‘Was it sponsored by Benson & Hedges?’: Viewers slam serial killer Dennis Nilsen’s drama … about smoking – after ITV’s three-part drama featured Des cigarettes in 46 scenes
- Viewers complained about the number of cigarettes smoked by characters
- Cigarette smoking features in 46 scenes of the three-part ITV drama Des
- They made up for 13 minutes and 47 seconds and some wondered if it was a record
In its grim drama about serial killer Dennis Nilsen, ITV did not shy away from the gruesome details of his heinous crimes.
But some viewers of Des were struck by the portrayal of a more mundane form of antisocial behavior – the amount of smoking displayed on the screen.
Both David Tennant, who played the mass murderer, and Daniel Mays, and the detective who set him up, were rarely seen without a lit cigarette in their hands.
Some viewers of Des were struck by the depiction of a more mundane form of anti-social behavior – the amount of smoking displayed on the screen
In fact, cigarettes were featured in 46 scenes, taking up 13 minutes and 47 seconds of screen time during the acclaimed three-part series. Viewers wondered if that was a record for a contemporary drama.
Set in 1983, more than 25 years before smoking was banned in workplaces in the UK, the acclaimed program depicted Tennant smoking 14 cigarettes as Nilsen.
Line Of Duty star Mays, who played DCI Peter Jay, lit 23 cigarettes, starting within five minutes of the series’ start.
Before the show aired, Mays said it had been important to him to provide a fully rounded picture of Jay, who died of cancer in 2018 at the age of 79. When I met Peter’s widow, she said he was taking 50 to 60 cigarettes. one day, so he was a very, very heavy smoker, ‘he said.
‘You can really imagine that he smoked even more under the pressure of that police investigation and with the eyes of the media on him. That was definitely a conscious choice I made to not be afraid of smoking on screen. ‘
In front of the camera, the actor smoked not tobacco, but “awful herbal stuff,” and received an award for “most cigarettes smoked on screen” by the director of the series.
While Nilsen, a former Doctor Who Tennant chain-smoked, made his way through a series of police interrogations and encounters with his biographer Brian Masters, played by W1A’s Jason Watkins, who smoked eight cigarettes.
John Sutherland, a professor of English at University College London, noted how DCI Jay ‘started smoking as a stress relief while Nilson smoked as something stylish, then to assert dominance – and, presumably, to hide the smell of rotting corpses ‘.
While Nilsen, former Doctor Who Tennant chain-smoked his way through a series of police interrogations and encounters with his biographer Brian Masters, played by W1A’s Jason Watkins (pictured), who smoked eight cigarettes.
But Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, defended the portrayal of smoking in the series.
He said, ‘Smoking was excessive at the time. I grew up a non-smoker and you expected to be enveloped in other people’s smoke when you entered a restaurant or on a plane. Every movie in a cinema was watched through a smoke screen. Looking back, I don’t know how we could bear it, but we had no choice. The non-smoker was the odd one out. ‘
Others wrote, ‘They can get gritty without the characters smoking in every scene,’ and ‘Just wondered if it was sponsored by Benson and Hedges. The only one who doesn’t smoke is Nilsen’s dog.