Neil Forsyth made his name writing about one of Britain's youngest credit card fraudsters. His next book, adapted into a radio show beginning on Friday, invented an alter ego who tackled internet fraud. Neil told Jack McKeown about his delight at landing Hollywood actor Brian Cox for the main role.
Everyone with an email address will have received them. A message from someone, usually in an African country, frequently Nigeria, claiming that a huge amount of money is waiting for you, if you'll just send them your bank details.
Almost everyone sighs and deletes these messages, but a credulous few get taken in and are defrauded, often of a painfully significant sum. The scams may be crude, but they are run by hardened criminals. People you wouldn't want to mess with. Not unless you were a 62-year old former burger vendor from Broughty Ferry.
Bob Servant is the bumbling, irregular creation of Broughty Ferry writer Neil Forsyth. He used Bob as an alter ego to spark off a bizarre email and telephone correspondence with a number of Nigerian spammers.
The resulting series of increasingly wacky and strange conversations was collected in his second book, Delete This At Your Peril — The Bob Servant Emails (2007).
Neil's own history, while not quite as storied and chequered as Bob's is still fairly unconventional.
The 32-year-old grew up in Broughty Ferry and went to Dundee High School. He studied in Edinburgh then spent a couple of years doing office jobs in London. After some time in the States, Australia and New Zealand he returned to Edinburgh, where he got into the nightclub industry.
Then in 2006, Neil spotted a newspaper story about a fellow Scot, Elliot Castro, who had been jailed for credit card fraud. "It was clear that the newspaper didn't really have all that much of the story. It was all a bit muddled.
"So I addressed a letter to 'Elliot Castro, Wormwood Scrubs' and asked if he would talk to me. At first he wasn't keen, but eventually he agreed to meet up with me."
Other People's Money
Gradually, Neil won Elliot's confidence and the two collaborated on a book, Other People's Money, that told the full, amazing story of Elliot's exploits. When he was 16, Elliot worked out how to obtain other people's credit card details. For the next five years, he led banks and the authorities on a merry dance all over the world.
Living the life of his dreams, he stayed in five star hotels, went on cruises, bought designer clothes and generally had a ball on other people's money. Despite more than a million pounds passing through his fingers, when he finally was caught Elliot had barely a penny to his name and only a gold Rolex to show for one of the biggest spending sprees by any fraudster in history. He was exceptionally lucky to be given just a two-year sentence, of which he served half.
Other People's Money was an overnight sensation and led to numerous media appearances for both Neil and Elliot. Several newspapers gave the pair a rough ride for writing the book.
"They thought it was wrong that we should profit from Elliot's crimes," Neil explains. "But that's always something I protested against quite vigorously. Elliot was caught, and sentenced, and paid for his crimes."
Neil has spent the last couple of years living in New York, from where he penned his first novel — Let Them Come Through, a fictional account of a bogus psychic. He returned to Scotland a few weeks ago and is renovating his flat in Edinburgh.
The return to Scotland was brought on partly by the BBC's interest in adapting Bob Servant — the former cheeseburger and window cleaning magnate — for the radio.
The sequel to Delete This At Your Peril, Bob Servant — Hero of Dundee, is released in November and Neil will be doing a round of book reading and signing events.
While he was in New York, Neil completed a screenwriters' course and the screenplay for the radio show is his own. His time in New York also had the unexpected and unlooked for benefit of securing a higher profile name for the radio adaptation than Neil dared hope for.
"I was living in New York and went to watch a Dundee United game on TV," he explains. "I was telling a guy at the bar about Delete This At Your Peril and he asked who I'd like to play Bob Servant. I said I'd love it if Brian Cox took the role.
"By an extraordinary piece of good luck, he knew Brian and passed on a copy of my book. Brian really liked it, and agreed to play the part. He was finishing off RED with Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren then flew over to Scotland and spent a couple of days recording the series."
"Brian took on Bob's persona perfectly and was just fantastic in the role. We've also got comedians Felix Dexter and Sanjeev Kohli to play some of the parts as well. The cast is much, much better than I dreamed it would be."
- A six-part series, Bob Servant Emails begins on Radio Scotland on October 29 at 1.45pm. Neil will sign copies of Delete This At Your Peril — The Bob Servant Emails, and the sequel Bob Servant — Hero of Dundee, at Waterstones in Dundee on Saturday, November 6, at 11.30am.