Starting tonight on ITV is brand new crime drama Des – the story of prolific serial killer Dennis Nilsen who murdered at least 12 men and boys in north London before his arrest in 1983.
Based on Brian Masters’ biography of Nilsen, Killing for Company, Des looks at the events which occurred after Nilsen confessed to the murders and the police’s race against time to identify all of the killer’s victims to ensure his arrest.
The three-part drama also looks at the chilling story through the lens of author and academic Brian Masters (played by Jason Watkins), who interviewed Nilsen for a biography whilst in prison – but who is the real life Masters and where is he now?
Here’s everything you need to know about Brian Masters.
Who is Brian Masters?
Brian Masters is an academic and author, who spoke extensively to Nilsen whilst he was in prison and as a result, wrote the killer’s biography Killing for Company – on which the ITV series is based.
Masters, who had previously written about French writers and British aristocracy, began corresponding with Nilsen shortly after his arrest in February 1983.
Although the academic had never been interested in the minds of serial killers in the past, he was fascinated by Nilsen and how “an articulate and hard-working employment agency officer should secretly pursue the gruesome task of strangling, drowning and dismantling the bodies of total strangers”, he told The Sun.
Masters, who is gay himself, was also interested in the public’s reaction to the case and the press’ portrayal of it, as some headlines were linking the London gay scene with murder.
Masters began writing to Nilsen, who was on remand at Brixton Prison, and the two exchanged correspondence for months, while Masters visited Nilsen in prison where the killer would “talk at” the academic rather than with him.
He described Nilsen as witty, quick-witted and manipulative during their discussions, and said that he never “felt the slightest unease” whilst chatting to him.
Masters met with Nilsen for eight months before writing Killing for Company in 1985, and continued to visit the serial killer in prison for ten years after his arrest, until Nilsen ceased contact with him after hearing Masters comparing him to US murderer Jeffrey Dahmer on the BBC Radio 4.
Who plays Brian Masters in Des?
Speaking about his character, Watkins said: “He was interested in the psychology of Nilsen and what makes an individual commit such horrific crimes.”
“Some of the headlines were mixing up the London gay scene with murder and somehow being homosexual was possibly linked to the salaciousness of the crimes committed.
“It was inferred in some of the headlines that being homosexual was a dysfunctional thing and might possibly lead you to commit terrible crimes. He was appalled, quite rightly, by this atmosphere within the press. He wanted to right a wrong.”
Where is Brian Masters now?
Masters went on to write the bibliographies of various other serial killers, including Jeffrey Dahmer and Rosemary West, and published his autobiography, Getting Personal, in 2002.
The now-81-year-old acted as a consultant on the three-part series and hopes that the reflective viewer will “count his humility, the limit of his understanding of the human heart, and the perils that face every man as he learns about himself”.