British Colour Council

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The British Colour Council (BCC) was an industry standards organisation, active from the 1930s to the 1950s, which produced indexes of named colours for use by government, industry, academia, and horticulture.


Founded in 1931 and chaired by designer Robert Francis Wilson, the BCC produced the British Colour Council reference Code or British Colour Codes: indexes of named colours for a variety of industries.

"Dictionary of Colour Standards"[edit]

Its first major work was the British Colour Council 1934 "Dictionary of Colour Standards"[1] which defined colour shades in its printed plates and gave a two or three number code and evocative names to each colour. BCC colour codes define colours as varying by hue, tone and intensity, and were originally designed for use in the textile dye industry.[2] The colour names given by the BCC were particularly descriptive and often referred to flora or fauna, with titles such as Larkspur ("No. 196"), Forget-Me-Not ("No. 84"), Bee Eater Blue, Kermes, and Squirrel.[3] The codes of the BCC became standards for identifying colours used in everything from the Royal Horticultural Society, to British government planning commission maps,[4] the British Army,[5] Royal Institute of British Architects, and the Royal Mail.[6] BCC codes, due to their subtlety of hue in comparison with previous standards, were useful for the precise colour matching necessary in fields as diverse as dermatology and the classification of Chinese porcelain.[7]

"Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration"[edit]

As the British Colour Council developed its services to industry it became apparent that the bias in the dictionary towards colours for textiles made it less relevant as a standard reference work for Interior Decoration. Some colours which were suitable for clothes were insufficiently permanent for application to carpets, curtains and upholstery fabric, while others were technically impracticable for use in the pottery and glass industries, in porcelain and vitreous enamel or in the making of paint or other materials used in decorating.

In 1949 the Council published the "Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration". This work consisted of three volumes, two of colour samples and the other a slim list of names and a history of the colours.

The 378 colours illustrated were shown on three surfaces – matt, gloss and a pile fabric (like carpet). One reference name and number was given for the colour shown in three forms, and it was stressed that the surface required should be made clear when the Dictionary was used to specify a colour match.[8]


In the late 1930s the BCC produced books for use in horticulture. Its first (1938) version included 200 named hues, printed as 3 lightnesses each for a total of 600 colours, each given distinctive names; later editions included 4 tints per hue, making a total of 800 colours.[9]

"British Colours"[edit]

The BCC also advised the 1937 royal coronation, providing "Traditional British Colours" for flags and street decorations.[10]


The BCC, under the Chairmanship of British lighting industry executive Leslie Hubble,[11] continued to publish colour codes through the 1960s, and while largely supplanted by the British Standards organisation, and commercial colour standards such as Pantone, the BCC codes are still referred to by industries in the United Kingdom[12] and used as standards for some British Commonwealth flags,[13] academic robes [14] and horticulture.[15]


The council, as well as functioning as an oversight body, operated a reference publishing house and its British Colour Education Institute, after the Second World War at 13 Portman Square, London, W1,[16] and later at 10A Chandos St, W1M 9DE.[17]


  1. ^ British Colour Council. Dictionary of Colour Standards. London: British Colour Council (1934)
    British Colour Council. Dictionary of Colour Standards. London: British Colour Council (2nd Edition 1951)
  2. ^ H. A. Silverman. Studies in Industrial Organization, London (1945, 2003 reprint)ISBN 0415313538 p.89.
    [M. D. Law, F. C. Bartlett, George Newnes. Chambers's Encyclopaedia (1950), retrieved at Google books, p. 751.
  3. ^ Color: The Magic and Mystery of Words, Color Matters (nd)
    Arthur O. Tucker, Michael J. Maciarello and Sharon S. Tucker. A Survey of Color Charts for Biological Descriptions. Taxon, Vol. 40, No. 2 (May, 1991), pp. 201-214
  4. ^ Town and Country Planning (Development Plans) Regulations: Standard Town and Country Planning Colours[permanent dead link], 1963-79.
  5. ^ British Standard Colour Table British Vehicle Colours in World War Two Archived 2007-10-21 at the Wayback Machine, Military Miniatures Magazine (1997)
  6. ^ Patrick Baty. The 1950s Colours: Background to some Colours of the 1950s & early 1960s, Papers and Paints (2003) Archived November 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
    Turner Lecture: The Only Thing Constant Is Change - A Life in Colour Archived October 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine: presentation of Turner Medal to Ms Zandra Rhodes, Royal College of Art, 7 February 2007.
  7. ^ Don Pavey, Roy Osborne. Colour and Humanism. London: Universal Publishers (2003) ISBN 1-58112-581-X p.207
  8. ^ Dictionary of Colours for Interior Decoration.
  9. ^ Horticultural Colour Chart, Volumes I and II, by Robert F. Wilson, 1938-41, issued by the British Colour Council in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society and published by Henry Stone and Son, Ltd., Banbury, England.
    Azalea Society of America Archived 2008-03-07 at the Wayback Machine, 2005.
    The Royal Horticultural Society and the Colour Council collaborated on a Horticultural Colour Chart, specifically designed to the colour range of cultivated plants. Printed from 1939 to 1941, it contained boxes of 200 sheets, with tints arranged four-to-a-page, and totalled 800 screen-printed colour patches. The Wilson Colour Chart
  10. ^ British traditional colours souvenir in connection with the coronation of His Majesty King George VI and Her Majesty. The British Colour Council, London 1937.
    Was there a George VI style? Alan Powers. Apollo, Oct, 2004.
  11. ^ VERIVIDE 40th Anniversary Celebration, Pakistan Textiles Journal (nd)
  12. ^ See Papers and Paints Archived September 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine above, and History of Colour in Machines, Colour Academy, 2006.
  13. ^ see Flag of Barbados, and South Africa National Defense Force Flags Archived April 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Flags of the World. The official colour of this flag was misnamed "Beetle Green", a misreading of the BCC's "Green Beetle". Other Commonwealth flags using BCC standards include Aruba and Zambia.
  14. ^ Scott, Elizabeth, 'The BCC Numbering System: Back to the Future?', Transactions of the Burgon Society, 5 (2005), pp. 90-122. The two editions of the British Colour Council's Dictionary of Colour Standards, as well as specialist charts, have been used by many universities to designate the shades prescribed for facings and linings of their academical robes and hoods. The Burgon Society Library: Bibliography of Academical Dress, compiled by Alex Kerr, (nd).
    Standards of Academic Dress Archived 2010-10-11 at the Wayback Machine, University of Melbourne, Australia. Gives standards in BCC colours.
  15. ^ Diana Miller. Using Colour Charts Archived August 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, HORTAX NEWS Vol. 1, Part 4 - 29 Apr 1998. Discusses the movement away from the BCC standards, begun with a new RHS chart in 1966, and its continued use.
  16. ^ The Foundry Trade Journal, Institute of British Foundrymen, 1945 (p. 132 in bound volume, online here.
  17. ^ Patricia Millard. Trade Associations and Professional Bodies of the United Kingdom - Page 40 - 1971
  • Tracy Diane, Tom Cassidy. Colour Forecasting. Blackwell Publishing (2005) ISBN 1-4051-2120-3 pp. 15–16, 95
  • R. S. Sinclair and W. D. Wright, "Color measurement in Europe," Appl. Opt. 8, 751- (1969)
  • Webster, G. Colour Symbolism, an anthropological diversion. British Colour Council, 14th Designers' Conference 1955.

Selected BCC publications[edit]

External links[edit]

  • The Inter-Society Color Council records at Hagley Museum and Library contain records from the British Colour Council including dictionaries of colour standards and seasonal colour cards; and royal colour cards, correspondence, press clippings, swatches, and commemorative publications celebrating coronations, royal weddings, and jubilees.