‘Slow Horses’ follows the espionage antics of British intelligence agents who, for a variety of career-crashing mistakes, find themselves relegated to the decrepit Slough House branch of the MI5. Working under the accomplished but holistically crotchety Jackson Lamb (Gary Oldman), the young agents of Slough House often find themselves scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to espionage tasks (or, for River Cartwright, the literal bottom of a garbage bin).
The show is a masterful mix of dry British humor and tense spy thriller plots, which remain quite believable despite the characters’ atrocious work habits and environment. Could there be some real-life inspiration behind the one and only Jackson Lamb? Let’s find out.
Is Jackson Lamb Based on a Real MI5 Agent?
‘Slow Horses’ is based on a series of novels (sometimes called the ‘Jackson Lamb’ or ‘Slough House’ series) by mystery-thriller writer Mick Herron. The central character in the books, Jackson Lamb, is fictional, as are the rest of the characters that populate Herron’s series of novels. However, in an interview, the author revealed that Lamb is influenced by another fictional detective — Andrew Dalziel — from Reginald Hill’s popular ‘Dalziel and Pascoe’ series of novels.
Herron, who studied English at Balliol College, Oxford, published his first novel, ‘Down Cemetery Road,’ in 2003. The novel became the first in a series centered around an Oxford-based private detective named Zoë Boehm. In 2010, the ‘Slough House’ series of novels featuring Jackson Lamb started with ‘Slow Horses,’ on which the first six episodes of the Apple TV+ show are also based.
To dig a little deeper into Lamb’s inspiration warrants another look at Reginald Hill’s character that inspired the former. The ‘Dalziel and Pascoe’ series contains over 20 novels and centers around Yorkshire detectives Andrew Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, and Edgar Wield. The characters also appear in a BBC series, with Dalziel essayed by Warren Clarke (also known for his role as Dim in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’).
The author Reginal Hill himself was seemingly inspired by Golden Age crime writers of which his mother was a fan. The Golden Age of Detective Fiction, as it is referred to, was a period of classic mystery and detective fiction from the 1920s and 1930s. Hints of all these aspects seem to be reflected in Lamb’s character, who is brilliant but seems to be stuck in the wrong decade, his heyday well past. Additionally, the soul-sucking workplace that Jackson Lamb presides over seems to draw from Herron’s own desk job of over a decade, which also inspired him to write about those who did not have “stunningly successful” careers.
Ultimately, Jackson Lamb seems to be inspired by an amalgamation of experiences and characters that Mick Herron drew from to create his fictional abrasive Slough House boss. Lamb is clearly not based on a real MI5 agent, which is probably fortunate given his atrocious (and hilarious) conduct. In fact, Herron himself claimed to sometimes be shocked at how outrageous Lamb’s character is, calling him “unstoppable” and impossible to turn over a new leaf, which wouldn’t be believable anyway.
Read More: Where Is Slow Horses Filmed?