Spy drama Slow Horses is quickly becoming everyone’s favourite new spy thriller and its third season on Apple TV+ has been released to rave reviews.
It’s led by an excellent performance from an Oscar-winning Hollywood A-lister, a British rising star and was written by an author dubbed the successor to John Le Carre.
One more thing – Mick Jagger is such a big fan of the books all it took was a Zoom meeting during Covid and he wrote and performed the theme tune.
But while Slow Horses has been lauded by critics – its source material came close to being a flop.
Author Mick Herron released the first of his ‘Slough House’ novels in 2010, called ‘Slow Horses’ after its burnout MI5 agent characters.
Gary Oldman portrays the miserable head of Slough House, Jackson Lamb
Apple TV+ series ‘Slow Horses’ is based on Mick Herron’s Slough House novels
It was not until an editor picked up the book at a train station that Herron’s talent was finally recognised and his novel was republished two years later.
The first book then spawned an eight-novel series (named after the dumping ground for agents) and despite surpassing only two million sales worldwide, they were adapted by Apple TV+ in April 2022.
The latest installment in the series, ‘The Secret Hours’, was released on 12 September.
Herron has been compared by some to legendary spy fiction author Le Carre – but unlike the Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy author, he has no background in espionage.
In fact he worked as subeditor for a legal magazine before becoming a novelist and admits that due to his dislike of technology (he doesn’t have a smartphone) – he would not have been an asset to MI5.
He told the Guardian: ‘I’d have made an awful spy. I’m lacking in practical abilities. These days, most spying is done from a technological perspective – which I’d be no good at.
‘I don’t have a smartphone. I don’t have wifi.’
Gary Oldman is the star of Slow Horses as the repulsive but brilliant Jackson Lamb leading a band of blowouts and losers (or Slow Horses) in the rundown Slough House office.
The useless agents are supposed to do menial tasks and admin – but instead foil terror plots, uncover corruption and rescue each other from kidnappers.
Jack Lowden plays the problematically career-driven River Cartwright, whilst Kristin Scott Thomas portrays the deputy director-general of MI5.
Herron is ‘thrilled’ with the series – written by Will Smith – but admits that he did not picture Oldman in the lead role because he doesn’t see his characters.
He said: ‘I don’t have a picture of Jackson, I have a voice.’
Herron attributes the television show’s successes to the accuracy and attention to detail from the producers and writers, saying: ‘I’ve been absolutely thrilled by it.
‘I’ve been fortunate that the producers and writers were determined to bring the books to the screen rather than fillet them.’
‘There are bits I swear they took straight out of my head.’
Jackson Lamb’s is not the only important ‘voice’ in Slow Horses, another is the iconic bluesy drawl of Mick Jagger who wrote and sang the theme tune ‘Strange Game’.
But how do you bag one of the most famous rock stars of all time to perform the theme for your series?
Slow Horses composer Daniel Pemberton told director James Hawes that he wanted a British singer to perform the theme.
Hawes then told Pemberton of how he would love to land the Rolling Stones legend – but the pair never dreamed they would actually get him.
Pemberton recalled telling the director: ”Yeah. Great idea… there’s no way we’ll ever get Mick Jagger. Let’s not even bother.’
Slough House book series writer, Mick Herron, 60, said he would be an ‘awful spy’
Mick Herron has been compared to John Le Carre (Pictured) one of the most famous spy fiction novelists of all time
Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger performs the theme song for the TV adaption ‘Slow Horses’ called ‘Strange Game’
However, they gave it a try after music supervisor Catherine Grieves provided a connection to Jagger.
Pemberton then sent over an early draft of the soundtrack to the rock legend and got wind he might actually be up for it.
The director told Deadline: ‘We kind of got ‘Mick might be interested’ and then later received a reply saying that ‘Mick’s really interested now. Can you do a Zoom with Mick?’
The composer than sat-in on a ‘super surreal on a Zoom call with Mick Jagger’.
After the chat, Hawes and Pemberton were informed that he wanted to do the song as he was already familiar with Herron’s work.
‘He’s probably one of the best people I’ve ever worked with,’ said, Pemberton.
Jagger wrote the opening verse rand Pemberton’s ears perked up at the singer riffing the words ‘Strange Game.’
‘He just sang this line, and I was like ‘That’s the title!’, he said.
Pemberton added: ‘You get these moments where you’re like ‘Oh, my God, that’s it.’
‘So I grabbed that and repeated it a few times, and I was like ‘This is great – we got it!’ And he’s like ‘No, no, it’s not good enough. Let me re-sing it. Let’s rewrite it.’ And we just kept going backwards and forwards.
‘It’s one of those things I still cannot really believe what happened: co-writing a song with Mick Jagger?
‘He sounds amazing, and he sounds like Mick Jagger. And he’ll phone – I have half-hour phone conversations with him and I’ll be like, ‘This is really weird, chatting to Mick Jagger.’
Jagger said it only took him a ‘few pages of notes’ to work out what he wanted the song to be.
He told Variety: ‘It’s a quite popular series of books, so I knew what it was about
‘I knew the vibe really well, so as soon as [composer Daniel Pemberton] sent the track to me, I just dashed off a few pages of notes of what I thought it was about. It came very, very quickly, which is always a good sign’.
The rock legend added: ‘I just recorded it on my iPhone and sent it to him, and he loved it.
‘And then we had to do a bit of crafting, trying to get a chorus, calling it ‘Strange Game’ and trying to get the verses from the point of view of the main character.’
- Read Christopher Stevens’ four-star review of Slow Horses here.