story proved it's never too late to fall in love.
Brendan Coyle, the actor who plays Mr Bates, is hoping the same will be true for him.
Coyle has disclosed that he is still searching for a ''meaningful'' relationship in middle age despite having a legion of female fans thanks to his role in the ITV period drama.
''I'm going to be 50 soon. I'm single, I'm looking for something meaningful,'' he said. ''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 48-year-old 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.
Coyle's many fan sites include a Facebook group set up during the first series, which asks: ''Is it possible to fall in love with a fictional fortysomething gentleman's valet from 1914? You bet it is!''
His status as a brooding romantic hero means Coyle attracts admirers, but he is not altogether happy with the attention.
''One thing I'm keen not to do is complain about a job that's made me very successful. But what I will say is that every single f----- on the planet has a camera,'' he told Radio Times.
Coyle claimed he can pose for up to 40 photographs a day and does not object to being asked for a picture, but he does ''really mind'' fans taking surreptitious snaps on their phones.
The current series of Downton Abbey finds Bates in prison for murder as his wife, Anna (Joanne Froggatt), campaigns for him to be freed.
Coyle teased viewers by suggesting that his character could be guilty. ''If you think it's ambiguous now, it gets more ambiguous. Bates has been in the Boer War. He would have killed a lot of people. ''Does that mean he can kill his wife? What does it do to you?''
If this TV success had come in my twenties and I'd become a heart-throb.
Asked about the future of the show, Coyle would not say how many series were planned. However, he said: ''I can pretty much say all of us know when Downton is going to end. This is a show with a finite life. If we bring this into the 1950s, it's Emmerdale.''
The Daily Telegraph