The hit period drama, which ended in Britain last year (15), beat out the popular The Night Manager for the big prize, while that show's Tom Hiddleston claimed the Best Actor honour over Downton's Jim Carter.

It was also a big night for TV veteran Dame Barbara Windsor, who was saluted for her outstanding contribution to television at the 20th annual awards ceremony.

Picking up the accolade, she said, "It is such an honour to be recognised by TV Choice and it had not been something I ever expected to receive, so I am extremely grateful.

"I have been in the business for over 66 years and I have been fortunate to have been involved in some truly outstanding productions that all mean so much to me, so to know that they also mean a lot to the audience is extremely touching."

Dame Barbara's longtime EastEnders character, Peggy Mitchell, took her own life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer in a May episode (16). The actress had played the role on the BBC soap since 1994.

The leading winners at the TV Choice Awards are:

Best Drama Series - Downton Abbey

Best International Show - Game Of Thrones

Best Comedy - Birds Of A Feather

Best Actor - Tom Hiddleston (The Night Manager)

Best Soap Newcomer - Shayne Ward (Coronation Street)

Best New Drama - Doctor Foster

Best Entertainment Show - Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway

Best Reality Show - Celebrity Big Brother & I'm a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!

Best Soap Actress - Lacey Turner (EastEnders)

Best Soap - Emmerdale

Outstanding Contribution to Television - Dame Barbara Windsor