ITV is developing Des, a three-part drama which follows the arrest and trial of serial killer Dennis Nilsen, known as Des. Written by Luke Neal and developed by Luke Neal and Lewis Arnold, the drama is based on material from the book Killing for Company by Brian Masters.
Told through the prism of three men — Dennis Nilsen played by David Tennant (Good Omens, Broadchurch), Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay played by Daniel Mays (Line of Duty, Temple) and biographer Brian Masters played by Jason Watkins (The Crown, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies) — the series will explore the personal and professional consequences of coming into contact with a man like Nilsen.
Nilsen 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 February 9, 1983, to investigate human fragments of flesh and bone clogging the drains, that the police realized they had a serial killer on their hands.
Dennis 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 from 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. 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.
The additional cast members include Ron Cook, Faye McKeever, Chanel Cresswell, Barry Ward, Tony Way, Bronagh Waugh, Laurie Kynaston, Ross Anderson, Ben Bailey Smith, Jay Simpson, Silas Carson, Stuart McQuarrie, Jamie Parker, Lex Shrapnel, Gerard Horan, Joel Morris, Jonathan Coy, Amy Booth-Steel, Ken Bones, Andrew Woodall and Amaka Okafor.
Polly Hill, ITV’s Head of Drama, 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.”
The series is produced by New Pictures (Catherine The Great, The Missing) in association with all3media international for ITV and executive produced by Willow Grylls, Kim Varvell, Charlie Pattinson, Elaine Pyke, Luke Neal, Lewis Arnold and David Tennant. Directed by Lewis Arnold and produced by David Meanti, Des was written by Luke Neal (episode 1 and 2) and Kelly Jones (episode 3).