David Tennant to play gay serial killer Dennis Nilsen in new three-part drama

'Des' will be based on Brian Masters novel ‘Killing for Company’


Words: Steve Brown

David Tennant will play gay serial killer Dennis Nilsen in a three-part ITV drama.

Written and developed by Luke Neal and Lewis Arnold, the new drama will be based on Brian Masters novel ‘Killing for Company’ which focuses on one of the most infamous cases in UK criminal history.

Dennis Nilsen – known as Des – was a Scottish serial killer who murdered boys and young men in his flat from 1978 to 1983.

He was undetected for five years, and it was only when DCI Peter Jay was called to 23 Cranley Gardens on 9 February, 1983, to investigate human fragments of flesh and bone clogging the drains, that the police realised they had a serial killer on their hands.

Nilsen was arrested and convicted at the Old Bailey of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, which was replaced by a whole life tariff in 1994. He died in May 2018.

Told through the eyes of both the police and Masters’ point of view, Des will explore how a man like Nilsen was able to prey on the young and vulnerable in 1980s Britain.  

David Tennant will take on the role of Des with Daniel Mays playing Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay and Jason Watkins will take on the role of biographer Masters.

ITV’s Head of Drama Polly Hill said: “This drama starts with Nilsen’s arrest and is looking at him through the eyes of the police officer trying to identify those he killed and deliver justice for them and the biographer he chose to tell his story.

“David Tennant is going to be brilliant as Dennis Nilsen and with Daniel Mays as Jay and Jason Watkins as Brian, this has an incredible cast to bring this story to screen and we are delighted to be making this with New Pictures for ITV.”

Kim Varvell, Executive Producer for New Pictures added: “Dennis Nilsen’s crimes shocked the nation in the early 1980s.

“Our programme focuses on the emotional impact of those terrible crimes, both on those who came into contact with Nilsen himself, and also on the victims’ families.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Luke and Lewis on this project, as well as the incredible cast.”