Slow Horses is one of the most talked-about TV shows of 2022. The first season of the Apple TV+ spy thriller, based on the novels by Mick Herron and starring Gary Oldman as a cranky, flatulent MI5 boss in charge of a group of misfit agents, has deservedly been on the business end of countless glowing reviews, with a second series already in the pipeline.
But we couldn’t help noticing what looked like a cheeky and very obscure Marillion reference dropped in a couple of the episodes – an Easter Egg that will have bypassed all but the most eagle-eyed fans.
The show’s plot centres around the kidnapping of a young British-Asian man by a bunch of white supremacists. In one scene roughly 23 minutes and 30 seconds into the second episode, the right wing thugs gather round a laptop screen to watch a news report on the crime.
The report cuts between real-life ITV news presenter Tom Bradbury and a fictional reporter standing outside New Scotland Yard in London. The latter is played by actor Joseph Thompson, but that’s not what caught our attention. No, what made us hit pause on our remote control was the name of the reporter: Derek Rothery. The same character makes a second appearance in the season’s sixth and final episode.
As every Marillion fan knows, the band were fronted throughout much of the 80s by singer Fish – whose real name is Derek Dick. Similarly, their long-serving guitarist is Steve Rothery. Derek Dick, Steve Rothery? Derek Rothery?
Of course, it could all be a coincidence, or maybe the result of a Random TV Character Name Generator. And that’s what we thought, until we checked out the credits at the end of the show.
It turns out that the two episodes featuring Derek Rothery were written by British comedian and writer Will Smith, a man whose love of Marillion runs so deep that he even called his 2005 stand-up tour Misplaced Childhood after the band’s 1985 concept album of the same name.
Prog actually spoke to Will a few years ago about his love of prog in general and Marillion in particular.
“For me, prog starts with Marillion,” said Will, who also starred in brilliant political comedy The Thick Of It and co-wrote episodes of the Emmy Award-winning Veep. “Growing up in St Clement, Jersey, Clutching At Straws was my first Marillion record. Sugar Mice was the song that I really connected with and it became one of my all-time favourites. Clutching At Straws came out of nowhere – so unlike other pop music. No one was playing keyboards like Mark Kelly back then, it was all fake horn stabs. The keyboards had riffs, melodies. I was learning piano so there might have been a bit of, ‘Oh, I can be in a band.’ Also, I was a wordy, bookish child studying English and no one else was writing lyrics like Fish.
“What cemented my endless love was when they came and played my local leisure centre. I still have my ticket and the setlist. I got there at three in the afternoon and ended up in the front row. Afterwards, me and my friends Simon and Danny wandered around in a daze. We walked back to my house and on the way went past the Hotel de la Plage, where important people usually stayed. We hung out until we saw Marillion’s van pull up. Then we saw Fish and he said hello and told us he was going to go inside and get pissed.”
So there you go. Of course, it could still be a coincidence but we’d bet our original Garden Party 7” picture disc that it isn’t. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more prog-related shout-outs in Season 2 of Slow Horses.