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ITV drama tells the story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen

By David Porter

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Des a true-crime drama focusing on one of the most infamous criminal cases in UK history, Dennis Nilsen comes to ITV on Monday in a new three part drama which will be shown on consecutive nights at 9pm.

Known as the ‘kindly killer’, Nilsen (David Tennant) was born and brought up as youngster in Fraserburgh and Strichen before joining the army aged 16 where he served in the Army catering corps for 11 years.

Des stars David Tennant as Fraserburgh born serial killer Dennis Nilsen.
Des stars David Tennant as Fraserburgh born serial killer Dennis Nilsen.

On his discharge he progressed through several jobs including as a police officer with the Metropolitan police before taking up a position in the civil service.

It was during his time as a civil servant that he would spent five years murdering boys and young men he met on the streets of Soho from 1978 to 1983.

He would meet and befriend these men before offering them food or lodgings for the evening back at his North London flat.

His victims were often homeless or living off grid, having slipped through the cracks of 1980s society and were therefore welcoming of this stranger’s apparent generosity.

When he was finally caught on February 9, 1983, Nilsen had murdered a total of fifteen men over a period of five years, making him Britain’s most prolific serial killer of the time.

After his arrest, Nilsen was astonishing in his honesty: admitting outright to all fifteen murders in the police car outside his flat.

But infuriatingly for the investigating detectives, he couldn’t remember any of his victims’ names.

With no apparent motive, inconclusive forensic evidence and most of Nilsen’s victims living off-grid, the police started the biggest manhunt investigation in UK history.

This time not for the murderer, but for the murdered.

The story is told through the prism of three isolated men - a detective, a biographer, and Nilsen himself.

While Detective Peter Jay (Daniel Mays) and the police investigation’s attempt to get justice for as many victims as possible provides the narrative and emotional spine, the relationship between Nilsen and his biographer Brian Masters (Jason Watkins) allows us to delve into the mind of one of the most emotionally elusive serial killers the world has ever seen.

The drama is followed on Thursday at 9pm by The Real 'Des': The Dennis Nilsen Story

This new one-off hour long documentary explores the personality of Dennis Nilsen,

Narrated by the star of Des, David Tennant and timed to follow on from it, this documentary features insight from experts who attempted to get inside the mind of the murderer including criminologist David Wilson, who interviewed and corresponded with Nilsen over several decades.

Featuring new material and previously unseen archive, along with interviews with victims' families, the documentary will also include footage from an astonishing and infamous interview Nilsen gave at Albany Prison in 1992.

The programme documents how Nilsen joined the army in 1961, eventually going on to become a police officer, and then a civil servant, which is when he began his gruesome spree, first at his flat in Melrose Avenue in Cricklewood, London and later at Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill.

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