5.4 million viewers tune in to watch David Tennant’s chilling new ITV drama

True crime series starring Scottish actor as notorious serial killer Dennis Nilsen becomes ITV’s biggest drama launch of 2020.

David's Tennant's true-crime drama Des has become ITV’s biggest drama launch of the year – after an average of 5.4 million viewers tuned in to watch the first episode on Monday night.

The first instalment of the three-part mini-series, which follows the story of notorious Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen, peaked with 5.9 million viewers and was watched by almost a third of all watchers – 32% – across its slot, according to ITV.

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The series, which sees Bathgate-born Tennant give a chilling performance as Nilsen, concludes on Wednesday (16 September).

Dennis Nilsen, left, and David Tennant, right.

Des follow Angus-born Nilsen’s trial, which ended with his imprisonment for life in 1983.

Referred to as the ‘kindly killer’, Nilsen was a civil servant who 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 9 February 1983, Nilsen had murdered as many as 15 men over a period of five years, making him Britain’s most prolific serial killer of the time.

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.

Des is told through the prism of three isolated men – a detective, a biographer, and Nilsen himself.

In a recent interview, Tennant said he’s relieved Nilsen isn’t alive to tune in to the ITV drama, explaining that the serial killer became “obsessed” with the legend of ‘Des’ after his arrest.

“Whenever he slipped out of public consciousness, there was almost a sense that he wanted to get back into it,” he said. “That’s why I’m relieved he’s not alive.”

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“I would hate for this to go out and for him to be sitting in some cell somewhere imaging we were in any way glorifying him.”

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