Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly, shrewd British agent and anti-Bolshevik
London, Fall 1918
Series: Reilly: Ace of Spies
Episode: “After Moscow” (Episode 9)
Air Date: October 26, 1983
Director: Martin Campbell
Costume Designer: Elizabeth Waller
I consider Sidney Reilly to be one of the most fascinating and mysterious figures of the 20th century. There’s little consensus on when he was born, when he died, or how he exactly spent he spent the fifty-odd years in between, though his oft-exaggerated exploits as a shadowy agent of the British secret service has established his enduring reputation as “the Ace of Spies”, aided by his own memoirs and an excellent 1983 twelve-part mini-series starring Sam Neill in the eponymous role of the Russian-born adventurer.
Following his attempted coup to overthrow the Bolshevik government in Russia, the ninth episode depicts Sidney Reilly having journeyed home to London in time for the end of World War I. Though his career to date has been mostly mercenary in its alliances, Reilly’s experiences in Russia have embittered him against the Bolsheviks as he now dedicates his remaining years to joining anti-revolutionaries like the fiery Boris Savinkov.
In between marriages, Reilly’s life back in London also includes affairs with a gun-toting prostitute nicknamed “The Plugger” (Lindsay Duncan) as well as the more demure Caryll Houselander (Joanne Pearce), a young ecclesiastical artist whose depicted clairvoyance suggests her ability to foresee Reilly’s violent death in Russia.
While the existence of “The Plugger” may be lost to history, Caryll Houselander was indeed a real person, described by author Richard B. Spence as “a shy, gangly redhead fresh from a convent school” when the 18-year-old art student met Reilly—who was more than twice her age—through her émigré friends. In Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly, Andrew Cook writes that “Caryll was fascinated by art, mysticism, and Russia, and found herself immediately attracted to a man who seemed to embody all these.”
What’d He Wear?
During this brief sequence set during the fall of 1918, the Russian-born Reilly looks every bit the dignified Brit in his handsome tweeds, particularly the Norfolk jacket. Arguably the first “sport jacket”, this style originated in the eastern English county of Norfolk sometime in the late 19th century. A favorite among outdoor sportsmen, the symmetrically arranged Norfolk jackets suggest a military bearing, apropos the recently returned Captain Reilly as he calls upon Ms. Houselander.
Norfolk jackets are defined by their sporty characteristics such as patch pockets, box pleats, and a belted waist. Intended for sporting pursuits that often involved shooting (but also ranged from horseback riding to golf), the garment was originally tailored to be loose enough that it would not impede a shooter raising his arm to aim and fire a rifle or shotgun.
Reilly specifically wears a “half-Norfolk” variation, which lacks some (but not all) defining characteristics of a Norfolk. In this case, Reilly’s jacket has only a half-belt, sewn to the body of the jacket across the back and fastening right-over-left through one of two front buttons. Instead of the box-pleated strips extending down each side of the front and back, his jacket boasts a pair of button-through patch pockets over the chest, in addition to the hip-positioned patch pockets that each close through a single-button flap. The jacket does have double sets of shorter pleats on each side, extending from the top and bottom of the belt on the jacket’s front and back.
Though not a complete suit as the contrasting trousers would prove, Reilly evidently had a high-fastening waistcoat made from the same light russet-toned brown tweed as the jacket, as the top can be glimpsed over the jacket’s buttoning point. The jacket’s notch lapels are welted around the edges, adding an additionally sporty touch as they roll to the top of the high-stance two-button front, which Reilly wears fully buttoned with the lowest of the two positioned under the self-belt. The sleeves appear to be finished with two buttons on each cuff.
Reilly wears a plain white cotton shirt with double (French) cuffs and a detachable starched white collar, likely attached via gold studs through the front and back of the neckband. The pinned collar is secured by a gold safety-style pin that pushes out the knot of his black tie with its low-contrast burgundy, navy, and sage all-over paisley print.
Reilly’s trousers contrast enough to inform us that he isn’t wearing a full Norfolk suit, instead effectively contrasting his tailored top half with tonally coordinated trousers made of taupe wool. Given the buttoned sport jacket with its full-skirted hem, we see little details of the trousers aside from the hand pockets and the turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms.
The cuffed bottoms break enough to show Reilly’s gray socks that continue the leg line of his trousers into his brown leather lace-up shoes.
In accordance with decorum and to combat the increasing chill of November in London, Reilly wears hat, coat, scarf, and brown leather gloves. His brown felt self-edged fedora with its matching grosgrain band would have been an emerging style in the years following World War I, effectively replacing the homburg and Lord’s hat as the semi-formal topper of choice with suits and sport jackets.
Reilly’s brown woolen coat has raglan sleeves and a dramatically drooping Prussian collar, to be fastened at the neck with a short tab that extends from under the left side of the collar to a coordinating button under the right side. The single-breasted coat has four buttons under a covered fly and closes with a self-belt around the waist, which separates the inverted box-pleat over the back and the long vent extending up the skirt.
Reilly also wears a burgundy foulard-printed scarf, ornately bordered but finished with solid burgundy on the fringed ends.
How to Get the Look
Though Caryll Houselander’s flat appears to be in the center of London rather than the country, Reilly dresses down for the casual visit in his well-cut tweeds, the jacket fashioned into a handsome “half-Norfolk” that forgoes the traditional pleats in favor of two added pockets, appointed with a matching waistcoat but odd trousers that undercut the formality of his white shirt with pinned collar and tie.
- Light russet brown tweed single-breasted 2-button half-Norfolk sport jacket with notch lapels, two button-through chest patch pockets, two button-flapped hip patch pockets, half-belt with button-closed front, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- White cotton shirt with detachable pinned collar and double/French cuffs
- Black multi-color paisley-printed tie
- Light russet brown tweed high-fastening waistcoat
- Taupe wool trousers with side pockets and turn-ups/cuffs
- Brown leather lace-up shoes
- Brown wool raglan-sleeved belted coat with large Prussian collar, 4-button fly front, and long single vent
- Burgundy foulard-print scarf
- Brown felt fedora with brown grosgrain band
- Brown leather gloves
- Gold tank watch with white square dial on black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the series.
I also recommend Andrew Cook’s Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly and Richard B. Spence’s Trust No One: The Secret World of Sidney Reilly, both published in 2002 and seeking to work through the many myths to learn the truth about this secretive but significant agent of the early 20th century.
There was also something else: passion. Life was lived at speed.