Brian Wilson: The day Harris Tweed was revealed as CIA uniform

I was sorry to learn that Tony Mendez, the CIA agent on whose derring-do the film ‘Argo’ was based, has died. My role in Harris Tweed Hebrides brought us together a few years back, writes Brian Wilson.

In the 1970s, he was the CiA’s master of disguise and forgery. ‘Argo’ immortalised his success in spiriting six embassy staff out of Tehran, disguised as a Canadian film crew, amidst the fervour of the 1979 revolution.

We noticed that, throughout the film, Ben Affleck – who played Tony Mendez – wore Harris Tweed jackets. This kind of detail was based on conversations with the man himself so a PR opportunity suggested itself.

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Ben Affleck would have been expensive so I managed to track Tony down at his son’s home. “You’re going to find this call a bit odd,” I said, “but I want to talk about Harris Tweed.” Fortunately, he was very happy to do so.

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The upshot was that he and his wife, another ex-CIA hand, travelled from their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains to our media event at the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg where we presented him with an Argo addition to his collection of Harris Tweed jackets.

It was a memorable afternoon that generated lots of great coverage. Tony – described this week by Affleck as “a man of extraordinary grace, decency, humility and kindness” – electrified the room with his tales of subterfuge.

He volunteered that, in his era, Harris Tweed was “the uniform of CIA agents”. This might not have been the advertising slogan I would have chosen but he added: “I’m an artist and love the depth and complexity of colour each pattern represents.” Perfect!

Depth and complexity – just like his own extraordinary career.