When word got around Eton that Harry Lloyd, a student at the posh British boarding school, was to appear in the BBC's David Copperfield, classmates assumed it was a documentary about the magician, he says. "I was asked constantly if Claudia Schiffer would be in it."

Great expectations indeed. But if the part isn't quite the coup his classmates had in mind, it is still the thrill of a lifetime for Lloyd, 16. The young actor makes his professional acting debut alongside Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Ian McKellen and Bob Hoskins in the TV version of David Copperfield, the Charles Dickens classic about an English orphan (airing April 16 and 17 on PBS). For Dickens buffs there is an added twist: Lloyd happens to be the great-great-great-grandson of the author. "It had nothing to do with why we cast him," says BBC producer Kate Harwood, who invited Lloyd to audition for the part of schoolboy James Steerforth after a talent scout saw him in an Eton production of T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. "He is a very confident lad, utterly at ease with himself."

Raised in West London, Harry is the middle of three children of Dickens's great-great-granddaughter Marion Dickens Lloyd, 47, a children's books publisher, and her husband, Jonathan Lloyd, 53, head of a British literary agency. Not surprisingly, Harry has literary ambitions of his own. Like his famous ancestor, "I want to be an author," he says. For a start, he wrote about his David Copperfield experience in an article for The Daily Telegraph: "A burst of pride exploded in my chest and the grin that I had been concealing ever since I landed the part finally appeared." Truly, it was the best of times.