Where is ITV’s Des filmed? The real locations of Dennis Nilsen’s murders

The David Tennant show used a chilling recreation of Nilsen's former flat for filming.

Des David Tennant

Dennis Nilsen was arrested at his flat in Muswell Hill after human remains were found in the drains underneath the building.

Advertisement

The resulting news story shook the nation and dominated headlines, as the true extent of Nilsen’s crimes came to light.

The serial killer is known to have murdered at least 12 men and boys but was only ever convicted for six of those deaths.

He had claimed the total number was 15 after his initial arrest, but later claimed three of the murders he had confessed to were fabricated.

Nilsen, who insisted that police officers call him by the nickname Des, told the authorities that he couldn’t remember the names of his victims.

However, many were sceptical of this given the vivid detail in which he could describe his time with each of them, which usually ended in strangulation or drowning.

Nilsen preyed upon vulnerable boys and young men, luring them back to his flat with the promise of food and company, before viciously turning on them.

If the exact number of victims remains uncertain, it is known where these despicable crimes took place: Nilsen killed at least nine at 195 Melrose Avenue in Cricklewood, with the final three killings taking place at 23 Cranley Gardens.

Both properties are still standing to this day, but how did ITV drama Des bring them to the screen? Here’s everything you need to know.

Where is Dennis Nilsen’s real house?

Nilsen’s last address, 23 Cranley Gardens still exists today and has been re-sold many times in recent years. Over the course of two years, Nilsen lured back several men back to this flat before either strangling or drowning them to death. Nilsen would then dissect the victims and flush away the remains.

The real 23 Cranley Gardens
The real 23 Cranley Gardens

Likewise, 195 Melrose Avenue is still a residential property today. In 2016, the renovated two-bed flat was even valued at £493,000. It was here Nilsen killed his first victim, 14-year-old Stephen Holmes, on 30th December 1978. He disposed of his victims at this address by burning their bodies on a bonfire, covering the corpses with an old car tyre to mask the smell.

Where was Des filmed?

Being his last living space before a life behind bars, 23 Cranley Gardens features prominently in Des. It’s the house where Nilsen (Tennant) first crosses paths with DCI Jay Peters (Daniel Mays), and the setting of his arrest.

Rather than being filmed at the actually real-life property, however, Des used a house in the same area of London to double as the house’s exterior.

23 Cranley Gardens, as depicted in Des
23 Cranley Gardens, as depicted in Des

“We had to be mindful and respectful of filming in certain areas and locations,” explains Des director Luke Neal. “After struggling to find an exterior property that matched the distinctive look of 23 Cranley Gardens, we ended up shooting in the area of Crouch End. This was due to the fact the houses around Cranley Gardens shared the exact same architecture, which we couldn’t find in other London boroughs.”

Interior scenes of Nilsen’s flat were filmed in a studio, the set meticulously modelled on the real thing. “[We] went as far as having the original wallpaper replicated, and hunted down matches for almost all of the furniture Nilsen owned,” said Neal.

Dennis Nilsen's real bathroom (ITV)
Dennis Nilsen’s real bathroom (ITV)

Similarly, scenes set at 195 Melrose Avenue were not shot at that address: production instead used a property in Watford.

The scenes set in jail, with Nilsen awaiting trial, were filmed in the now-closed Holloway Prison. This isn’t where he was actually held, with Nilsen spending the majority of his time behind bars at HM Prison Full Sutton.

“Practically speaking, it was an incredibly challenging drama to make, as we were filming in modern London while trying to depict London in 1983,” explains Neal.

“The only location that we filmed in that was part of the real case were the halls and corridors of the Old Bailey, which feature in episodes two and three. The scale and grandeur of the Old Bailey is something you can’t replicate or find elsewhere, and offered us a chance to locate some of the drama within the actual reality of the case.”

Advertisement

Des premieres on ITV at 9pm on Monday 14th September. If you’re looking for something to watch tonight, check out our TV Guide.