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David Tennant's killer drama Des breaks HUGE ratings record for ITV

A record number of people have been watching the new ITV drama...

David Tennant has left the nation gripped with his portrayal of serial killer Dennis 'Des' Nilsen in his new ITV drama.

In fact so many people tuned in for the first episode of Des that it has already broken ratings records for the channel.

Des ITV sees David Tennant as killer Dennis Nilsen

David Tennant's Des has broken ITV viewing records (Picture: ITV) (Image credit: ITV)

The first two episodes of the new three-part ITV drama aired on Monday and Tuesday this week, with the final instalment airing tonight at 9pm - see our TV Guide for full listings.

Topping the charts 

Monday night's episode saw a staggering 5.4 million people turning in, making Des the biggest drama debut since Sheridan Smith's Cleaning Up in 2019.

The show also topped ITV drama, Quiz, which debuted at 5.3 million and told the story of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire cheating scandal.

More: How to watch All Creatures Great and Small online anywhere in the world 

Des explores how the horrific crimes of Scottish-born job centre worker Dennis Nilsen were uncovered in February 1983.

Nilsen with Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay (Line of Duty’s Daniel Mays) in ITV's Des

Nilsen with Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jay, played by Line of Duty’s Daniel Mays (Picture: ITV) (Image credit: ITV)

The gruesome story unravelled when the police were called to his North London home after human remains were found in a drain.

But instead of trying to cover up his crimes, Nilsen, then 37, calmly confessed to having killed "15 or 16" young men since 1978.

Nilsen was eventually sentenced to life in prison for six murders and two attempted murders.

Making a drama 

The ITV drama explores the case through the eyes of biographer Brian Masters, who interviewed Nilsen for his book, Killing for Company, which partly inspired the series.

Speaking about the research he did for the role of Nilsen, David Tennant told us: "I met people involved in the case and people who knew him.

Nilsen (David Tennant) with Brian Masters (Jason Watkins) in Des

Nilsen (David Tennat) with his biographer Brian Masters, played by Jason Watkins (Picture: ITV) (Image credit: ITV)

"You don't want to do an impression but I did spend time studying him and listening to his voice, trying to think myself into that space.

"We were careful not to make this sensationalist, it's memorialising the victims.

"I'd have had reservations if we were presenting a gothic horror piece, but this is cool and responsible. It's not The Silence of the Lambs."

Des concludes tonight on ITV at 9pm. 

Claire Crick
Claire Crick

Claire is Assistant Managing Editor at What To Watch and has been a journalist for over 15 years, writing about everything from soaps and TV to beauty, entertainment, and even the Royal Family. After starting her career at a soap magazine, she ended up staying for 13 years, and over that time she’s pulled pints in the Rovers Return, sung karaoke in the Emmerdale village hall, taken a stroll around Albert Square, and visited Summer Bay Surf Club in sunny Australia. 


After learning some tricks of the trade at websites Digital Spy, Entertainment Daily, and Woman & Home, Claire landed a role at What’s On TV and whattowatch.com writing about all things TV and film, with a particular love for Aussie soaps, Strictly Come Dancing and Bake Off


She’s interviewed everyone from June Brown — AKA Dot Cotton — to Michelle Keegan, swapped cooking tips with baking legend Mary Berry backstage at the NTAs, and danced the night away with soap stars at countless awards bashes. There’s not a lot she doesn’t know about soaps and TV and can be very handy when a soapy question comes up in a pub quiz! 


As well as all things soap-related, Claire also loves running, spa breaks, days out with her kids, and getting lost in a good book.