A potty-mouthed review of classic paint colours

| 12 Sep 2011

Describe the colour above. What do you mean "poo brown"? You are right, of course, but, according to British Leyland, that is Sienna.

I have always been fascinated by paints and paint-codes, but also, with two kids still of a potty-using age, I am currently more familiar with the various shades of poo than I ever thought I would be. Or ever wanted to be.

Quite why brown, and so many takes on it, were so popular in the early 1970s is beyond me, particularly when manufacturers then had to go to such extravagant lengths to give the colour a name that conjured up precisely what it wasn't.

The British motor industry may have been lurching towards imminent collapse at the time, but boy did we still rule the roost in coming up with romantic names for various hues of poo brown. Everyone expects the likes of Arianca Tan on a Morris Marina, but less so when it comes to the finish on more sporting cars such as MGs and TRs. Yet, in a spirit of total equanimity to its products, they were all touched with Leyland's sh**ty stick, too.

I browse through the swatches and imagine them being read out by Alison Steadman in her tour de force role as Beverly Moss in Abigail's Party, depicting an era when, in a horribly introspective Britain – which, thanks to package holidays, was only just discovering that there was a world beyond Chatham – cheese and pineapple on sticks was the height of sophistication, along with the belief that Beaujolais should be stored in the fridge (although it turns out that Beaujolais apparently should be, yuk). 

The deluded misnomers of BL paints just seem to fit that world perfectly.  "More Russet, Tony, or perhaps you would like some Harvest Gold?" (Russet below), "Oooh, Bracken, everyone's doing Bracken nowadays," (above) or "No more Bronze Yellow for Laurence, he's had enough."

So much has this infested my brain, that, as I am emptying the potty nowadays, I often have a bemused family looking on, while I mutter "Hmmm, bronze metallic with a hint of Sandglow and an offshoot of Inca Yellow."

It wasn't just MG/Leyland and it wasn't just the Brits, though. Triumph was just as bad with a similar list and then its wonderfully named Sienna, which at least had the first letter right.

The Yanks got past the problem by having names that, even though they may have seemed just as ridiculous in their homeland, at least had a slight plausibility to a kid growing up in the home counties of England.

Bronze Fire, Honey Bronze and Saddle Bronze gave at least half the game away, but, when I heard of Bahama Yellow, all I could picture was a desolate palm-tree lined beach as the sun dipped over the horizon. Only what you got was a banana-and-sweetcorn poo.

Thankfully, that's about all I have to say on the subject and, I apologise immensely for this disturbing departure, I must be channelling the spirit of Gillian McKeith.

On the other hand there is a whole world of marvellously named paints out there, so, when the kids are a bit older, and I am not being reminded of this topic daily, I'll revisit this subject and talk about all the ones that aren't sh*t brown.