Had he not been killed by the Soviets in 1925, Sidney Reilly may have lived to be 140 last weekend- March 24th to be specific. However, a 140-year-old man is very unlikely, especially with his lifestyle and habits, so something would’ve probably gotten him anyway.
Sam Neill as Sigmund Rosenblum, later renamed “Sidney Reilly” upon his entry into the British Secret Service
London, Spring 1901
Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
Episode: “An Affair with a Married Woman” (Episode 1)
Air Date: September 5, 1983
Director: Jim Goddard
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
This is the first we see of Reilly – still known as Rosenblum – back home in London after his first mission, the details of which will be covered in a later post. After an assignation with his prostitute mistress Rose, he resurfaces at a public meeting in Covent Garden where the British Secret Service is denying his own existence. In a cheeky fashion that recalls James Bond, he gets the best of everyone. Later, we also see him wearing the same suit for a series of meetings and the funeral of his aforementioned mistress.
This first episode, “An Affair With A Married Woman”, establishes the Sidney Reilly character as the suave and opportunistic secret agent he wanted for himself, rather than the selfish, greedy, and murderously brilliant war profiteer and bigamist he actually was.
What’d He Wear?
Prior to these scenes, we have only seen Reilly in the warm Azerbaijan city of Baku, wearing either one of his cream-colored suits or full white tie, neither of which would be appropriate for daily errands on a spring day in London where, naturally, it is raining. Instead, Reilly outfits himself in a very smart and very vintage three-piece gray suit.
Reilly’s suit also provides a good contrast to the others, the stuffier Englishmen running the government, still decked out in the 19th century-style frock coats and cravats. Reilly is younger and more fashion-forward, establishing his role within the series of developing a style of espionage that became necessary as the old world became the new.
The mid-gray sack coat is ventless with notch lapels. The lapels are small due to the high-fastening 4-button front, often worn Richmond-style – the contemporary name for only buttoning the top of a 4-button suit coat. There are 3 buttons on each cuff, separated by a seam from the rest of the coat sleeve. The breast pocket is slanted towards the center and the hip pockets are straight with squared flaps.
Additional details include a center seam down the back, swelled edges, and gentle waist suppression to accentuate the long, lean silhouette favored by men around the turn of the century.
The vest – or “waistcoat” since he’s a Brit – is a matching shade of mid-gray. It is very high-fastening due to the double-breasted layout, with 14 buttons (2 columns of 7 buttons) down the front. In addition, it has welted chest and hip pockets and – like the coat – swelled edges. An adjustable rear strap across the gray silk rear lining maintains the lean look of the era.
The vest is very distinctive and probably would have been something worn by a bit of a “dandy” back in the day. Nothing against Reilly – he was certainly an alpha male – but at this point in his career, he was probably more concerned with looking the part rather than acting it.
Reilly wears a silver pocket watch in his vest pocket, attached to a silver “single Albert” chain and a shield-shaped fob. Fob. Fob. Now that’s a fun word that unfortunately has gone the way of the fax machine and the Soviet Union.
Strangely, the fob was developed in the late 1700s when men carried two pocket watches, one on each end of the chain. Luckily, men quickly grew out of this “jewelry” phase and, by the early 1800s, only the fob remained at the other end of the chain.
The matching flat front trousers rise high on his waist with no rear pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms. They ostensibly have the fishmouth rear for Reilly’s unseen suspenders.
Reilly’s dress shirt is crisp and white with double French cuffs. He also wears a slim white club collar. Round silver two-sided cuff links and studs further accessorize the shirt. He wears a thin black necktie, tied with a small four-in-hand knot and kept in place with a pearl stickpin. The tie is barely visible over the small opening at the top of the vest.
If his tie is any indication, any of Reilly’s non-suit/shirt attire will be BLACK. That includes black leather laced dress shoes, black dress socks, and a black pocketsquare.
Heading outside? Reilly naturally wears a black homburg with a black band with his black leather gloves. If it’s especially cold, he adds his black double-breasted belted overcoat, which has peak lapels and velvet collars. The overcoat fastens with a 4-button (2×2 front) and is fitted with velvet cuffs. There are two flapped hip pockets and a flapped ticket pocket on the right side.
If it’s raining, and it’s London, so it’s raining, Reilly has his trusty black umbrella and black walking stick. Seriously, Reilly’s accessories are blacker than Kim Kardashian’s dating history.
Go Big or Go Home
We learn a lot about Reilly and his methods right off the bat. He is cunningly manipulative and, although the series addresses some hardships of his youth, we never get any clear commentary on whether or not his traits were a direct result of his troubled past. However, we do learn Reilly’s beserk button is pushed when a woman he cares for is mistreated. After the murder of Rose (spoiler alert – oops), he calmly but angrily begins aiming in every direction.
Reilly’s persistence pays off and he discovers Basil Zaharov, a real life shady arms dealer who may or may not have had actual ties to Reilly, was behind the murder. Hot-headed but not totally irrational, Reilly announces his plan to systematically destroy Zaharov’s network of spies, some of which are in very high places, until the true murderer is exposed. While a good strategic move, Reilly fails to take into account his prey’s own power. Let’s assume you’re a Mad Men fan…
In the first season’s penultimate episode, smarmy piece of wiener cheese Pete Campbell confronted series alpha male Don Draper with information about Don’s true past. Don tells Pete, “When you threaten someone in this manner, you should be aware of the fact that if your information is powerful enough to make them do what you want, what else can it make them do?” After this delivery (in Jon Hamm’s voice, no less), Pete shit himself.
Unfortunately, Reilly is the Pete Campbell in this situation. However, Reilly’s Don – Zaharov – sees Reilly’s potential and takes it upon himself to kill the actual murderer after putting through Reilly a scary but gentlemanly mock execution. Lesson learned for Reilly, who now has additional reason to view the world and life itself through cynical lenses.
That’s just one part of Reilly’s evolution in this episode. He also has sex with a young woman who was recently married to a stuffy and sickly English priest who looks to be nearing his 200th birthday. However, it was all just a guise to fool his Azerbaijani captors and escape with his oil report back to Britain. After she and her husband endured months of torture, they too are released and the wife, Margaret, has one heck of a story to tell. Reilly shows up, manages to sweep her off her feet, and convince her to marry him once her well-to-do husband dies. Presumably from the shock of his young wife’s infidelity (but in real life as a result of poison from Reilly and Margaret), the priest dies. Margaret inherits a fortune, which her new husband – Reilly – takes control of. They toast to the priest’s death with a chilled bottle of Lanson brut champagne.
How to Get the Look
Old school all the way. Pretty much everything about the suit screams vintage, so it would probably have to be a custom order if you wanted to replicate Reilly’s look. However, a modern take on it would probably look great if you can get your hands on a high-fastening mid-gray 3-piece suit.
- Gray wool sack suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted 4-button sack coat with notch lapels, slanted welt breast pocket, straight flapped pockets, 3-button cuffs on gauntlet, and ventless rear
- Double-breasted vest with 14-button high-fastening front, welted chest and hip pockets, and adjustable rear strap across gray silk
- Flat front trousers with plain-hemmed bottoms, no rear pockets, and fishmouth rear waist for suspenders
- White dress shirt with a detachable thin white club collar and French double cuffs
- Round silver cuff links and collar studs
- Thin black four-in-hand necktie
- Pearl tie stickpin
- Black leather balmorals/oxford shoes
- Black dress socks
- Silver pocket watch, worn in vest pocket and attached to silver “single Albert” chain and silver shield-shaped fob
- Black homburg with black grosgrain ribbon
- Black double-breasted belted overcoat with 4-button front, peak lapels (w/ velvet collars), flapped hip pockets, and flapped ticket pocket
- Black leather gloves
- Black umbrella
- Black walking stick
We don’t see his suspenders, but I’m sure that they too are BLACK.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the series.
This suit is only seen in the first episode, “An Affair with a Married Woman.”
Seldom have I met a woman of more fortunate circumstances… young, beautiful, and about to come into a lot of money.
Reilly is shown working for Commander Cummings, the series’ version of Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming, the eventual chief of MI6. At this point in time (1901), Cumming had little to do with the fledgling British Secret Service, which wasn’t formally in existence until 1909. Prior to that, the War Office had operated a counterintelligence division headed by William Melville and initiated in 1903, still two years after the series began.
At this point in history, Reilly was likely an informant in anarchist circles in London, reporting to Melville, who was the superintendent of Special Branch. His seduction and eventual marriage to Margaret had also taken place a few years earlier. As I mention in the post, it was most certainly a case of murder rather than the “accidental death” suggested by the series. I go into much more depth about this in my previous Reilly post.