Peter Lawford as Christopher Pepper, nightclub owner
London, Spring 1968
Film: Salt and Pepper
Release Date: June 21, 1968
Director: Richard Donner
Costume Designer: Cynthia Tingey
Tailor: Douglas Hayward
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Peter Lawford, born September 7, 1923. Though primarily an actor, the London-born Lawford may be best remembered for his affiliations with the Rat Pack and the Kennedy family, the latter by way of his 12-year marriage to Patricia Kennedy.
It was shortly after Lawford’s divorce from Pat that he was reunited with fellow Rat Pack entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., in Salt and Pepper, one of the many spy comedies released in the late 1960s as filmmakers spoofed Bond-mania with films like Our Man Flint (1966), the satirized 007 adaptation Casino Royale (1967), and the quartet of Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin—also of Rat Pack fame.
Salt and Pepper was the second feature directed by Richard Donner, who would later—and arguably more successfully—revisit the concept of high-stakes buddy comedies with the Lethal Weapon series. When Salt and Pepper was bafflingly greenlit for the sequel suggested by Davis’ vocals over the end credits, it wasn’t Donner but Jerry Lewis who directed the two Rat Packers in One More Time (1970).
Davis and Lawford brought their time-tested chemistry to their respective roles as Charlie Salt and Christopher Pepper, a pair of swingin’ London nightclub owners who find themselves at the center of a deadly mystery involving a revolution brewing among the top ranks of the British government. “I’m Pepper, he’s Salt,” Lawford’s character informs a bemused police inspector during the opening scene.
As was often the case in these style-before-substance spy flicks, the plot was often secondary though the fictional coup d’état against the British Prime Minister depicted in Salt and Pepper would be eerily paralleled by real-life schemes that were being hatched against then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson, as chronicled in the BBC2 program The Plot Against Harold Wilson. Luckily for Sir Harold, none of these proposed coups ever advanced as far as the opposition taking over the airwaves from a military training academy, only to be quelled by two shady nightclub operators repurposing a decades-old cannon.
What’d He Wear?
Salt and Pepper presents a unique blend of style among its two leads, with both actors’ respective tailors prominently represented in the opening credits—Sammy Davis, Jr.’s groovy duds were designed by Charles Glenn of Paris while Peter Lawford’s tasteful suits and sport jackets were cut by the legendary Douglas Hayward. Hayward’s impressive talents resulted in an equally impressive celebrity roster that included Tony Bennett, Richard Burton, Michael Caine, Ralph Lauren, Steve McQueen, Roger Moore, and Laurence Olivier.
Lawford began Salt and Pepper appropriately dressed for the evening in a smart tuxedo, tailored by Hayward. As the film progresses, Pepper’s wardrobe becomes increasingly informal: a smart gray striped flannel suit, followed by a navy odd jacket with gray flannels and tie, then a stone-colored sports coat and day cravat, and finally a checked sport jacket and red mock-neck for the climactic final act as Salt and Pepper team up to take down a conspiracy.
Pepper’s wool sport jacket consists of a brown, tan, and cream mini-check in a large plaid arrangement, framed by rust vertical lines and red horizontal lines that create a colorful windowpane overcheck. The single-breasted jacket has moderately slender notch lapels that roll to a 3/2.5-button front. In the breast pocket, Pepper dresses the jacket with a cream silk pocket square with a burgundy and forest-green floral print—puffed, rather than folded. The jacket also has three-button cuffs and flapped hip pockets that follow a sporty rearward slant.
Some have argued that the word “timeless” is overused when it comes to discussing certain aspects of men’s clothing, but most would agree that it is an adjective well-applied to Douglas Hayward’s craft. Hayward followed the traditional English silhouette while incorporating his own tailoring signature, typically distinguished by soft shoulders, a clean and full chest, and long double vents that flare over the seat.
These Hayward hallmarks are all present on Pepper’s “action-back” jacket, so named for its bi-swing pleats behind each shoulder that allow the wearer a greater range of motion, traditionally intended for gentlemen to wear for outdoor sports like hunting and shooting. Pepper’s pleats follow an elegant line that curves slightly inward from each shoulder then down the back, so that each vent appears to be a continuation of its respective shoulder pleat.
Pepper wears a scarlet-red merino wool long-sleeved mock-neck jumper that nicely harmonizes with the red in his sport jacket’s overcheck. He wears this sweater untucked, with the hem over the top of his charcoal-gray wool trousers. Like the rest of his Hayward-tailored trousers that Lawford wears on screen, these flat-front trousers have button-tab side adjusters (rather than belt loops), slanted front pockets but no back pockets, and subtly flared plain-hemmed bottoms.
When not dressed for the evening in his tuxedo, Pepper always wears chocolate-brown suede plain-toe shoes with a single strap across each instep. While the design recalls monk shoes, the straps appear to be fixed (rather than fastened) through each respective silver-toned buckle, positioned over the elastic side gussets that ease the wearer’s foot slipping in and out. Pepper continues the leg-line from the trousers with a set of Sterling Archer-approved dark-gray silk socks.
Salt rotates through his wristwatches almost as frequently as he changes his turtlenecks, but—consistent with his more subdued style—Pepper spends the entirety of Salt and Pepper wearing the same yellow-gold dress watch on a brown leather strap, its round white case detailed with black-printed Roman numeral hour indices.
Peter Lawford again wore this distinctive plaid action-back sports jacket when he reprised his role as Christopher Pepper in the Jerry Lewis-directed 1970 sequel One More Time, though he wore it there with an open-necked checked shirt and gold paisley neckerchief.
Attempting to infiltrate the Williamsport Military Training College, Salt and Pepper are almost immediately stymied by an armed British Army sergeant that doesn’t fall for the duo’s weak excuses for not having the requisite pass to enter. The two manage to overpower the sentry, with Salt pulling the revolver from his lanyard while Pepper arms himself with the sergeant’s L1A1 SLR and uses it to surprising effect during the subsequent battle sequences.
In the early 1950s, the British Army underwent a pivotal shift in its small arms inventory with the adoption of the Belgian-made FN FAL battle rifle, designated the L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle (SLR). Emerging from the Allied Rifle Commission, this historic decision marked a significant departure from traditional bolt-action rifles, propelling the British military into the era of semi-automatic firepower.
The FN FAL’s selection was driven by several factors, primarily the recognition that modern warfare required more rapid and accurate firepower. Bolt-action rifles, exemplified by the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I, were becoming obsolete in the face of post-World War II combat dynamics, which favored the semi-automatic capabilities of the FN FAL.
Chambered in the potent 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, the FN FAL brought superior ballistics to the battlefield and aligned the British Army with NATO ammunition standards, facilitating logistics and interoperability with allied forces. With its sturdy construction, gas-operated action, and adaptability through adjustable features, the FN FAL was well-suited for various combat environments and needed minimal alterations to align with Commonwealth battle standards. The L1A1 SLR’s official adoption in 1954 initiated its widespread deployment across British military branches, ushering in an era of enhanced firepower and effectiveness that would continue after the UK replaced it in the 1980s with the 5.56mm L85A1.
How to Get the Look
Sports coats with polo-necked sweaters may be most rooted in late ’60s fashion (think Steve McQueen in Bullitt), but like the King of Cool’s enduring style, Peter Lawford’s action-back jacket was immaculately tailored by Douglas Hayward with a timeless relevance, smartly worn here with a red mock-neck that calls out the jacket’s stately check.
- Brown, tan, and cream mini-checked (with rust and red windowpane overcheck) wool single-breasted 3-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, slanted flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, “bi-swing” action-back shoulder pleats, and long double vents
- Scarlet-red merino wool long-sleeved mock-neck sweater
- Charcoal wool flat-front trousers with button-tab side adjusters, front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Brown suede plain-toe buckle-strap shoes
- Dark-gray silk socks
- Gold dress watch with round white dial on brown leather strap
- Cream with scarlet-and-green floral-and-paisley print silk pocket square
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Charlie… this may be difficult for you to understand, but yes, I’m funny, corny, but once in a while I get awfully British.