Whether as Dennis Nilsen or Des, you probably know him as one of the most notorious serial killers in UK history – a man who killed up to 15 victims across London in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
But here’s the thing: despite his infamy, nobody seems to know a lot about his case. Most are not familiar with the story of how Nilsen was actually caught by the police. Or his lengthy confessions. Or the families that were left devastated by his crimes.
New ITV drama Des will seek to correct this, shining a light on Dennis Nilsen’s life and crimes with a host of top talent. This includes former Doctor Who star David Tennant, who’ll portray the titular mass-murderer.
But what other characters and acting talent will feature in the show? Here’s everything you need to know about the cast of Des.
David Tennant plays Dennis Nilsen
Dennis Nilsen – or ‘Des’, as he preferred to be called – was a Scottish Jobcentre worker who murdered up to 15 men across London from 1978 to 1983
“To the outside world, Dennis was a normal (even boring) individual,” says David Tennant. “But he had a very dark, secret life where he had murdered.”
“He took them to his flat, murdered them, and kept their bodies under his floorboards. Eventually, he would remove their bodies and burn their remains in his back garden.
“He finally got caught when he moved to his Muswell Hill flat – trying to flush human remains down the toilet.”
What else has David Tennant been in?
Tennant is perhaps best known for playing The Tenth Doctor in BBC’s Doctor Who from 2005 to 2010. He’s also starred in Broadchurch (as DI Alec Hardy), the Harry Potter film series (Barty Crouch Jr), Jessica Jones (Kilgrave) and Good Omens (Crowley).
Daniel Mays plays DCI Peter Jay
Jay was one of the lead investigators in the Nilsen case, directing a team of policemen at Hornsey Police Station in North London.
“Even with all of the experience that Peter Jay had as a policeman, he had never encountered anything of this magnitude and scale,” says Mays.
“The world’s media and the spotlight were on Peter himself to lead the investigation with his team of officers. It was a really pressurised, difficult and strenuous situation they had to go through.
DCI Jay was a real person, who passed away in 2017.
What else has Daniel Mays been in?
Mays has starred in Line of Duty (series corrupt copper Danny Waldron), Netflix drama White Lines (Marcus), Good Omens (Arthur Young) and Ashes to Ashes (Jim Keats). You might also recognise Mays from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Tivik, an ill-information rebel spy.
Jason Watkins plays Brian Masters
Brian Masters is a biographer and author. Before meeting Nilsen, Masters mainly wrote about the royals, such as the Duchess of Devonshire. However, after hearing about Nilsen case in the media, he reached out to the serial killer for an interview, eventually becoming his biographer.
“He was interested in the psychology of Nilsen and what makes an individual commit such horrific crimes,” explains Watkins.
“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.”
What else has Jason Watkins been in?
Watkins has become a regular face on British TV, enjoying both comedian and dramatic roles. You may recognise him from BBC satire W1A (as Simon Harwood), Trollied (Gavin Strong ), Line of Duty (series four’s Tim Ifield) and Netflix’s The Crown (Harold Wilson).
Watkins also earned the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor after playing the titular lead in 2014’s The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies.
Ron Cook plays DCS Geoffrey Chambers
Chambers is Peter Jay’s boss and the superior officer of the Nilsen investigation.
What else has Ron Cook been in?
With a career spanning four decades, Cook has plenty of screen credits to his name. These include Mr Selfridge (where he played accountant Arthur Crabb), Little Dorrit (Mr Chivery), Hot Fuzz (George Merchant) and 2004’s Thunderbird blockbuster (Parker).
Barry Ward plays DI Steve McCusker
McCusker was a real officer who worked on the Dennis Nilsen case, operating as Jay Peter’s second-in-command.
What else has Barry Ward been in?
The Irish actor has appeared in Whites Lines (as Mike Collins), The End of the F***ing World (Alyssa’s dad Leslie) and The Fall (Dr Patrick Spencer).
Chanel Cresswell plays Lesley Mead
Lesley was the partner of Graham Allen, the seventh of Nilsen’s victims to be identified.
What else has Chanel Cresswell been in?
Cresswell is perhaps best known for portraying Kelly in 2006’s This is England film and its TV spin-offs, This Is England ’86 (2010), This Is England ’88 (2011) and This Is England ’90 (2015). She won a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the latter show.
You may also recognise Cresswell as Katie McVey from Trollied.
Jay Simpson plays DS Chris Healey
Healey is one of the lead investigators on the Dennis Nilsen case.
What else has Jay Simpson been in?
Simpson is perhaps best known for playing Ian ‘Brookie’ Brooke in Foyle’s War. However, you might have also seen him in Black Mirror, Primeval, The Bill, Peep Show and 2005’s Pride and Prejudice film.
Ben Bailey Smith plays DC Brian Lodge
DC Brian Lodge is one of the police officers working on the Nilsen case.
What else has Ben Bailey Smith been in?
Yes, that really is Doc Brown. However, if you don’t recognise him as his comedy rapper alter ego, you might have spotted him in David Brent: Life on the Road, Fleabag, Doctor Who, Law & Order: UK, The Inbetweeners and CBBC show 4 O’Clock Club.
Des is coming to ITV. Find out what else to watch with our TV Guide.