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BBC One announces eight-part series The Serpent

BBC One has commissioned a new eight-part drama series The Serpent, a brand new original drama written by Richard Warlow (Ripper Street) based on the phenomenal true story of how one of the most elusive criminals of the 20th century was caught and brought to trial. The series will be directed by Tom Shankland (The Missing) and produced by Mammoth Screen (Poldark).

Con man, escape artist, thief, master of disguise and psychopath, Charles Sobhraj was the chief suspect in the sensational unsolved murders of up to 20 young Western travellers across India, Thailand and Nepal through 1975 and 1976. Having slipped repeatedly from the grasp of authorities worldwide, by 1976 Sobhraj was Interpol’s most wanted man and had arrest warrants on three different continents.

When Herman Knippenberg, a junior diplomat at the Dutch Embassy in Bangkok, unwittingly walks into Sobhraj’s intricate web of crime, he sets off an extraordinary chain of events that will see these two diametrically opposed men engaged in a chase across the porous borders of the Asian Hippie Trail in its twilight years.

Writer Richard Warlow said, ‘I’ve been hoping for this news since Tom Shankland first told me the tale of Herman Knippenberg’s pursuit of Charles Sobhraj across the nexus points of the Hippie Trail. That the story happens to be entirely true is a gift. I don’t think I could ever invent the corrupt magnetism of Sobhraj’s evil charisma, nor the everyman’s decency with which Knippenberg – now our friend and collaborator – brought some measure of justice to those who went to seek new horizons but never returned.’

Director Tom Shankland commented, ‘Bringing the lost era of the hippie trail back to life has been a dream of mine, ever since I first went travelling in Asia and heard the name ‘Charles Sobhraj’. Before mobile phones, before the internet, a generation of idealistic kids set out on an iconic overland journey from Istanbul to Kathmandu in search of wild adventures. Some of them had their minds expanded forever and some found a monster waiting in paradise. I want to give a voice to those brave kids who set out with big dreams but never made it home.’

Preethi Mavahalli, Executive Producer at Mammoth Screen, added, ‘We have spent several years researching and collecting the first-hand testimony of the brave survivors who helped unravel Sobhraj’s dark web of deceit, crime and murder. Now we can finally tell this truly stranger than fiction story of the so-called Serpent, one of the most elusive killers of all time, and Herman Knippenberg’s quietly obsessive pursuit to catch him. We couldn’t ask for better than our all-talented team of Richard Warlow and Tom Shankland at the helm!’

The Serpent will be executive produced by Richard Warlow, Tom Shankland, Preethi Mavahalli and Damien Timmer for Mammoth Screen, and Elizabeth Kilgarriff for the BBC.

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