That Magic Word ‘COLOUR’

What would life be without colour? Imagine ... grey trees, white or grey flowers, the sea, the sky, the fields grey, grey, grey ... The dresses of pretty girls grey ... Now imagine you suddenly saw some nice girls in yellow, red, white and orange beachdresses, with tanned skins and blue eyes, and the greenish-blue sea in the background. That is what colour photography will mean to you. Colour photography adds colour and happiness to your life and memories.

Photo News, 5 July 1956, p. 2.

Admass. This is my name for the whole system of an increasing productivity, plus inflation, plus a rising standard of material living, plus high-pressure advertising and salesmanship, plus mass communications, plus cultural democracy and the creation of the mass mind, the mass man.

J. B Priestley, Journey Down a Rainbow, Heinemann-Cresset, London, 1955, p. 51.

The early years of the Cold War remain draped in the colours of political strife. A Red Menace combined with the Yellow Peril to shrink the red of the British Empire on classroom maps. Because colours are understood in contexts wider than Newton’s spectrum,[1] R. G. Menzies could favour the red of the Empire in the same breathe as he abhorred the red of the Soviets. At home, the Labor Party remained red in its posters while the Liberals were true blue. Other shades associated with the Menzies era were men in dark suits over tartan cardigans or white shirts and blue rinse for Liberal matrons.          

Our colour sense is not a gift of nature, but has meanings assigned to it by a variety of authorities. Churches specify the colours of vestments for seasons in the liturgical calendar. The state authorises colours in flags, international sporting teams, insignia and the carpeting for parliamentary chambers. Late in 1953, the British Colour Council, with Princess Margaret as its patron, named three colours for the coming Royal Tour: Clarence Rose, Ambassador Blue and Royal Blue, giving a lead to jewellers and dressmakers.[2] Other firms took advice on colour from the officials who regulated dyes under the Pure Food Acts.[3]

Despite state interventions to present colour as ideology, governments were nowhere as pervasive in this realm, by the 1950s, as mass marketing. Colour gave commodities some of their aura.[4] Just as by 1960, Raymond Williams could write of advertising as the magic system,[5] so we should recognise how colour became the abracadabra for Priestley’s  Admass. Colour is an apt element around which to consider the arrival of planned obsolescence of Galbriath’s affluent society since colour changes are the cheap and easy way to stimulate demand by transforming the look of a product without the expense of retooling for its manufacture. Colour came as threat and promise from television’s first black-and-white screening in 1956, hence ‘Colour Radio’. No matter how limited colours still were by 1966, the future belonged with them.

Investigation of paintings and their viewers needs alertness to the frequency and nature of the everyday images in which creativities and responses were shaped. Of the several changes to visual environments introduced between 1950 and 1965 none was more significant than television. By late 1964, one Melbourne station gave out 209 messages - advertisements, promotions and identification - between 11.30am and 11.30pm.[6] Imagery of every kind became more pervasive. For instance, the number of greeting cards sold in Australia rose 10 per cent each year through the 1950s.[7]   

This paper surveys the spread of colours under seven headings: postage stamps; photography; magazines; newspapers; the exteriors of houses; domestic interiors; the bodies and interiors of family cars. The technologies that allowed more colours are an essential, if insufficient, explanation for the fashioning of tastes. Trade and technical publications supply the evidence for this initial survey, with their advertisements as informative as to their articles.

Postage stamps conveyed ideology through their imagery and design, promoting national projects and public virtues rather than commodities.
[8] Indeed, in the Menzies years, the organisations honoured by a stamp were volunteers for community service. From 1957, a Christmas issue endorsed those clerics who sought to resist commercialisation by putting Christ back into Christmas. The appearance of that series did not remain staid and colorless and in 1965, a stamp with a gold-leaf background for the Holy Family went on sale.

The earliest two-colour Commonwealth stamps had been the higher denomination kangaroo series from 1913 on which the colours were printed in discrete sections. Between those issues and 1953, Australia’s postage stamps were monochromatic, although an assortment of colours, including lemon and violet, were used. Two-colours returned with brown on green, appropriate for the Young Farmers Club. Next year, the Red Cross got its emblem over a blue field, and in 1955 an inverted red triangle appeared against a green field for the YMCA.

Our first multicoloured stamps were the high-denomination pair issued for the 1956 Olympics, depicting Collins street and the Melbourne skyline. Three years passed before two colours reappeared as jacaranda against olive to celebrate the centenary of self-government in Queensland. Then, in 1962, came the first standard letter rate stamps with multichromatics, one for the Inland Mission and the other for the Perth Empire Games. Two-coloured and multicoloured examples remained oddities until a set of seven native birds appeared in 1964-65. The balance did not shift to multicoloured ones until the start of decimal currency early in 1966. To summarise, of the 115 stamps issued between 1950 and 1965, ten were in two colours and eleven were multicoloured. By 1970, 107 more stamps had been issued, of which only twenty-four had but a single colour while fifty-nine carried more than two.[9]

Experiments in colour photography began almost as soon as the first black-and-white plate had been developed in the 1820s. Quality colour pictures were available, at cost and effort, from 1868. More common was hand-tinting of flesh. The technology for colour existed but it was too expensive and too complicated to rival black-and-white work. Twenty years of experiments in Germany and the USA produced a practical process which, by 1935, put Kodachrome, Ektachrome and Agfacolor on the market, an advance disrupted by war.

Amateurs in Australia regained access to colour films such as Gevacolor and Ferraniacolor from early 1954, although import restrictions still curtailed supply.[11] Indicative of this limitation, the Colour Group of the New South Wales Photographic Society did not meet until October 1955.[12]

Enthusiasts were told that their Box Brownies could not shoot colour because the apertures were less than f/6.3. In truth, most cameras would do the job since their lenses had been corrected to some extent, though not many were free from chromatic aberration.[13]

Agfa introduced a faster stock in 1957 which could work in a Box Brownie.[14] The quality of colour film was uncertain and inferior to black-and-white. Most of the public were using Kodachrome, which was the slowest, rated at 10 ASA, compared with 40 ASA for Agfacolor reversal. Hence, Photo News warned even those of its readers with the fastest stock to restrict their colour snap shotting ‘to fairly good light, unless you have an f2 or f1.5 lens.’[15] Day and Night versions were being sold.[16]

Few professionals attempted to develop their own negatives although one or two set up commercial laboratories in 1955. Film manufacturers operated plants in Melbourne and Sydney. Processing was slow and expensive. Customers waited from seven to fourteen days. In 1960, a roll of Kodacolor cost eighteen shillings, plus eight shillings and sixpence to process and six shillings for each three-and-a-half-by-five inch print.[17] In total, twenty-four exposures cost the equivalent of half the adult male basic wage.

Cost alone would have driven most users to slides rather than prints. In 1957, Kodak advised care in the selection of transparencies for both:

The original should be held at an angle to a sheet of white paper under a bright light ... Viewed in this way transparencies that have been carefully exposed under good picture-taking conditions will appear attractive, and can be expected to produce similarly attractive colour prints and duplicate transparencies.

In comparing colour prints with transparencies, some loss of brilliance in the colours, and some loss of detail in high light and shadow areas may be noted.[18]

Some improvement came in 1958 when Kodak sold a glossy-surfaced paper which allowed processors to make corrections.[19]

Nonetheless, quality was likely to slip between the transparency and the copy:

slight colour differences may be noted - reds may tend to take on an orange tinge, and blues to become greenish. These slight changes ... in no way detract from the beauty of print or duplicate viewed alone.[20]

The preference for slides supported an industry of mounts, storage boxes, Hanimex viewers and projectors as well as colour-corrected screens. In turn, these items were the infrastructure for a ritual of slide evenings among a people now holidaying overseas.[21]

The use of colour for commercial work was equally uncertain. During the late 1960s, Max Dupain did most of his commercial work in black-and-white but when he did have to use colour he often ran out before the end of the shoot.[22] The wonders of Ektacolor were dramatised in 1960 through a promotional article about a commercial photographer who, after specialising in colour for a decade, could say little more than, ‘It’s wonderful,’ in praising the new product. The advertising executive kept replying, ‘I’ve heard all this before.’ Convinced at last by seeing the Ektacolor prints, the manager accepted. Notwithstanding his change-of-mind, the promotional text concluded with the caveat: ‘Ektacolor does have some problems which should be explained by the photographer.’ Six years later, Kodak was still describing the duplication of transparencies as ‘somewhat complicated’.[23]

The protracted arrival of colour photography worked in tandem with the spread of colour through the print media. When Photo News reproduced the winner of a Colour Slide Competition it had to do so in black-and-white.[24] Few magazines were in a position to do otherwise.

During the first half of the 1960s, the printing trades in Australia were transformed by technical innovations, which led to a decade-long inquiry.
[25] Typesetting of metal slugs was obliterated by Lettraset[26],  Zerox,[27] electrical typewriters with interchangeable golf-balls of different faces, photosetting,[28] plastic stereotypes,[29] and the web-offset.[30] So thorough-going had the transformation become by 1970 that franchises for instant print shops were on offer.[31]

Magazines had been the usual location for colour in print media starting with comic books in the USA, which had included colour from 1895 when R. F. Outcault’s Yellow Kid got his name from the attempt to brighten his shirt. Australia saw its first comic book in 1911 with colour on four of its pages. Smith’s Weekly in the late 1930s sought to reclaim its readership by offering comics, including one coloured by use of a single overlay, which meant that if an issue had red on its cover, all the characters wore red shirts or skirts. In 1939, Frank Packer designed the Sunday Telegraph around sixteen pages of coloured comics shipped in from California. War brought this import to an end in August 1940, to be replaced by a smaller and more simply coloured strip from local pens.[32]

Two Australian comic-style publications appeared in Sydney during the early 1950s, Silver Jacket (1953-56) and Australian Chuckler’s Weekly (1954-61) in response to complaints about the delinquency encouraged by US imports with their covers in lurid primary colours, evocative of passion and violence.[33] The difference in appearance between the two local magazines conveyed their cultural status. Silver Jacket had a glossy cover but with no colour inside its other thirty-two pages of low-grade paper. It aimed to improve its audience as much as to amuse them. Chucklers Weekly was what its name asserted, set on butcher’s paper throughout but using colour on as many as one quarter of its pages. Multiple colours arrived in March 1958 for the front cover and inside for an Enid Bylton story. However, even by 1960 its colours were still confined to distinct areas of the page. For instance, a cover had green, red, yellow and blue but so arranged that a green wall in the top right of one frame was separated by six centimetres of white space from a blue car in the diagonally opposite corner.[34] 

When the Women’s Weekly had gone to colour in December 1936, its inks gave off an odour which was never offensive enough to depress sales. The difficulties that persisted throughout the post-war years can be seen from the list of improvements that the Weekly announced in 1970:

  • an ink change from red to magenta ‘increased the flexibility of shade toning to keep pace with advertisers’ requirements for a broader spectrum of colour values.’
  • introduction of a black key to bring ‘softness for hair care and cosmetic type advertising and crispness for more dramatic contrasts.’
  • installation of an ‘electronic magic eye on the presses ... virtually eliminating registration problems.’
  • ‘improved standard of paper finish.’[35]

The Weekly’s concern in the 1950s was to hold readers who might otherwise watch television, a challenge it met by offering Revlon Lipstick advertising from 1959.[36] Then,  the Weekly anticipated the competition for advertising revenues from colour TV, by colouring its news pages in three regional editions from 1967.

Colour printing remained troublesome and expensive. Inclusion of full-colour reproductions of antique cars for framing from the April 1957 issue of Wheels meant no overlap of colour but also very little abutting of those used. Australian Motor Manual confined colour to its covers, including an occasional multi-colour photo which conveyed a deal of detailing. Passages of red and yellow came out purple and fawn, respectively. Improvement came in April 1964 when an advertisement on the back-cover showed a cherry Morris 1100.

Finding a commercial sponsor was a regular way of paying for brightness. This means expanded on the practice of a manufacturer or wholesaler supplying an advertising block to which a retailer would add local details.[37] Even the Paint Journal of Australia did not carry colour on its front cover until 1958 when ICI took that space to promote its products. The Australasian Soft Drink Journal used yellow or red on its front covers but by 1966 had added purple, blue, orange, green and lemon to the inside as manufacturers suggest their fruit-based cordials. In June 1963, Stamp News, hitherto a newspaper, became a magazine which repeated its four-colour front cover with changes only to the border. The publisher’s own advertisement carried a single colour over to the back cover.            

Although the monthly Commonwealth Jeweller and Watchmaker often ran to nearly 200 pages on high gloss stock, less than a quarter being editorial, its use of colour was confined to a few advertisements, notably the repeat of a cover promotion for a compact with a floral lid, an image displaced from May 1954 by a watchmaker. Advance publicity for seven pages of advertising to introduce Fifth Avenue Brushware promised ‘the largest display ever to appear in this journal’. Unlike the earlier cover illustrations, the colours were kept separate as backgrounds for black and white photographs and did not reproduce the flowers on the backs of the brushes.  One widespread exception to these patterns was for the Royal Visit when most publications presented the Queen in tones which can be described best as ripe, her lips qualifying her as an early Goth.[38]      

House and Garden began in December 1948 with 116 pages, of which thirty-three displayed colour, although only nineteen, including its covers, carried more than one. Two years later, out of ninety-two pages, twenty-nine were coloured but only sixteen, again including the covers, were multicoloured. When the House and Garden Annual appeared first in 1954 only eighteen of 164 pages were coloured. By 1963, the 132 pages included thirty in colour, of which seven were only blue.

Blurred colours and matt finishes in mass publications add one more problem for research into how viewers then responded to the increase in the range of colours. How much were peoples’ reactions determined by the reproductions in the magazines? How great was the difference between the paint on the wall and that painted wall when illustrated by Home Beautiful?

As noted, colour had come to the daily press through their comic pages. In as much as history is a catalogue of ‘firsts’, colour in Australian daily newspapers began in 1926 when the Argus installed a web offset capable of printing in four colours, which it used for art reproductions or the Melbourne Cup. Then in 1951, the paper’s new British owners installed two state-of-the-art offset presses and on 28 July 1952 established a world first by synchronising offset on one side of the page with letterpress on the other, in perfect register, as far as it was then accepted. Hanging the expense from spoilage, the Argus produced twelve issues in full colour during the 1954 Royal visit to Melbourne.

Web Offset presses designed for national magazines were too expensive for most printeries so that manufacturers reduced their size. The Caringbah Shire Pictorial had rolled off an early example from 1954.[40] Southdown Press decided in 1958 to obtain a Web Offset for its New Idea and TV Week, but did not publish from its own machine until late 1962, which had to be expanded only three years later.[41] Of the thirty-five offset plants operating here by early 1966, twenty-three had been installed during the previous three years; a further fourteen came on by the close of 1969.[42]    

As with all aspects of Admass, the dynamic came from those who paid the printer. Production manager at The Land acknowledged that his weekly had ‘decided to go in for a web offset plant because of growing enquires from advertisers for the use of colour in their advertising announcements.’[43] This aspect of colour printing came to the dailies late in 1960 with an eight-page tabloid lift-out in the otherwise broadsheet Courier-Mail to promote an Alfred Grant £5m. real estate project on the Sunshine Coast.[44] Another ‘first’ was a full-page pre-print by four-colour gravure in the Melbourne Herald in 1962.[45] Next year, the Herald published the first retail page in full-colour for Coles.[46] By July 1965, that paper could produce 535,000 sheets for New World Supermarkets with a wastage rate less than 2 per cent, considered low.[47] Perth grocer, Tom the Cheap, operated his own off-set press from 1966. Other advertisers remained cautious. Taubman’s paints considered that the extra cost of colour was worthwhile only around the launch of a product.[48]

Pre-prints consumed time. In 1968, the Melbourne Herald needed more than forty hours to produce its colour wrap-around for the VFL grand final. Nonetheless, between 1967 and 1968, the total number of sheets printed in colour by Fairfaxes’ Giganticolor increased from 53m. to 90m.[49]

By the time Martin Sharp and friends had made their Yellow House in Potts Point in 1970, the outer suburbs were bright with primary colours. Artists such as Don Laycock and John Howley had enamelled the exterior of their dwellings in Fitzroy and St Kilda respectively.
[50] Southern European migrants offended the National Trust by coating inner-city terraces with Mediterranean blues and reds. A wave of white would divide gentrifiers from Greeks.[51]

After the war, shortages of paint meant that householders would use whatever colours they could get, which included tones intended for camouflage. With demand many times greater than supply, the first issue of House and Garden in December 1948 did not carry a single advertisement for paint.[52] Behind such limitations was the habit of cream-and-green. By the early 1950s, the home-builder had become a shade more adventurous on exteriors, ‘using primrose instead of cream, and shadow grey instead of ivory.’[53]

The entry point for liveliness was often the kitchen where laminated plastics brought ‘brighter and clearer’ colours. Throughout 1949, House and Garden contained articles encouraging the boldness of apple reds and greens for the kitchen. At first, home-builders were encouraged to set strongly coloured furnishings against neutral backgrounds. Red and yellow glass sliding panels stand out in the kitchen of the Rose Seidler house which is otherwise grey, brown and black. By 1955, when Vogue announced that it was ‘almost impossible to have too much colour in the house’, its emphasis was still on accessories such as the ‘wide, coloured borders and embroidered polka dots on cotton pillow slips and sheets’, which ‘come in many shades.’[54] At the same time, Marion Best advised how brown or gold carpets would soften orange and citron walls while ‘a one-colour scheme needn’t be monotonous. Lovely tones of blue blend to make a cool, clever room. Siamese pink and white are perfect accents.’ Striking colours on cushions or lampshades were also for accents.[55]

Australians were moving away from British models. Vogue had noted in 1955 how in ‘a country so lavishly coloured by nature, brightness in the home is a foil to the brilliance outside.’[56] Retina-blasting walls arrived in the mid-Fifties, led by bright coral inside and sharp lemon or turquoise on the exterior. Feature walls appeared, though the contrast they provided was still subdued. Not too many suburbanites would have copied the cover of the 1956 issue of the Australian House and Garden Annual that showed a floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace painted Royal Blue against a pale green carpet and ceiling, a red chair and black table tops and curtains. Indeed, its articles and illustrations suggest that strong primary colours were not as common as is sometimes supposed. The 1954 issue of Australian House and Garden Annual opened with four pages on colour illustrated by cocoa walls in the dining area, charcoal and blue walls in a lounge, and dark-green or blue-grey walls elsewhere.

However, the marketing of a new range of wall materials encouraged experiments which gallery artists could follow. For instance, above black-and-white floor tiles, a room-divider contained sixteen panels of peg-board, coloured thus from the top-left:

  • pink, yellow, blue, brown
  • green, red, fawn, blue
  • fawn, brown, pale green, pale blue,
  • pale blue, black, pink, dark blue

Other surfaces included a range of masonites such as Leatherboard, two-tone Seadrift, Panelgrove, Lustreboard, Lustretile and Ridgeboard. Colorflex offered fourteen shades of wooden panels all of which were guaranteed to look like terrazzo.[57]

Paint and furnishings took time and money. Flashes of colour could be secured  with alarm clocks, Mexican pottery, Harlequin tumblers, ruby and painted crystal, the latter three being subject to a rage for gold or silver bands.[58] Silverware reflected the ‘touches of pastel colours’ added by the Australian manufacturers of ‘Lewbury’ plate.[59] When colours became bolder so did black appear more often on crockery as a contrast to cherry.[60]

Despite the jewellers’ insistence that their merchandise should not be taxed as luxuries, their customers, like the window-shoppers, sought colour and gilt as talismans against the Thirties depression, wartime rationing and post-war austerity.[61] Melbourne women took to tinselled spectacle frames, and even some studded with semi-precious stones.[62] Determination to brighten appearances during an era of import controls resulted in the mixtures and crudities that Barry Humphries satirised from 1955.

By 1960, the trend was again towards the earthy tones of driftwood, beige and bamboo, with pure white on the ceilings. Nonetheless, the senior consultant for Taubmans in New South Wales acknowledged that the home decorator retained a preference for the more definite tints: ‘for instance, cornflower is not as popular as Dresden blue.'’ In that year, one interior designer, Peter Hunt, believed that the ‘fashion which swept Australia some years ago - for deep and strongly contrasting colours - is on the wane and a swing back to pastel toning is strongly evident.’ Noting a change from 1957 when bright colours had been ‘all the rage’, he pointed out that ‘Muted colours are strong but soft and the first step from bright paints is to pastel shades.’ For instance, a soft orange was gaining in popularity under ‘the names Canteloupe or Nasturtium.’[63]

If colour had stepped outside by the mid-1950s, its first triumph there was to replace cream-and-green with ‘a smoky slate blue’. Daring was confined to yellow on the eaves or doors. Again, the encouragement went to accents such as ‘bright red garden pots’.[64] The early sixties were more of a statement with a pink-grey roof, dark olive walls, a white front door and window trims, light olive guttering and dusty pink eaves. Primrose walls and lavender front doors were advised for 1961. The exterior of houses now could have their very own feature screens. The letterbox became another feature, with the street number in copper, and the whole lot mounted on an ink-blue post.[65]

One measure of the concern with colour is the number of times the word appears in the contents page of the House and Garden Annual. The inaugural issue, like that of 1955, had four items so headlined, while 1956 had three. That attention followed developments within manufacture and marketing as Taubmans sent ‘festivals of colour’ to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne through 1955 and 1956.[66] No articles advocating colour appeared during the next two years, only one in 1959, and again none for 1960. Then came the ‘1961 Campaign for a Colorful House’ with colour remaining prominent until the 1965 edition appeared as a special issue on the topic.

In need of a label for its paint revolution, Taubmans in 1959 launched ‘Spectrocolor’, claiming it had become ‘a household word’. Taubmans claimed for itself:

  • widest range of ready-to-use colours;
  • colors never seen before because they had not been possible;
  • no variation between cans;
  • * identical shades in all three finishes and paint types.[67]

Cards with colours presented in spectrum order were displayed in dispensers. Later on, pieces of building materials were used in place of cardboard to provide a more realistic guide.

Production of paints more than doubled during the 1950s[68] with the total value rising from £7.3m. in 1945-46 to £38m. in 1956-57.[69] Reasons for this increase included home-buyers who decorated and well as conserved their dream, partly by constant retouching, as if applying make-up. An explosion in the range of colours on sale and a simpler application helped:

Promotion has generally been spearheaded with colour-in-the-home displays in women’s media with very strong support in all other media, colour advisory services lavish point-of-sale and store demonstrations with the result that the paint department has become the busiest section of hardware retailing.[70]

The industry ‘did everything possible to develop public interest in colour appreciation except the development of colour schemes for the colour blind.’[71]

During the last week in August 1958, 200 shop windows in Sydney were dressed for  DULUX MONTH[72] which had been positioned at the start of spring when 40 per cent of press advertising for paints appeared.[73] The following year, the firm constructed a mammoth Colour Tower at Sydney’s Easter Show and sent scaled-down versions to shop counters across the country.[74] Dulux appropriated Spring as the label to promote its hundreds of colours: ‘93 pinks, 79 blues, 95 greens ... 16 greys, 17 yellows, 17 tans, 32 lilacs, 1 white and 31 in-betweens.’[75] Tubes of tints increased that range to almost 200.

In 1957, Taubmans released a 100 per cent plastic paint known as Gaydec, followed by Glotex and several other brands. The popularity of the water-based paints with householders is clear as their share of the market went from one-eighth to one quarter in the two years to 1959-60, before moving up to one-third of sales by 1971-72.[76] No company had a gloss plastic paint until 1961 when an Australian firm, Duralex Paints, marketed Aquanamel,[77] which proved a false start. A long delay ensued until March 1966 when Taubmans released “Big ‘A’, as they called their ‘Big Gloss acrylic house paint’. Its can was ‘white printed in heliotrope, gold and black.’[78] Florescent lights intensified that brightness.

Berger Paints prepared to launch its acrylic in 1965 by testing men and women for what they wanted in paint advertising and found the answer to be colour and more colour. However, what those same potential customers wanted in the paint itself was ease of application and cleaning, long-life without fading and no poisons, as in lead-based paints. The marketing people gave those details out in their advertisements but glossed any technical talk with the ‘Glamour additive name’ of Loxon 303.[79]

A 1946 survey of Australian Motor Manual readers revealed that the preferred colours for the exterior of family cars were first of all black, with cream or navy equal second, followed by grey.
[80] Ten years later, only 10 per cent of the respondents wanted black. A quarter preferred a pastel two-tone, another quarter wanted a pale colour, and a further quarter wanted one of the greens, while fifteen per cent hoped for ivory or cream.[81] Shifts from the sombre to the pastels occurred alongside the emergence of two-tones.

Similar changes had been apparent in the UK where, in 1951, ‘more than 90 per cent of all cars came in one of four “basic” colours - black, green, blue or grey’, and in that order of popularity.’ Within two years, that quartet of colours held only 75 per cent of new car sales while ‘red, yellow, ivory, beige and brown shades’ took almost a quarter of the market.[82]

Whether tastes had changed is hard to determine since before 1950 only black had not ‘faded and deteriorated rapidly.’ Even in Britain ‘six months was enough to turn a light, iron-base blue into a undistinguished grey.’[83] Drivers might have liked colours twenty-five years earlier had they been available. Australians also responded to whatever manufacturers made available and that in turn meant what coming from Coventry and Detroit.

By the 1953 London Motor Show only 10 per cent of passenger vehicles were black, which exaggerated the local preference for colours since marketing departments used them to attract attention. A third of the displays were pastels and another 21 per cent two-toned, a trend which had been spreading since 1950.

Pastels, including beige, fawn and ivory, took 44 per cent of the displays, followed by light greys with 33 per cent, while pale greens and blues tied for third position. Those blues came in fifty shades and tints. Most two-tones were sedate with two variants of blue or grey, one example showing dark blue on the mudguards, bonnet, hood and rear deck with a lighter blue for the side panels and wheels. The metallic lustre finishes that the pastels displaced were still likely to be grey, with maroon on the rise. The rush away from black or dark green was not into anything as shocking as the black Pegaso from Spain with its red stripe. Red was for Ferrari.[84]

Thus, by 1958 it was normal for the Ford V-8 to come in ‘a wide choice of colour combinations with both sedans and utilities. There are 12 main body colours and a total of 16 different colours for the flash, on the Fordomatic.'’

More exotic was the prospect of radio-active paints based on the ‘relatively harmless compound’, Tritium. No less exciting were the ‘candy’ colours in customising vehicles for younger Americans by creating ‘dazzling designs on top of normal enamels, under names such as Freeway Scollops, Tear Drops and Curlycues’.

The paints themselves are translucent and they give an illusion of depth by reflecting light through the surface layers of a base paint of a different colour.

To achieve this, a small amount of pigment is mixed with a larger amount of clear blinding solution, thus forming a coloured, but transparent paint for the surface layers. The base coat which reflects light back through the top layers is made by adding metallic particles to a similar blending solution applied first. In this way curious colour hues are obtained and they vary their colour according to the angle they are viewed from.

Some of the more popular ones in the USA were called Pagan Gold and Candy Orange.[85]

These changes on vehicles were typical of how colour spread throughout the whole of society. All-over primary colours were rare. The usual domestic or automobile decor broadened the spectrum while matching patterns, textures and highlights.

Two-tones were not new. In the 1930s, mudguards were black while the body remained white. Streamlining did away with such an obvious distinction to car bodies. But by the early 1950s, V-8s had burst through their straight lines. At first, chrome was used to integrate these bulgs. However, that trim was expensive and a pest to polish. Instead, a different shade or colour could run the length of the vehicle, or be used for entire sections.[86] The greater window area introduced as a safety factor also reduced any tendency of two-tone models to look top-heavy.[87] Anyway, the Australian sun soon shifted the darker section from the top. 

Car interiors also changed from predominantly green in 1946 to include detachable cushions of tartan, blue, grey, burgundy, rush, green, fawn or brown. Some had tartan on the face but a different backing.[88] In 1956, ‘maroon blue’ was the choice of 40 per cent, with another quarter going for pale grey.[89] Two-tone seats were standard for the new Holden released in 1957. Reporters worried lest so much stitching accelerate deterioration, which usually began along the seams.[90]

The editor of the Motor Manual alleged, late in 1953, that motoring was ‘completely under woman’s influence’, a takeover ‘demonstrated’ by news that Mrs M. White, an interior designer from Sydney, had selected pale pink for the exterior of a car she was decorating, which would include Wilton carpets, Italian tapestry on the upholstery, extra loose cushions, twin make-up mirrors on the sun-screens and lighting inside the glove box.[91] Three years later, after one dealer had reported that 93 per cent of his deliveries were two-tone, the editor snarled: ‘It may not be too much to hope that in future a car will again look like a car.’[92]  Even if blokes remained more interested in twin-carbies than two-tone upholstery, by August 1964, he had a glitzy pink Viva on his cover.

Journalists and salesmen were convinced that women selected vehicles by their look. But this factor also operated on men since

One of the biggest sales tools in the new car market today is a dealer’s offer to deliver any colour combination desired, immediately. It can influence a customer to buy, on the spot, probably more quickly than any other feature offered in a car.

To secure custom, dealers installed repaint shops.[93] Used cars underwent a home respray, or even with a brush.[94]

At first, a division of labour operated as men picked the exterior colour while women could play around with the interior. One headline admitted that any man, or even woman, could effect repairs to seat coverings.[95] With so many used cars being driven, this concession was perhaps a demand that the little woman bring her thimble into the machine age.

Feminisation of the car during the 1950s can be missed if family is denied its matriarchal influences. Family car meant that dad, mum, and junior now all drove. Hence, jokes about back-seat drivers and women drivers were standard fare in the trade and hobby press, even more so than cracks at used-car dealers. As cars required fewer mechanical skills from their male drivers and as women increased as a percentage of licence holders, so men exaggerated the latter’s technical incompetences. A typical cartoon in Wheels had the kids calling out in delight: ‘Hit the tree again, Mummy; hit the tree again!'’

No repainting disturbed gender stereotypes more than that early in 1967 of Farley-and-Lewers concrete trucks go from red or green to pink, a switch associated with a campaign to Think Pink which won the 1968 Hoover Marketing Award.[96] The colour for baby girls sold concrete to blokes more accustomed to think pink only for elephants or panthers. Farley and Lewers Pink became a standard name for a car colour. 

Technological improvements meant that by the 1960s white goods stayed white, and no longer fade to yellow; cars did not need repainting; non-fade pigments were available across the spectrum; spectrophotometers set absolute standards and streamlined the matching of tones; spray painting spread from industry to the home, thanks to an attachment on the reverse-end of the vacuum cleaner; rollers cut application time by three-quarters.

By 1965 the  House and Garden Annual  was offering 500 colour schemes.

When Abstractionists and hard-edge artists said they dipped into the metaphysical pot in order to purify painting, they also were serving apprenticeships to these new materials. The death of the image was not only a form of kenosis but also a way of learning how to deal with acrylics and spray-guns which were troublesome enough without having to create figures at the same time. Was that all that Frank Stella meant when he said he wanted paint to look as good on his canvas as in the can? 

[1] John Gage, Colour and Culture, Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction, Thames and Hudson, London, 1993; John Dower, War without Mercy, Race and Power in the Pacific War, Faber & Faber, London, 1986, pp. 208-14, for how Japan’s militarists distinguished their ideal of whiteness from that of the Europeans; Nancy Shoemaker, 'How Indians Got to Be Red', American Historical Review, June 1997, 102 (3), pp. 625-644.
[2] Commonwealth Jeweller and Watchmaker (CJW), October 1953, p. 116.
[3] Australian Cordial-Maker, February 1955, p. 30.
[4] W. F. Haug, Critique of Commodity Aesthetics, Appearance, Sexuality and Advertising in Capitalist Society, Polity, London, 1986.
[5] Raymond Williams, ‘Advertising, The Magic System’, New Left Review,  July-August 1960, 4, pp. 27-32.
[6] Broadcasting and Television (B and T), 26 November 1964, p. 8; 17 October 1963, p. 12; 20 January 1966, p. 7.
[7] Newspaper News (NN), 28 June 1963, p. 10.
[8] Humphrey McQueen, ‘The Australian Stamp: Image, Design and Ideology’, Arena, 1988, 84, pp. 78-96.
[9] Throughout 1965, a rush to use up paper stocks combined with the need to include helecon on the surface of stamps for automatic sorting restricted colours to red and orange. For the decimal series, helecon-impregnated papers 'were less white than the non-treated papers and for that reason the colours of the stamps later issued appeared much duller.' The Definitive Stamps of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth II 1952-65. Australian Post Office, n.p., n.d., p. 38.
[10] Colour, Edward Brash (ed.), Life Library of Photography, Time-Life Books, New York, 1981, pp. 58-73. Commercialisation of colour film for home movies had preceeded that for still shots.

 Disney had released its first colour Mickey Mouse in 1928. A rush into colour features collapsed with the depression so that until after the war only 10 per cent of Hollywood's output was in colour. Competition from television had lifted that portion to over a half by 1953. John Izod, Hollywood and the Box Office, 1895-1986, Macmillan, London, 1988, pp. 82-3 & 136-9.

[11] Photo News, 18 February 1954, p. 6, 6 January 1955, p. 6, and 4 July 1957, p. 3.
[12] Photo News, 27 October 1955, p. 3, and 24 November 1955, p. 6.
[13] Photo News, 2 February 1956, p. 4.
[14] Photo News, 5 July 1956, p. 2, and 9 May 1957, pp. 5 & 10.
[15] Photo News, 26 March 1959, p. 3.
[16] Photo News, 29 September 1955, p. 6.
[17] Photo News, 24 March 1960, p. 2.
[18] Photo News, 6 June 1957, p. 8.
[19] Photo News, 17 July 1958, p. 5.
[20] Photo News, 6 June 1957, p. 8.
[21] In 1959, 150 000 Australians visited Hong Kong, Chartered Accountant in Australia, April 1960, p. 490.
[22] The studio of Max Dupain, Post-War Photographs, NSW State Library, Sydney, 1997, p. 1.
[23] Advertising and Marketing, April 1961, pp. 16-17; cf. Australian Lithographer, 1967, III (15), pp. 38-39.
[24] Photo News, 27 February 1958, p. 12.
[25] Reports, National Conference on Employment in the Printing Industry, Department of Labour and National Service, Canberra, 1967-74.
[26] Australian Lithographer, 1967, III (13), pp. 3 & 45.
[27] Australian marketing projects, National Committee of the Hoover Awards for Marketing, West Ryde, 1965, pp. 272-281, and 1966, pp. 67-86.
[28] Printers' News, 18 July 1961, p. 3; Australian Lithographer, 1967, III (16), p. 30.
[29] Printers' News, 1 August 1961, p. 1, and 10 October 1961, p. 8.
[30] Printers' News, 6 November 1962, p. 6; Australian Lithographer, December 1968, IV (21);  B & T, 23 January 1969, p. 1 reported its adoption by Rydges.
[31] Sales and Marketing in Australia, Feb/March 1970, p. 705. By contrast, in 1961, J. H. Preston in Sydney continued to produce lithography on stone which remained economical because runs were small and craft skills high. NN, 17 March 1961, p. 15.
[32] John Ryan, Panel by Panel, a history of Australian comics, Cassell, Stanmore, 1979, pp. 45-46.
 [33] Mark Finnane, ‘Censorship and the child: explaining the comics campaign‘, Australian Historical Studies, April 1989, 23 (92), pp. 220-40.
[34] Chucklers Weekly, 23 September 1960, p.1.
[35] B & T, 30 April 1970, p. 42.
One 1958 survey indicated that housewives with only a radio read for thirty-two minutes each day but that those with televisions read for only twenty-one minutes. Advertising, October 1958, p. 6.     
[36] Advertising, November 1958, pp.  30, 31 & 35.
[37] CJW,  March 1951, p. 35, and November 1953, p. 90.
[38] CJW,  May 1954, p. 37, and June 1954, pp. 156A.
[39] Australian Lithographer, September 1964, I, pp. 10 & 24. Closure of the Argus in 1957 after 100 years as the tribune of the tories had more to do with its failure to detach a working-class readership to its support for the Evatt-led Labor Party from the Sun, than with these technical innovations.
[40] Australian Lithographer, September 1964, I, p. 16.
[41] Australian Lithographer, September 1964, I, p. 25.
[42] Australian Lithographer, March-April 1966, VIII, p. 24; Report, National Conference on Employment in the Printing Industry, Department of Labour and National Service, Canberra, 1967, pp. 16-7.
[43] Newspaper News, 18 October 1963, pp. 24-5 & 36; Australian Lithographer, September 1964, I, p. 23; by mid-1964 at Swan Hill the Mid-Murray Ilustrated had a three-colour cover and two-colour advertisements for tractors, Printers' News, 22 September 1964, p. 7.
[44] NN, 20 January 1961, p. 3.
[45] NN, 14  September, p. 11, and 28 September 1962, p. 1, for Kraft jellies and jams.
[46] NN, 1 November 1963, p. 11.
[47] Australian Lithographer, 1965, V, p. 40.
[48]NN, 14 June 1963, p. 13; Advertising, March 1960, p.  6; Printers' News, 19 June 1962, p. 2.
[49] B & T, 1 February 1968, p. 1; see also 20 March 1964, p. 25.
[50] Jenny Zimmer, ‘Memories of “Masonite” and “Dulux’: A Study of Experimental Painting Techniques used by Australian Modernists of the 1950s and 1960s’, Sue-Anne Wallace et al., (eds), The Articulate Surface, HRC & NGA, Canberra, 1996, p. 148.
[51] In the nineteenth-century, the houses had been 'browns, blacks and stone'. Patricia Thompson, The Story of Paddington, The Paddington Society, Paddington, 1967, p. 11.
[52] Australian House and Garden Annual (AHGA), January 1949. pp. 24-25; March 1949, pp. 20-23; June 1949, pp. 20-21 & 72 and July 1949, p. 21.
[53] APJ, April 1960, p. 31.
My father set out to paint our weatherboard house in red and white stripes discovering that colours dripped onto each other.
[54] Vogue Australian Supplement, Autumn-Winter 1955, p. 62.
[55] AHGA, 1958, pp. 4-5 & 11.
[56] Vogue Australian Supplement, Autumn-Winter 1955, p. 62.
[57] AHGA, 1962, p. 75.
[58] CJW, October 1951, pp. 48D & 48E, April 1952, p. 28; January 1951, p. 121; December 1951, p. 32D; September 1952, p. 136, February 1955, p. 158, and May 1955, p. 168.
[59] CJW, April 1955, p. 40A, and September 1955, p. 176.
[60] CJW, July 1957, p. 66, June 1958, p. 143, and September 1959, p. 139.
IBM introduced pastel typewriters from 1952, Wilfred A. Beeching, Century of the Typewriter, British Typewriter Museum Publishing, Bournemouth, 1990, p. 127.
[61] CJW, November 1951, p. 165, and September 1954, pp. 188-89.
[62] CJW, February 1953, p. 155.
[63] APJ,  March 1960, p. 18.
[64] AHGA, 1955, p. 28.
[65] AHGA, 1961, p. 12-13 & 115, and 1963, pp. 14, 19 & 126-7.
Of course, a few owners did not repaint their pre-war dwellings until the 1960s, and even later in some suburbs and country towns. My impression is that some Queenslanders were not repainted until 1975 and then as a reaction to the Brisbane flood, even in areas which had seen none of the water. Gentrification did more to determine the nature of the repainting than its spread, which was a consequence of property-ownership in an era of affluence.
[66] APJ, April 1960, p. 31.
[67]  Advertising, June 1960, p. 6.
[68] APJ, April 1960, p. 13.
[69] Advertising, March 1959, p. 34.
[70]  Advertising, March 1959, p. 34.
[71] APJ, April 1960, p. 19.
[72] Advertising, October 1958, p. 38
[73] Advertising, March 1959, p. 34.
[74] Advertising, September 1959, p. 26.
[75] AHGA, 1964, p. 24.
[76] Compiled from Australian Paint Journal, 1956-1972.
[77] APJ, March 1963, p. 28. Jenny Zimmer said she saw her first acrylic - a small can of white in the possession of an American woman -  around 1962 or 1963. Conversation in Perth, 19 September 1997.
[78] B and T, 24 March 1966, p. 5.
[79] B and T, 23 September 1965, p. 10.
[80] Australian Motor Manual (AMM), 15 March 1956, p. 10.
[81] AMM, 1 June 1956, p. 10.
[82] Australian Monthly Motor Manual (AMMM), November 1953, p. 519.
[83] AMMM, November 1953, p. 519.
[84] AMMM, May 1952, p. 161, November 1953, p. 519, and February 1954, p. 771; AMM, 1 September 1961, p. 30.
[85] Wheels, February 1960, pp. 56-7.
[86] AMMM, May 1952, p. 160.
[87] AMMM, November 1953, p. 519.
[88] AMM, April 1952, p. 65.
[89] AMM, 1 June 1956, p. 10.
[90] Wheels, March 1957, p. 22, and March 1959, p. 55.
[91] AMMM, November 1953, p. 519; cf. report of a rose-and-cream model from the USA, 15 April 1955, pp. 12-13, and 1 May 1956, pp. 20-21.
[92] AMM, 15 January 1957, p. 23.
[93] AMM, 15 January 1957, pp. 22-23.
[94] Wheels, August 1957, p. 42; AMM, June 1961, pp. 44-47.
[95] Wheels, November 1955, p. 16.
[96] Australian marketing project, National Committee of the Hoover Awards for Marketing, West Ryde, 1968, pp. 8-15. Gerald and Margo Lewers were Sydney sculptors.