‘Downton Abbey’ returns with best ever series launch ratings

An average of 9.5 million viewers tuned into ITV's hit costume drama last night (September 22)

Downton Abbey returned last night (September 22) with its best ever ratings for a series-opening episode.

According to overnight figures an average of 9.5 million viewers tuned in to ITV between 9pm and 10.30pm – a bumper figure the channel celebrated with a tweet.

The series opener actually peaked with 10.5 million viewers in its first five minutes, Broadcast reports, and dropped to 9.3 million viewers during its final five minutes from 10.25pm-10.30pm.

The first ever episode of Downton Abbey attracted 8.0 million viewers in 2010 and the show returned with 9.2 million viewers in 2011 and 9.0 million viewers last year (2012).

Last night’s series opener saw Michelle Dockery‘s Lady Mary attempt to come to terms with the death of her husband Matthew Crawley, who was killed in a car crash in last year’s Christmas special. It also introduced a new character called Lady Shackleton played by veteran thesp Dame Harriet Walter.