Drama exploring crimes of ‘Muswell Hill murderer’ Dennis Nilsen to air tonight

A three-part drama will explore the crimes of a serial killer and necrophile known as the ‘Muswell Hill murderer’.

Dennis Nilsen, who live in Cricklewood after moving to London, murdered at least twelve young men and boys between 1978 and 1983.

Des, starring David Tennant as Nilsen – who passed away in 2018 after spending 35 years in prison – will run from 9pm tonight (Monday) to Wednesday on ITV

The former soldier and police officer’s notoriety began in 1983 when he was arrested after human remains were found in the drains at 23 Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill, north London, where he lived.

Nilsen was then arrested and immediately confessed to having committed 15 or 16 murders since 1978. He was eventually convicted of six counts of murder and two of attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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The particularly grisly nature of Nilsen’s crimes meant he was front page news across the country; he remains one of the UK’s most notorious serial killers.

Now, two years after his death, his story is being told again, from two different angles – that of Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay, who was in charge of the case, and Brian Masters, who wrote the killer’s biography. Daniel Mays and Jason Watkins play Jay and Masters respectively.

The drama examines how Nilsen was able to prey on the young and vulnerable so chillingly successfully without being detected for five years. It highlights the police investigation and trial as well as the impact the media’s coverage had on the public’s perceptions of the victims, raising questions of just how far we’ve come since then.

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“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,” explains Polly Hill, ITV’s head of drama. “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.”

Executive producer Kim Marvell adds: “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.”

The impressive supporting cast includes Ron Cook, Chanel Cresswell, Barry Ward, Branagh Waugh, Lex Shrapnel and Ben Bailey Smith.

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And anybody who wants to explore the story further, on Thursday, ITV is broadcasting the documentary The Real ‘Des’: The Dennis Nilsen Story, which focuses on the killer’s personality.

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