David Tennant says serial killer Dennis Nilsen was ‘actually rather boring’

Actor stars as the man who murdered at least 15 young men in London during the late Seventies and Eighties

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 14 September 2020 07:34 BST
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Des trailer starring David Tennant

David Tennant has revealed that the most frequent impression he was given of notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen was that he was “actually rather boring”.

The Scottish actor portrays Nilsen in new ITV drama Des, about the man who murdered at least 15 young men in the late Seventies and Eighties.  

Nilsen was 37 when he was arrested at his north London home in 1983. He had been working at a Job Centre in Kentish Town.

“Of the few people I met who had personally known him, one of the most frequent descriptions seems to be that he was actually rather boring,” Tennant told the BBC.

“It certainly would seem that those who worked with him at the job office found him pleasant enough. Sometimes he would drone on a little, but there was certainly nothing extraordinary, apparently, about this man.”

Tennant explained that the ITV drama attempts to make sense of “who that human being is to the outside world, and link it up to this extraordinary private life at home, which had bodies rotting under his floorboards”.

Nilsen, known as the ‘Muswell Hill murderer’, is believed to have killed up to 15 men at his north London home during 1970s and 1980s
Nilsen, known as the ‘Muswell Hill murderer’, is believed to have killed up to 15 men at his north London home during 1970s and 1980s

Nilsen himself attempted to explain the motives behind his murders in letters to police, which were read at his trial.

“It would be better if my reason for killing could be clearly defined, ie robbery, jealousy, hate, revenge, sex, blood lust or sadism,” he wrote. “But it is none of these.”

Tennant, who studied footage from the time and spoke to people who knew Nilsen, said he believed the killer had become “obsessed” with his legacy after being caught.

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“Anyone who had known him at all, it seemed, said he was at best unremarkable and at worst bloody boring to be around,” he said. “And yet, If you read his own writings about himself, the self-aggrandisement and the narcissism is breathtaking.”

Des also stars Jason Watkins as author Brian Masters, who wrote a biography on Nilsen, and Daniel Mays as DCI Peter Jay.

It airs on ITV in three parts, from Monday 14 to Wednesday 16 September.  

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