The Green Biro Nutter Brigade …

In March of this year, the UK television show This Morning highlighted the still unsolved murder of the BBC journalist, Jill Dando.  Dando was shot dead on her doorstep in 1999 in broad daylight in what looked like a professional hit.  Although one man was charged and imprisoned, his conviction was later overturned and to this date the killer remains at large.

One of the people interviewed in the programme was Dando’s fellow journalist,           Alice Beer, who described how she had received menacing letters that were very similar in both appearance and content to some that Dando had received.  However, such graphically threatening missives are apparently par for the course for anyone in the public eye, hence Beer’s response:  ‘I didn’t take it particularly seriously … To be quite honest I filed it under the green biro nutter brigade.’

Well, needless to say, my ears pricked up at such a sentence:

‘the green biro nutter brigade’

What on earth was that?!

And later the interviewer used the term:

‘the green ink brigade’

                  And at no point was the actual colour of the ink used in the letter          even mentioned!

It became clear that the green ink brigade’ referred to persons who were viewed as having some kind of mental imbalance judging by the tone and content of the letters they wrote, and who often, though not always, used green ink for the purpose.

In short, green = mad.

But why green?

Why not ‘the red ink brigade or ‘the purple ink brigade or ‘the orange ink brigade?

In researching why green should be the colour singled out for this particular honour I could find little explanation.  Apart from the revelation that the Heads of  MI6 used to sign their orders in green ink (and usually only with a single letter) there was a distinct lack of information.  #spooks!

My view is that green is the colour we, as humans, most associate with the un-human. Extra terrestrials have been overwhelmingly green in our visual culture and I think that is because green is the complimentary colour to red.  In other words, on the colour wheel (as used by painters) green is the opposite of red.


And since red is the one and only colour all us humans have in common – BLOOD – then it makes sense to choose the opposite colour to represent the non-human – who often has green BLOOD to boot.

would you write in this colour?

would you write in this colour?

would you write in this colour?

would you write in this colour?

would you write in this colour?

would you write in this colour?


  1. I rather like sepia and dark grey/off-black ink, though stick with black for what little I actually write in longhand these days. I confess that as a pretentious 14-year-old I did use a green biro for a time, but not since then!


  2. I love this post! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head re green being opposite/ alien. It reminded me of school when we used to fill up our fountain pens from bottles of ink – some people had rather daring deep green tones which I thought looked very smart (I was boring blue). Now I wonder if they grew up to become nutters…Of course now we have Twitter trolls who maybe don’t have the same opportunity to use colour as their forebears.


  3. This reminds me of having breakfast with my father. It was always fun when he got letters in green ink. He’d hand them over for us to read and they were always bonkers. I wonder what it is about green, maybe simply the desire to distinguish oneself from everyone else, to say I am different or exceptional. Pay attention to me. Out of all those colours I like the turquoise and the orange best.


  4. Gosh, someone who I know actually having experience of the green ink brigade – how thrilling!
    Yes, I think it is almost certainly about being different; but there is a definite unease for me at the sight of green writing. Odd isn’t it?
    Turquoise and Orange – oh, Yes!


  5. Interesting…I’d never heard of the green ink brigade. I know green was often considered an unlucky colour, probably stemming from the fact that it was associated with the fairies. Maybe it’s because it was the only ‘out there’ colour available in days gone by – if I remember right didn’t you used to get big packs of biros that had black, blue, red and a couple of greens in them?


  6. I think you’re right, Andrea – and red has its own role to play…

    Yes, Green does have associations with both the seen and unseen natural world. The word itself stems from the Old English word ‘growan’, meaning to grow and it is central to Pagan worship. There are many ancient European traditions, originating from Pagan beliefs, which are rooted in green, such as the ‘Green man’, the traditional symbol of fertility. It’s a many-sided faceted colour altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

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