Is Slow Horses Based on a True Story?

‘Slow Horses’ centers around a team of British intelligence agents who — for a bevy of interesting faux pas — find themselves relegated to the “lowly” Slough House branch of the MI5. Amongst them is agent River Cartwright, who gets increasingly frustrated by the less-than-glamourous tasks assigned to him (episode 1 finds him sifting through the garbage of a potential suspect).

The Apple TV+ series follows the antics of the Slough House agents — their lives made all the more miserable by their cynical boss Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman). However, amid all the dark humor, the plot remains grim, following the agents as they deal with heinous modern crimes. The mix of comedy, crime, and general workplace malaise has a ring of real-life authenticity, making us wonder just how much ‘Slow Horses’ is based on a true story. Let’s find out!

Is Slow Horses Based on a True Story?

No, ‘Slow Horses’ is not based on a true story. The spy thriller series is based on the novels of Mick Herron, with the first six episodes of season 1 being inspired by the eponymous novel. The subsequent six episodes are based on the sequel novel, titled ‘Dead Lions.’ The two books are part of Herron’s broader ‘Slough House’ series of novels, which center around Jackson Lamb. The author actually won the Crime Writers’ Association 2013 Gold Dagger award for ‘Dead Lions.’ He is also the Script Supervisor on the series and revealed that the scripts had been suitably updated to be closer to modern times.

Despite the largely fictional nature of the books and the series, there are some interesting places that the author of the former has drawn from. Herron had an office job for over a decade, working as a Sub-Editor on legal journals for many years. The series of thrillers he wrote before the Jackson Lamb series also wasn’t commercially successful, leading the author to easily empathize with those who didn’t have “stunningly successful” careers. This inspired the cast of professionally lackluster characters that populate his ‘Slough House’ series and the subsequent show based on the novels.

Herron used his daily commutes to work to ideate on his novels, usually penning his ideas when he got back in the evening. His job as a Sub-Editor also helped hone his prose-writing skills. Interestingly, Herron also revealed that Jackson Lamb is influenced by the central character, Andy Dalziel, from author Reginald Hill’s books. Hill, who passed away in 2012, was an English crime writer who won the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement in 1995.

Another author who heavily influenced Herron is John le Carré (full name David John Moore Cornwell), who was known for his espionage novels and actually worked with the British agencies MI5 and MI6. Moreover, the character of Molly Doran from the ‘Slough House’ series is inspired by Carré’s character Connie Sachs. His literary inspirations aside, Herron also acknowledged that despite being fictional, his books are invariably a reflection of reality. Of course, this is most obvious in the dreary work life, drudgery, and petty arguments seen amidst the characters that work at Slough House.

Having said that, the author also pointed out that real occurrences in the modern world can sometimes eclipse even the more audacious plot points of his stories. Comparisons between the character Peter Judd, an ambitious right-wing politician who also appears on the show, and British politician and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, have also been made. Interestingly, Herron was a student at Oxford at the same time as the politician.

Seeing the variety of sources that Herron finds inspiration in, it is clear why the show based on his books feels uncannily authentic at times. Having imbibed his personal experiences as a writer and Sub-Editor, as well as aspects of highly accomplished crime and espionage writers, into his work, Herron creates a world that is intriguing, entertaining, and feels real enough to not be dismissed as completely unbelievable. However, his books from the ‘Slough House’ series are fictional, and so is the show ‘Slow Horses,’ which is inspired by them.

Read More: Is Slough House a Real MI5 Branch?