There’s little doubting the PETER WYNGARDE was a true icon of the Seventies. Who else need only roll up his shirt cuffs to start a fashion?! Here we have an exclusive peep into his wardrobe to see what made him the best dressed man in Britain…
PETER in a towelling bath robe he bought in Paris
In the summer of 1969 when Barry Gibb received the John Stephens Fashion Award – a carved silver statue of Beau Brummell – for being voted the Best Dressed Man of the Year, he admitted to being an avid viewer of Department S because of PETER WYNGARDE. So it seemed appropriate somehow that the following year, amongst much festivity on London’s Carnaby Street, that PETER was presented with the Award for being the Best Dressed Man of 1970.
The votes for PETER, which were cast by listeners of Radio Luxembourg and readers of FAB 208 magazine, were far in excess of his nearest rival, singer Cliff Richard and football star, George Best. Once all the votes had been counted, a panel of seven judges were asked to give their views on the top three. They comprised of Rosalie Shann of the now defunct News of the World newspaper; Lesley Ebbetts of the Daily Sketch; Betty Hale, Editor of FAB 208; Leo Abse, M.P.; John Taylor of Weekend and Style Weekly; Don Wardell of Radio Luxembourg; and John Stephen himself. The panel unanimously agreed with the voting figures and added that PETER had consistently shown good taste and imagination in his clothes throughout the year.
A mere mention of Jason King, the confident character played by PETER in the enormously popular Department S and spin-off series, Jason King, was enough to send his many followers into eulogies about him. Most of them associated him with his practice of turning back the cuffs of his shirts – a personal habit which had developed when filming an episode of the original series in Venice, where he’d lost a cufflink.
A glance through his wardrobe assured all that the John Stephens Award had not been won cheaply by the gentleman who described himself as: “Older than Hayley Mills but younger than her father!” PETER’s magnificent range of clothes took up several wardrobes to store, in fact. Flicking through his beautifully tailored suits in black, white and just about every other colour you could name, there was a coat of rare opulence. Bought privately in Hollywood, it had originally been owned by movie idol Rudolph Valentino, and only worn by him on a few occasions before he died in the late 1920’s.
“It’s difficult trying to separate us,” PETER once said of Jason King and himself. “I wear all my own clothes in the series and I plan to wear many more interesting additions when the new series starts filming at the end of the year. And as I’m able to travel so much, I buy clothes everywhere. Having money is a tremendous help in planning a wardrobe and I’ll admit my suits and overcoats have cost me a small fortune to have made. But I’m also a bargain hunter in clothes markets and it doesn’t worry me if a garment is new or not as long as it’s in reasonable condition.”
PETER was never likely to admit it, but he has always been fortunate enough to know exactly what to wear with what. If he hadn’t have known, I’m sure his vast selection of clothes would have lost their impact considerably. For instance, over a simple black evening suit, for his rare visits to the Covent Garden Opera House, he’s add a grey silk Chinese cape on which the high, wide collar and shoulders were heavily embroidered in white. One needs the WYNGARDE poise and panache to make a confident entrance in such an ensemble.
Although PETER had bought suede and leather jackets from John Stephen for years, they only met for the first time in Carnaby Street in November of 1969 at a party to celebrate the switching on of the street’s Christmas illuminations. The day after, PETER flew off on a personal appearance tour abroad for the series which had made him the TV Personality of the Year in such places as Australia, Canada, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and, well, name just about anywhere that screened Department S! On each trip he managed to buy something to add to his sartorial splendour.
From France he bought new towelling bathrobes and, from a clothes market there, an old Thirties black and silver waistcoat. Occasionally PETER would wear a very memorable dark mauve and black patterned shirt made of sheer Damascus silk. This was woven by devout fingers in a Spanish convent near Malaga and while, worn with white trousers, looked quite stunning, it had to be carefully hand washed and treated like gossamer. More than one lady in the WYNGARDE harem had been stunned by an immediate refusal when asking if they could borrow it sometimes!
“If clothes matter to you,” said PETER, “they must be treated with respect. I love luxury fabrics such a silk and cashmere, but they cannot be treated like cotton and wool or they’ll collapse under the strain. Men who fill their pockets with bric-a-brac amaze me, as they ruin the shape of their suits and prove they don’t really care much how they look.”
Another of PETER’s habits was having a small buttonhole flap attached to the lapel of any sports jacket he had made. If out on cooler nights, he simply turned up the collar of the jacket and buttoned the flap across. His favourite belt, which blended well with most outfits, was Chinese and cost £30 in 1965 – after a little bartering in an antiques market. It was made of hand-carved medieval chain links in silver, and the oval buckle had a bird of paradise carved across it.
PETER wearing the Chinese belt mentioned above.
If he was not wearing his towelling robe at home he might pull on a grand Japanese kimono in heavy cream silk which was 150 years old and generously embroidered in white. In one bulging wardrobe was a marvellous pair of cotton trousers which he bought in Hawaii of red, green and white design usually found on deckchairs. They hung next to that famous snakeskin jacket of ‘The Man From X’ fame (see below) , and an ankle length hessian overcoat in beige that had a Prussian collar and a very regal air to it.
In 1970, tie manufacturers thanked PETER profusely for keeping interest in their product, and clothes makers generally were not slow to foresee the vast sales potential any garment could have with the WYNGARDE endorsement, as if there was really no rush at all, it was said that PETER actually yawned in 1970 while turning down an offer of £30,000 for a commercial!
Even Jason King couldn’t have done it with more aplomb!
The famous snakeskin jacket PETER wore in the Department S episode, ‘The Man From X’
This full-length beige whipcord double-breasted overcoat is braided in dark brown rough satin, outside ticket pocket and shaped shawl collar.
The coat is cut with a seam all around the middle and braiding in the back.
Double-breasted blazer, with narrow three-buttoned front and outside ticket pocket. Dull silver military in sage green mohair. The matching shirt and tie in green voile.
A dark grey single-breasted three-piece suit with three buttons and layered-on cuffs. The flair shown here comes from the waist, which is very high. The jacket is much longer at the back than at the front, by one quarter inches. This view shows the flow of the jacket and flair of the cuffs. The waistcoat is piped with white silk. The matching shirt and tie are in white voile.
THE BEST DRESSED MAN IN BRITAIN: 1970 and ‘71
The trophy, which featured a silver statuette of Beau Brummel, was ‘officially’ called the John Stephens Fashion Award
The competition was sponsored by FAB 208 magazine and Radio Luxembourg
The award ceremony took place on the roof of the John Stevens boutique on Carnaby Street in London
The inaugural winner of the trophy was Barry Gibb of the Bee Gee’s. He was present at the ceremony on August 15th, 1970, to hand over the award to PETER
Radio 1 DJ, ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton acted as MC at the event
PETER won the Award for a second time in 1971. On that occasion it was presented to him by Miss Radio Luxembourg, Ann Chalice
HERE’S WHAT BRINGS THE BEAST OUT IN A WOMAN
The Daily Mail – 1971
By Lesley Ebbetts
Ever wonder what it is about a beauty contest that brings a beast out in a man? Well, I can report that I know the feeling. I got it myself while sitting on a panel to judge the Best Dressed Man of the Year. It was my turn to drool and swoon and decide on the most charming and constantly good-looking man – and believe me, it wasn’t easy!
I mean, what exactly is it that a girl looks for in a beauty king? Well, for a start, it’s pure instinct. The really groovy guys only need to sit down in an old chair and your intuition tells you the rest.
The calculating casualness put together with bags of imagination and self-awareness is all that is needed. Mr PETER WYNGARDE, in my humble opinion, had all this which made him the certain winner.
His nearest rivals for the John Stephens Fashion Award, were Cliff Richard and George Best, neither of whom have an ounce of his aplomb. After all, it takes something special to start a fashion!
Stuart: Fantastic article and it’s often overlooked (mainly due to the massive number of Peter’s female admirers) how many guys were influenced by him. I was slightly too young for the full tonsorial masterpiece but we attempted the “Jason King” look as best we could. I have to say we failed miserably but had great fun trying.
I think it’s worth mentioning that Peter’s influence outside of the shows was immense and even people that didn’t watch him on the screen knew exactly what it was all about. For me Peter was the UK’s equivalent of the reborn Elvis (68-73) albeit with slightly better taste. It’s great to see from contemporary photographs that he’s lost none of that elegance.
I see no pretenders to the throne.
“Long live the King”
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/