<i>Downton Abbey</i>'s (from left) Lady Mary Crawley, Lady Rose MacClare and Lady Edith Crawley.

Downton Abbey's (from left) Lady Mary Crawley, Lady Rose MacClare and Lady Edith Crawley.

Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes has hinted that the next series of the hit television show could be its last.

The British drama, telling the story of the aristocratic Crawley family, is set to return to screens later this year for a fifth series, having made its debut in 2010.

But Fellowes has now said in an interview that the saga will not "go on forever".

He has been commissioned to write a new US drama called The Gilded Age but told The Wall Street Journal that work on the program would not start until Downton had come to an end.

Fellowes said: "It's for NBC Universal and it will happen when Downton finishes because I just couldn't do both at once.

"I haven't written it yet, but it's about the old aristocracy, the Winthrops and the Stuyvesants and the new money of oil and gas and shipping in the 1870s. It will all be fiction — it won't be real people — but when those families descended on New York, they took over."

The writer, who is also an actor, reassured fans that there would be a fifth series of Downton but referring to a long-running drama, added: "I don't know yet if there is a season six, but it's not going to go on forever. It won't be Perry Mason."

He also speculated that if the Crawleys had been a real family, they would have still been running the estate today — albeit in a more "businesslike" way.

He told the Wall Street Journal: "My own belief is that they would survive, but they would be living in a back wing — and you could buy a ticket to visit and they would only come out in the winter."

Downton Abbey was last seen on British screens on Christmas Day, when a special episode was broadcast showing the family visiting London for debutante Lady Rose's coming out.

Meanwhile 20-year television series Absolutely Fabulous, which ended in 2012, looks set for a film revival after creator Jennifer Saunders revealed she will be writing a movie version.

Speaking on The Jonathan Ross Show, Saunders said: "Yes, well I have to do it now because I've threatened to a lot."

Saunders said Dawn French had bet £100,000 ($A184,297) that she would not write it, adding: "So now I have to write it, otherwise I have to pay her £100,000."

PA