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United Kingdom: colour of the flag

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Last modified: 2017-09-04 by rob raeside
Keywords: united kingdom | union jack | gay pride | green britain |
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[Flag of the United Kingdom] 1:2 | image by Clay Moss, 16 December 2006
Flag adopted 1 January 1801.


See also:


Colour of the flag

According to my old stand-by, Colours of the Fleet, the blue was darkened in 1869 when the Admiralty standardised the naval Union Flag at 1:2, with a narrower St Patrick's saltire. No explanation is given for the dark blue, but I'd speculate that the Admiralty chose the darkest possible shade of blue so that the colour would not fade away before the flag needed replacing.
David Prothero,
23 March 1998

If you look at Perrin's British Flags you will see that the original 1606/1707 flag had a pale blue field while the 1801 flag has a darker blue field. One of the reasons is probably that the flag is defined as having an "azure" field and in recent British heraldic tradition this has been interpreted as a mid to dark blue. In our modern Pantone-regulated world we differentiate between many different shades of colour, but hundreds of years ago we didn't. I think there is something in David's idea that a darker blue was chosen so that the flags had to be replaced for fading less often.
Graham Bartram, 23 March 1998

Naval flags were changed in 1908 when the Admiralty decided that the blue in Union Flags and Ensigns should be the same shade of blue as that selected by King Edward VII for the Royal Standard. This was known as pattern 74 'Royal Blue', and replaced pattern 63 "Dark Blue". Pattern 63 was still used for signal flags and for the flags of countries such as Russia and Norway. The other two shades in use were: Pattern 61 'Azure'; Cuba and Ecuador were given as examples, and Pattern 61A 'Intermediate' which was a bright blue for Italy and Sweden. Source: Public Records Office ADM 116/1072.
David Prothero, 25 August 1998

The Pantone colours (186 for the red and 280 for blue) are the official ones for the Union Flag and all UK derivatives (Bartram 2004). I know they are quite dark, but then so are the Union Flags that follow the official specification. The red also has quite a large blue component and even has some black. The CMYK values are C0 M91 Y76 K6. The dark blue is C100 M72 Y0 K18.5
Graham Bartram
, 19 December 1999

After an intense discussion enlightened mainly by Graham Bartram, we sort of decided that the best browser-safe approximates for the union jack colors are RGB:204-0-0 for red and RGB:0-0-102 for blue (plus RGB:255-255-255 for white, of course!), that is our FOTW equivalences for dark red (R+) and very very dark blue (B+++).
António Martins, 24 January 2001


"Union Jacks" of other colours

Union Jacks are occasionally sighted in other combinations of colours.  The design is very distinctive and its use in other colour combinations has been adopted by some football (soccer) team supporters.  In particular black and white union jack flags are used by Newcastle United(?) fans.  Black and yellow might be used by supporters of Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers) of possibly Watford.
James Dignan, 15 April 2004

Such flags are sold online in a variety of color combinations. The ratio is often 3:5, but 5:8 is also frequently used, which may seem non-standard, but is sometimes also used for the Union Jack itself. Each of these flags is advertised as being made for the fans of several different clubs, not only football, but rugby as well. While some of these designs were indeed invented by the sport fans, it is also possible that some of them were invented by the manufacturers wishing to exploit a good market, or at least, that they expanded the list of targeted clubs.
Tomislav Todorovic, 3 May 2016

Gay Pride Union Jack

Sexual orientation flags from the United Kingdom are derived from the national flag:

Pink Union Jack

[Pink Union Jack] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

This is the common name for several different flags derived from the Union Jack by replacing red and/or blue colours with pink to make them gay pride symbols. The first of these flags is derived from the Union Jack by replacing the blue field with the pink one. It usually has the aspect ratio of 3:5, as seen in London, on 2006-07-01: www.flickr.com/photos/aguichard/179709257/ and on 2008-07-05: www.flickr.com/photos/misterrad/2643987378; in Leeds, on 2007-08-05: www.flickr.com/photos/wsogmm/1020120051 or in Brighton, on 2006-08-05: www.flickr.com/photos/pleonasm/210913124 and on 2007-08-04: www.flickr.com/photos/misterrad/1375568790.
Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

[Pink Union Jack] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

However, flags with the aspect ratio 1:2 can also be noticed sometimes, like the one seen in London, on 2008-07-05: www.flickr.com/photos/maggiejones/2640943575.
Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

[Pink Union Jack] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

Another flag keeps the blue field, while the red areas are turned into pink. It is offered for sale in several online flag shops, like here: www.flagsupplies.net, here: www.britishflags.co.uk/unionjack.htm, or here (the photo of a real flag's detail shown): www.theflagman.co.uk/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3_16&products_id=221 and seems to have been manufactured only with the aspect ratio 3:5 so far. It might have been invented, in my opinion, so as to make a flag more acceptable to users from Scotland - see the comment given here (no matter that it was written in a humorous way): www.flickr.com/photos/aguichard/179709257.
Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

[Pink Union Jack] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

The third flag, probably the one which deserves the most to be called the Pink Union Jack, replaces red and blue with light and dark shades of pink, respectively (the latter inclines towards magenta). It was seen in Sydney, Australia, on 2009-03-07, during the Mardi Gras parade: www.flickr.com/photos/funky-plum/3348417770.
Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

[Pink Union Jack] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 14 December 2009

Another variant, which deserves this name more than most of others, replaces red and blue with dark and light shades of pink, respectively, dark shade inclining towards magenta. Its photos, taken at the London Pride on 2012-07-07, can be found at http://www.flickr.com/photos/matt_malloy/7526964262, http://www.flickr.com/photos/ensignsteve/7560552722, and http://www.flickr.com/photos/jplme/7568529332.
Tomislav Todorovic, 26 July 2013

UKtv advertising flag

[UKtv advertising flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 26 May 2013

An orange-white-green flag was reported, likely flying  on a pole on the River Thames beside the Royal Festival Hall in Jubilee Gardens. This pole is under the control of the South Bank Centre, who are the leaseholders of Jubilee Gardens. It was originally erected for the 1951 Festival of Britain as the site for the Hayward [Art Gallery - part of the South Bank Centre] Flag Project. The flag seen is part of an advertising campaign for the rebranding of the digital television channel UKtv People as 'Blighty' for the television company, Uktv, part owned by the BBC. There are multiple colours of the Union Flag design in this campaign.
Sources:
(1) Walking London, Andrew Duncan, ISBN 9781847730541, 2008 edition
(2) Reuters (Gaumont British), newsreel, Festival Ends, S24050702 149359, GB 37419 - 4.10.1951, 1951, as consulted ITN web site, 17 March 2009
(3) Regeneration of Jubilee Gardens, Design Brief, Final Draft Version 9A, South Bank Employers' Group, 28 January 2005
(4) South Bank Centre, web site, http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk, as consulted 17 March 2009
Colin Dobson, 17 March 2009

Here is another photo of that flag: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bababoosky/3518047241. It was taken on 2009-05-03, from the London Eye.
Tomislav Todorovic, 26 May 2013

This design has first appeared in 1996, when British artist Mark Wallinger made a "Union Jack" in colors of Irish national flag, named "Oxymoron" [1, 2]. The flag ratio was 1:2 [1, 2] and it was hoisted at least once, probably as a performance [2]. In 2005, Wallinger composed sixteen flags with this design, together with other three artworks of his, into an installation named "Easter", which was set inside the Duomo of Milan, Italy, to accompany another installation, which was set by another artist [3]. The 2005 flags ratio was 3:5 [3]. The "Easter" was also installed in the HangarBicocca art center, Milan [3].

Sources.
[1] Report on Mark Wallinger retrospective in Braunschweig, Germany: http://www.shaunbelcher.com/blog/?p=260
[2] Photo of "Oxymoron" flag hoisting: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/art-all-administrator-2-administrator
[3] HangarBicocca art center website - report on the installation "Easter": http://www.hangarbicocca.org/exhibitions/exhibitions/easter
Tomislav Todorovic, 15 June 2013

'Green Britain' flag

[Green Britain flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 14 May 2016
based on an image located by Colin Dobson, 14 September 2009

The real 'Green Britain' advertising flag has at least two variants: http://teams.teamgreenbritain.org and this one, with both the Electricity of France logo and the London 2012 logo: http://www.ecotricity.co.uk. A number of graphic adaptions of the design have been made, including as a dress by the marvellous and highly entertaining Wayne Hemingway and as a guitar, all of which goes to demonstrate the verstaility of the original design of the Union Flag. See the 'Team Green Britain' web site here: http://teams.teamgreenbritain.org/blog/2009/07/10/a-special-message/ for some more variants.
Sources:
(1) http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk, as consulted 14 September 2009 (2) Électricité de France, web site, http://teams.teamgreenbritain.org/, as consulted 14 September 2009
(3) SE1, local community based web site, http://www.london-se1.co.uk, as consulted 14 September 2009
(4) Green is the new black for Olympian Victoria Pendleton and British designer Wayne Hemingway, Électricité de France news release, July 2009, as consulted EDF web site, 14 September 2009
(5) London 2012 web site, http://www.london2012.com, as consulted 14 September 2009
Colin Dobson, 14 September 2009

"Achrome" by Jonathan Parsons

[Achrome Union Jack] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 25 May 2013

In 1993, British artist Jonathan Parsons made a black-white-gray Union Jack. This artwork, named "Achrome", was exhibited from 11st April to 21st May 1994, together with works by several other artists, in Edwardes Square Studios, London, as part of an exhibition named Every Now and Then [1]. The flag was auctioned at Christie's on 8th December 1998 [2]. In 2005, another such flag was commissioned from Parsons by Norwich Castle Museum for an exhibition named Art out of Place, but instead of being flown above Norwich Castle, as originally intended, it was displayed inside the castle, due to fears that it might be viewed as offensive [3]. Parsons' comment on the decision was that it is a kind of censorship, for he did not see why his work would be offensive to anyone [3].

Sources:
[1] Web presentation of the exhibition Every Now and Then: http://www.rear-window.org.uk/every_now_and_then
[2] Christie's - sale 6120, lot 48 - "Achrome" by Jonathan Parsons: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/lot/jonathan-parsons-achrome-1374758-details.aspx?pos=7&intObjectID=1374758&sid=&page=4
[3] BBC News website - report on the Parsons' flag for Norwich Castle Museum: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/norfolk/4116988.stm
Tomislav Todorovic, 25 May 2013

This reminds me of some of the work done by one of New Zealand's top artists, Ralph Hotere (who died earlier this year). A Maori artist, his work often touched on the subject of colonialism and the politics of race. His flag-related series included the "Black Union Jack" and "Double-cross Jack" series, each of which used the Union Jack as a basis.

The "Black Union Jack" series involved the incorporation of the letters "NZ" into the form of the Union Jack, and were inspired by a controversial New Zealand sports tour to apartheid-era South Africa. An example of one of the series can be seen here: http://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/collection/objects/85-01/

The "Double-cross Jack" series was inspired by the sad state of Middle-eastern politics, and made use of found postcards of the Union Jack, cut to form a Magen David form, and often incorporated into larger works. An example can be seen here: http://www.sauer-thompson.com/junkforcode/HotereR.jpg
James Dignan, 26 May 2013

This example [Black Union Jack], but also the others found on the Web, look like like they contain an optical illusion in form of the swastika. Considering that apartheid-era South Africa was indeed often described as a Fascist state by anti-apartheid activists, perhaps that is what Hotere meant by this series of works - that his countrymen gave the support to a Fascist regime. Bearing in mind that Thatcher-era United Kingdom's policies towards the apartheid regime were also, to say it the mildest way, ambiguous, the criticism might have been aimed at those as well, considering that the pictures are not derived from the whole pattern of the New Zealand flag, but only from that of the canton, which is actually the national flag of United Kingdom.
Tomislav Todorovic, 26 May 2013


Gold Union Jack

Metallic Gold
[Gold Union Jack] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 13 May 2016

Old Gold
[Gold Union Jack] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 13 May 2016

"Gold Union Jack" is more a description than a name, official or unofficial, for the flag derived from the Union Jack by replacing both red and blue colors with gold. Such flags have been appearing in the advertising campaigns by various fashion and cosmetics houses, as the background behind the models. One of the earliest examples was Burberry's campaign for the spring 2006 collection, as shown here: http://www.thefashionisto.com/throwback-thursday-danny-beauchamp-burberry-spring-2006-campaign/ and here: http://www.fashiongonerogue.com/20-advertisements-last-decade-fashion/. Such a flag was also used in 2012, in the photos promoting the kit which was to be worn by the British athletes at the Summer Olympic Games in London later same year: http://ftape.com/media/stella-mccartneys-out-of-the-red-team-gb-kit-revealed/. A flag was also made (date not specified) by the Seasons Textiles Limited for Rimmel London: http://www.seasonstextiles.co.uk/sewing-department/516865_union-jack-flag-in-gold-lame-and-cream-silk-for-rimmel-london.html. In all these examples, the real color is far more brownish than the FOTW color Au - actually, it looks like the color called "metallic
gold": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gold_%28color%29#Metallic_gold although in some cases it may look more like the color named "old gold" or even the web color "goldenrod", all three colors much resembling each other.

Flags employing the color which is much more similar to the FOTW color Au do exist, though. One such flag is produced by the Flying Colours Flagmakers company: http://www.flyingcolours.org/product/unusual-projects/union-jacks-in-different-shades.html. Note how the flag color is nearly identical to that of the fringes, which may certainly be described as the "FOTW gold". The file name of the flag photo: http://www.flyingcolours.org/uploads/jan_2010_todo/National_Lottery_Gold_Ceremonial.jpg suggests that the flag was made for the National Lottery, although the image searching of the Web was not able to provide any evidence in
favor of this.
Tomislav Todorovic, 13 May 2016

In its recently introduced photo gallery at Instagram the manufacturer states that such a flag was also made for the 2014 Tour de France. Although the item shown on the photo lacks the fringes and the color is called simply "yellow", the design is obviously the same.
Tomislav Todorovic, 11 August 2017


The "Union Black" flag

['Union Black' flag] image by Tomislav Todorovic, 10 July 2017

Chris Ofili agrees to let Union Black fly again after giving flag to the Tate (https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/jul/01/chris-ofili-union-black-flag-tate-britain)

A summary of the source article:
"Union Black" is name of the flag derived from the Union Jack by repainting red, white and blue into black, green and red, respectively. It was created by Chris Ofili, British artist of Nigerian origin, and originally displayed in 2003 in the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale, as part of the selection of Ofili's works which all employed the Garvey colors. The flag was hoisted over Tate Britain gallery, London in 2010 as part of the exhibition of Ofili's works. Ofili has recently given "Union Black" to Tate Britain, the fourth of his works given to the gallery so far, with permission to fly it over the gallery again, which will be done later this year.
Tomislav Todorovic, 10 July 2017