David Tennant pictured as the serial killer Dennis Nilsen

David Tennant is the spitting image of serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen in first look at chilling new ITV drama Des

  • Nilsen is known to have brutally murdered at least 12 young men in London between 1978-1983
  • Des will also star Line of Duty actor Jason Watkins as Killing For Company author Brian Masters and Daniel Mays as Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay
  • Most of Nilsen’s victims were homosexual or homeless men who he would pick up in bars across London or on the street
  • After inviting them to his home, Nilsen would ply his victims with food and alcohol before killing them. His preferred method was strangulation. 
  • He was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and jailed for life in 1983, with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 25 years 
  • He died in prison on 12 May 2018 at the age of 72 

David Tennant has been transformed into the Scottish serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen in a first look at the chilling ITV drama.

The Doctor Who star, 48, will portray Nilsen, who is known to have brutally murdered at least 12 young men and boys in London between 1978-1983, in three part ITV series, Des. 

In a first look image from the new series, an unrecognisable Tennant bears a haunting resemblance to the serial killer as he posed for his police mugshot, with hair parted on the side and wearing spectacles. 

Terrifying: David Tennant (pictured) has been transformed into the Scottish serial killer and necrophile Dennis Nilsen in a first look at the chilling ITV drama


Chilling: The Doctor Who star (L), 48, will portray Nilsen (R), who brutally murdered at least 12 young men and boys in London between 1978-1983, in three part ITV series, Des

The project will also star Line of Duty actor Jason Watkins as Brian Masters, who wrote iconic book Killing For Company on the murderer, and Daniel Mays as Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay. 

ITV’s head of drama, Polly Hill said: ‘This 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.’

‘David Tennant is going to be brilliant as Nilsen and, with Daniel and Jason, this has an incredible cast.’    

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.’

Transformed: ITV’s head of drama said: ‘David Tennant is going to be brilliant as Nilsen and, with Daniel and Jason, this has an incredible cast’


Portrayal: The project will also star Line of Duty actor Jason Watkins as Brian Masters (R), who wrote iconic book Killing For Company

Written by Luke Neal, Des is based on material from Killing For Company, which included conversations with twisted Nilson, whose nickname was Des. 

It is currently in development with filming about to commence and the series likely to air next year.

Star: Line of Duty star Daniel Mays will play Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay

The murders all took place in the two North London addresses in which former civil servant Nilsen resided between 1978 and 1983.

Described as a loner, he became known as the Muswell Hill Murderer, as he committed his later murders in the Muswell Hill district of North London.  

Most of Nilsen’s victims were homosexual or homeless men who he would pick up in bars across London or on the street.

After inviting them to his home, Nilsen would ply his victims with food and alcohol before killing them. His preferred method was strangulation.

Haunting: Described as a loner, Nilson became known as the Muswell Hill Murderer, as he committed his later murders in the Muswell Hill district of North London (pictured)

Evil: The murders all took place in the two North London addresses in which Nilsen resided between 1978 and 1983 (pictured 1983 at Highgate Magistrates Court)

Once dead, he dismembered their bodies by dissecting them in his house. In his first address, Melrose Avenue, he buried their remains in the garden. In Cranley Gardens however he was forced to take other measures.  

Once arrested he told police how he boiled the heads of his victims in a large cooking pot to dispose of their brains.

He would cut up the rest of their bodies and store them in plastic bin bags at the property. When the stench of their rotting corpses became stronger, he tried to flush their limbs down the toilet and drains.

Serial killer: Most of Nilsen’s victims were homosexual or homeless men who he would pick up in bars across London or on the street before strangling them to death

This caused a large blockage in the pipes. Seemingly oblivious to risk, Nilsen audaciously complained to a waste company about the blockage and asked for it to be resolved because he and other residents were suffering as a result.

When a Dyno-Rod worker arrived at the property in 1983 to unblock them, he discovered what appeared to be flesh and fragments of bone when he opened a drain cover outside the property.

The following day, after inspecting another section of pipe, he and his supervisor discovered what they thought were bones of a human hand. 

They alerted police who arrested Nilsen as he returned home from work. While in custody he admitted to killing at least 15 people.  

Shocking: After inviting them to his home, Nilsen would ply his victims with food and alcohol before killing them. His preferred method was strangulation (pictured 1983)

A controversial Central TV documentary Murder in Mind featured extracts from an interview Nilsen gave in Albany Prison, Isle of Wight, in 1993.

Killer: He was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and jailed for life in 1983

Describing how he liked to dress the bodies in Y-Fronts and vest, then undress them, he said he enjoyed the feeling of power when he carried their limp bodies.

He said he was physically sick after cutting the innards from some of his victims to tackle ‘the smell problem’.

‘In the end it was when there were two or three bodies under the floorboards that come summer it got hot and I knew there would be a smell problem,’ he said.

‘I knew I had to deal with the smell problem. I thought ‘What would cause the smell more than anything else?’

‘I came to the conclusion it was the innards, the softer parts of the body, the organs, things like that.

‘On a weekend I pulled up the floorboards. I found it totally unpleasant. I got blinding drunk so I could face it.

‘I started dissection on the kitchen floor. I would then go and be sick outside in the garden.’     

He was convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and jailed for life in 1983, with a recommendation he serve a minimum of 25 years.     

He died in prison on 12 May 2018 at the age of 72.

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