Burt Lancaster as Felix Happer, eccentric oil executive
Scotland, Fall 1982
Film: Local Hero
Release Date: February 17, 1983
Director: Bill Forsyth
Costumes: Shawn Dale, Pip Newbery, and Penny Rose
I’m talking about the sky, MacIntyre. The constellation of Virgo is very prominent in the sky right now in Scotland. I want you to keep an eye on Virgo for me. Will you do that?
As Leo season transitions into Virgo season, Local Hero feels like the appropriate focus, given the curious astronomy-themed orders under which Knox Oil and Gas president Felix Happer (Burt Lancaster) sends underling “Mac” MacIntyre (Peter Riegert) to Scotland, urging him to keep watching the sky, particularly for comet activity under the Leo and Virgo constellations.
Local Hero was one of the final roles for Burt Lancaster, who made several more film and miniseries appearances before his death in October 1994. We first meet Felix Happer as he sleeps through a business meeting—as so many of us may wish to do, but only Happer can get away with, given his leadership of the company. The meeting centers around a planned oil refinery in Scotland and the decision to send someone to broker the $60 million deal, ultimately choosing Mac who—despite his Scottish-sounding surname—actually has Hungarian roots.
“What soon becomes clear to Macintyre is that Happer is less interested in the details of the deal on the ground than he is about what may take place in the sky above,” writes Margaret McMurphy for Vissiniti.
The ambitious company man Mac arrives in fictional village of “Ferness”, primarily filmed in Pennan on the Aberdeenshire coast, where he meets many of the colorful locals, including their local rep Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), mermaid marine researcher Marina (Jenny Seagrove), and aged beachcomber Ben Knox (Fulton Mackay), who actually owns the beach Mac hopes to purchase for the company and refuses to sell for any price. Finally, Happer himself arrives in Scotland to navigate the local resistance, determined to find an option that would satisfy all parties, including his own dream of operating an astronomical observatory.
Local Hero was nominated for seven BAFTAs, winning Best Direction for Bill Forsyth, who also wrote the BAFTA-nominated screenplay. Lancaster’s supporting performance was also nominated, as was Chris Menges’ cinematography, Michael Bradsell’s editing, Mark Knopfler’s memorable score, and the film itself.
What’d He Wear?
Whether out of sincerity, tact, or a blend of both, Felix Happer arrives in Scotland smartly attired in tweed, rather than the yuppified business suits that Mac had worn for his own arrival. The word “tweed” actually emerged from the Scottish word for twill (“tweel”), in reference to the diagonal weave used to construct this rough woolen fabric; in the early 1830s, London merchant James Locke had misinterpreted an order for “tweels” as a product near the River Tweed, and the corrupted designation soon superseded its original nomenclature.
Due to its rugged and reliable construction, tweed became a favorite cloth for sport jackets such as the belted Norfolk jacket that emerged among English sportsmen later in the 19th century. A full Norfolk jacket is characterized by front and black pleats and a full belt around the waist, followed by later variations like the “half-Norfolk” that sacrificed some traditional Norfolk detailing in favor of less prominent pleats and, typically, only a half-belt around the back.
Happer dresses for Scotland in a half-Norfolk jacket that resembles a standard sport jacket in the front but has the distinguishing back pleats and half-belt. Given the setting, the brown-and-cream nailhead-woven tweed is almost certainly a Harris tweed from the Scottish Hebrides rather than the Irish-made Donegal tweed or the Saxony tweed that originated in Germany.
Happer’s half-Norfolk jacket has notch lapels with straight gorges, rolling to a full three-button front that flatters Lancaster’s 6’2″ frame. The straight shoulders are padded with roped sleeveheads, and front darts shape the jacket to further flatter Lancaster, the former acrobat who retained his athletic silhouette even when pushing 70 during production of Local Hero.
As it’s a half-Norfolk rather than a full-Norfolk, the front design echoes regular sport jackets with its welted breast pocket and straight flapped hip pockets in lieu of pleats, belt, or bellowed pockets. The back is where the Norfolk-inspired details are presented, specifically the vertical box pleats that curve inwards from the shoulders, aligning parallel at mid-back and each looping over the half-belt, which is positioned about an inch above the crest of the single vent.
Happer wears a white cotton shirt detailed with a spread collar, front placket, and button cuffs. His brown soft woolen tie provides textural harmony with the rougher wool of his tweed jacket and cap.
Happer balances the jacket with a pair of darker chocolate-brown wool flat front trousers. The trousers’ lower rise produces the undesired “triangle” of white shirt fabric beneath the jacket’s buttoned point and the top of the trousers, but this befits a character of advanced age more interested in the sky than style. His belt is a lighter shade of brown that coordinates with his shoes.
Happer wears russet-brown leather monk shoes, a versatile style that Esquire‘s The Handbook of Style describes as “a true chameleon” appropriate for work and play, aptly worn in any but the most formal situation. “Devotees appreciate the monk’s superbly proportioned smartness and offbeat panache as well as its intermediate formality, registering somewhere between that of a slip-on and a lace-up shoe,” wrote Alan Flusser in his seminal volume Dressing the Man.
Apropos its name, these distinctive shoes with their buckled straps originated among 15th century friars in the Italian Alps and—according to Flusser—were popularized after the style was co-opted by a visiting English brother who had been presented with a pair. Monk shoes are typically equipped with either one or two straps that buckle across the vamp. Happer dresses his feet with the simpler single-strap monk shoes, detailed with a straight toe-cap and gold-finished side buckles. His socks are either black or a very dark brown.
- Allen Edmonds Plymouth Single Monk Strap in walnut brown (Allen Edmonds, $299)
- Florsheim Ravello Monk Strap Dress Shoes in cognac (Macy's, $125)
- Johnston & Murphy McClain Monk Strap Shoe in tan (Nordstrom, $165)
- Stacy Adams Desmond Leather Cap Toe Monk Strap Loafer in cognac (Nordstrom Rack, $79.97)
- Steve Madden Covet Monk Strap Shoe in cognac (Nordstrom, $125)
Happer wears a gold wristwatch with a smooth black leather strap, fluted bezel, and round white dial boasting a unique sub-register at 6:00 that appears to be a moon-phase complication, which would perfectly befit his fascination with astronomy. According to David Duggan Watches, Patek Phillippe introduced the moon-phase complication to wristwatches in 1925, followed nearly a quarter-century later by Rolex. The technology had been well-established by the early ’80s, though I don’t have the expertise to discern the exact manufacturer of Happer’s watch; the fluted bezel reminded me of Rolex’s Datejust and Day-Date models, but I don’t believe these were also used on their contemporary moon-phase watches.
Happer completes his look with a tan-and-brown striped twill woolen tweed flat cap… also known in Scotland as a “bunnet”, among many other names around the world.
How to Get the Look
The dignified if eccentric Felix Happer pays tribute to his destination as he arrives in Scotland wearing a Harris tweed half-Norfolk jacket and tweed checked flat cap, coordinated appropriately with brown woolen tie and trousers as well as monk shoes that bridge the formality of his status and sporty outfit.
- Brown-and-cream nailhead-woven Harris tweed half-Norfolk jacket with straight-gorge notch lapels, three-button cuffs, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- White cotton shirt with spread collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Brown soft wool tie
- Dark brown wool flat-front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown leather belt
- Russet-brown leather cap-toe monk-strap shoes with gold buckle
- Dark brown socks
- Tan-and-brown striped twill woolen tweed flat cap
- Gold moon-phase watch with round white dial and smooth black leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Oldsen, I could grow to love this place.
Portraying the celestial-minded Felix Happer wasn’t Burt Lancaster’s first on-screen brush with astrological movies, having starred in Scorpio (1973) a decade earlier opposite Alain Delon; coincidentally, both Lancaster and Delon were Scorpios in real life.