Get into Slow Horses on Apple TV+ with this glossary of spy slang
There’s nothing quite like discovering a truly rich and deep source of entertainment – like a dark and fun TV series that you discover is made up of a whole range of captivating books that you at least strive read. Such is the case with slow horses on Apple TV+, adapted from a series of spy novels by Mick Herron.
The dozen books and ensuing TV show stem from a complex world of spy rings with Cold War underpinnings leading in and out of MI5. It is the UK’s main security agency, much like the FBI in the US. In the story, a dysfunctional team of MI5 agents relegated to “Slough House” find themselves embroiled in matters of national security, often at odds with the early leadership of M15.
Even if you have a good ear for British and European accents, you may still be confused by the jokes, shop talk, and slang coming out of the characters’ mouths. Fortunately, there are useful reference documents, such as a whole glossary of terms.
spy write fansite: Mick Herron swamp house — a glossary (and more)
Jeff Quest manages spy write, a site dedicated to spy fiction and non-fiction in film, television, and book form. It features an entire Mick Herron – Slough House section. It includes a list of all the books in order of release, news related to the show, a podcast, and most importantly, a glossary.
The glossary is made up of approximately 110 terms. They cover characters, settings, and slang terms you might come across while reading or watching.
Each glossary entry has initials at the end of the book in which the reference first appeared (for example, SH for slow horsesDL for dead lionsSS for scary streetLR for London Rules, RT for real tigers, TLDL for The Last Dead Letter and CT for The catch – just to identify those in the example terms below).
The glossary is an impressive resource that you can refer to over and over if needed. It covers a lot.
Among the characters you meet, such as the main ones played in the series by Jack Lowden, Gary Oldman and Kristin Scott Thomas, respectively (and many more):
Cartwright River [Lowden] – Young, white, blond hair, gray eyes and a mole on his upper lip. Budding super spy/spy royalty/screwed up. In the first book, his failed call about a potential terrorist incident landed him on the slow horses where he has been trapped ever since. (HS)
Lamb, Jackson [Oldman] – The famous, or infamous depending on who you ask, Cold War spy. A Cold Warrior whose closest contact with the PC was turning on a computer. I’ve never found a nap not worth taking, a burp not worth belching, or a fart not worth letting go. The unlikely creator and leader of Slough House. Worked as a mirror man in Berlin during the Cold War. (HS)
Taverner, Diana aka “Lady Di” [Scott Thomas] – The senior management of MI5. I was going to call her intriguing, but since everyone in these books seems intriguing in one way or another, that doesn’t quite seem fair. Better, perhaps, to elevate the plot to an art form. She keeps a finger on all the MI5 plotters in the hope that one of them propels her to the highest position. The iron fist of MI5 who is missing his velvet glove. (HS)
In important places…
Slough House – Located on Aldersgate Street right next to Barbican Station in London. It was created at the request of Jackson Lamb after doing the dirtiest work for MI5. (HS)
Regent’s Park – The main location of MI5. The holy grail for all slow horses. (HS)
Under the terms of the exchange within MI5 of the novels…
Black Ribbon – MI5 uses black ribbon to tie closed cases. Also used as a euphemism for sending people to secret black sites in Europe, which is rumored to free MI5 from internal and external personnel issues. (L/R)
Dentists – MI5 interrogators who go to work in the deniable basement interrogation rooms. (DL)
The Dogs – MI5’s internal investigation unit. They keep MI5 employees in line and sweep their mistakes under the rug. Don’t end up downstairs in one of their “interview” rooms. (HS)
Stoats – Observers. Agents monitoring a target. (SS)
London Rules – The Rules of Survival in the MI5 Bureaucracy –
Rule 1. “Cover your ass.” (HS)
Rule #2. “[F]or force others to take you on your own terms. And if they didn’t like it, stay ahead of them until they like it. (L/R)
Rule #3. “[A]always stay away from shit. (TC)
In authentic terms of commercial craftsmanship and remnants of the Cold War era…
Cold body – A set of ready-to-use, rock-solid identification papers. Usually created years before they were needed. (L/R)
Gray Books – Also known as “whackjob files”. The files the government keeps on all the crazy conspiracy theories. (RT)
Mirror-man – A sort of spy supervisor who receives updates from agents on encounters with the opposition. (TLDL)
Moscow Rules – The rules of survival in the Moscow Cold War, the main one being – “Watch your back”. See here for more. (HS)