Is ITV's Des based on a true story?

15 September 2020, 20:30

Des on ITV is based on the serial killer Dennis Nilson
Des on ITV is based on the serial killer Dennis Nilson. Picture: ITV

Who was Dennis Nilsen, what happened to him and is he still alive? Here's what we know...

David Tennant has transformed into serial killer Dennis Nilsen in ITV's new drama Des.

The three-part series tells the story of Nilson’s victims through the eyes of three different men.

But what is the true story behind Des and is Dennis Nilson still alive?

Read More: How many episodes are there of ITV crime drama Des?

Is ITV's Des based on a true story?

Yes, the series tells the true story of serial killer Dennis Nilson who is thought to have murdered up to 15 boys and young men in London from 1978 to 1983.

David Tennant is playing Dennis Nilson in Des
David Tennant is playing Dennis Nilson in Des. Picture: ITV

The true crime series is based on the book Killing for Company by Brian Masters which focuses on the victims of Nilson.

It is told through the eyes of three men – Nilsen, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay and biographer Brian Masters.

Read More: Des cast: Who stars in the ITV drama and where have you seen them before?

What happened to Dennis Nilson?

Dennis Nilson was eventually caught by DCI Peter Jay in 1983.

He was convicted for six murders and two attempted murders and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He later died from a blood clot following a surgery complication in 2018 aged 72.

Speaking about the new series, ITV says: “Des will explore how a man like Nilsen was able to prey on the young and vulnerable in 1980s Britain.

“The series will not only highlight the police investigation and trial but also the effect of the media coverage on public perceptions of the victims at the time, raising questions of just how far have we really come since then.”

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David Tenant is leading the cast, playing Dennis Nilsen, while he’s joined by Daniel Mays as DCI Peter Jay, Jason Watkins as Brian Masters, as well as Ron Cook and Faye McKeever.

Speaking about David playing the role of Dennis, ITV's Head of Drama Polly Hill said: "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."

Des tells the story of Dennis Nilson's victims
Des tells the story of Dennis Nilson's victims. Picture: ITV

Dr Who star David has also spoken out about his new role, saying he is thankful Nilsen is not alive to see the series.

Speaking to press ahead of the series, 49-year-old David said: “After he was arrested, Dennis Nilsen became obsessed with the legend of ‘Des’ – the reputation that he left behind.

“I would hate for this to go out and for him to be sitting in some cell somewhere imaging we were in any way glorifying him. I’m sure he would have complained about what we said and everything we did.

“At the same time, he would have been rather smugly pleased he was on television. I think it’s right and proper it’s transmitting after he’s gone.”

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